The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

The Good:

What if biotechnology could produce animal-free casein, the protein that gives cheese it stretchiness, and revolutionize the world of vegan cheese? Well, a team from a community/DIYbio lab in Oakland called Counter Culture Labs is trying to do just that! The team plans to modify common yeast (S. cerevisiae) to express the milk protein casein and then use that casein to make a vegan cheese for the International Genetically engineered Machine competition. The project is in the beginning stages but shows a lot of promise. If you wish to find out more check out their wiki page or if you are in Oakland drop by one of the meet-ups Monday evening.

The Bad:

Veg Expo 2014 bills itself as “Canada’s largest everything vegan & vegetarian event” so I was concerned when I saw that GMOs: How Are We As Canadian’s Affected would be the keynote topic but as James McWilliam’s notes in his post Scientific Credibility and the Veggie Agenda,

…not a single speaker has the proper qualifications to make authoritative claims about GMOs. What does it say about the Veg outlook on scientific credibility when, in an attempt to explain how Canadians are affected by GMOs, the organizers have invited a Joga instructor (yes, that’s Joga, not yoga), the owner of Hippie Foods (who has a financial interest in castigating GMOs), an entertainment reporter, a snack mix purveyor, a 14-year old, a vegan fitness expert, and, Jeffrey Smith, a former practitioner of “flying yoga” who now poses under the guise of the  Institute for Responsible Technology (and who has been called out by real scientists as an imposter)?
Every vegan and vegetarian is poorly represented by this agenda.

I couldn’t agree more and the fact that a crank like Jefferey Smith appears to be headlining the whole thing really irks me because as Kevin Folta writes in his piece titled VegExpo, Smith and Conference Credibility,

The general public still sees vegetarianism and veganism as crackpot fringe ideas with little scientific merit. Instead of inviting a scientist to talk about how technology can enhance veg/vegan options, now they can all get scared silly by silly Smith’s non-science nonsense. It simply turns off the science minded in their cause, leaving on the malleable emotional folks that make any organization a drag.

They could invite an actual scientist that cares about vegan/vegetarian issues.  What if you could safely engineer plants to produce the nutrients missing in a veg/vegan diet?  What about plants that produced more vegan-needed amino acids (e.g. lysine, trypophan), vitamins (like B12) & trace elements (like iron)?  All of this can be done with metabolic engineering, it has been done!  What if plants could be developed from GM that were more amenable to processing in veg/vegan foods like garden/boca burgers, etc?  That’s the tip of the iceberg!  Science can make your cause stronger, but instead you invite a non-scientific fear monger to address this conference.

For links to more information and ideas on how to help push back against this anti-scientific co-option visit

The Ugly:

Lastly, I want to share a video on the lives of Naked Mole Rats that one of my professors recently showed in class. It is slightly educational, but mostly it is just hilarious. Enjoy!

4 Responses to “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly”

  1. edanator Says:

    Would vegan casein have the same effects in the body as milk casein? (I.e. is it identical or just have similar mechanical properties?) Didn’t T. Colin Campbell say that casein is the number 1 cancer promoter? IF he is right, vegan casein would not only give vegans stretchy cheese, but also take away one of our greatest health benefits.

  2. #VegExpo2014 Hijacks Veganism | Vegan GMO Says:

    […] The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly | Skeptical Vegan […]

  3. Real Vegan Cheese | Skeptical Vegan Says:

    […] « The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly […]

  4. Mindy Says:

    Casein doesn’t just give cheese its stretchiness, it gives cow milk (and cow milk products like yogurt and sour cream) its power to turn down the heat so I can enjoy hot curries and hot tacos!

    About time there was a vegan version. 😉

    Also, vegan fish oil: Right now they’re feeding it to fish to make the fish oilier, but it means it’ll be possible (if they sell it so) for vegans to eat the omega-3s straight from the plant.

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