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Bright, sweet, and whimsical, gummy bears and Starbursts are candies many of us grew up loving. Their jingles have gotten stuck in our heads, their chewy bits have gotten stuck in our teeth, and for some people, the way they are produced has gotten stuck in their minds. These innocuous little treats look harmless at a glance, but gelatin, the ingredient that gives these products their addicting elasticity, is not entirely. Gelatin is derived from the boiled bones and tissues of slaughtered animals including cows, pigs, and chicken.

Essentially, producing gelatin is simply another by-product of animal agriculture. While this clear and flavorless substance does not seem connected to the food industry as directly as milk, cheese, or meat, it is without a doubt still part of the cruel cycle. If this all seems unnecessary, and you’re thinking to yourself “there must be a substance that can replace gelatin,” you’re not alone.

Alexander Lorestani and Nikolay Ouzounov, are the co-founders of Gelzen, Inc. a San Francisco startup that is trying to change the way we create products traditionally derived from factory farms.  For Lorestani and Ouzounoy that means starting with a petri dish and letting microbes make gelatin for them, instead of scavenging for gelatin amongst animal scraps at the slaughter house.

The startup began when Lorestani, who at the time was a physician-scientist in training, learned about the growing risk of infectious disease thanks to antibiotic resistant bacteria, all of which starts with the fact that over 80 percent of antibiotics are used for animal agriculture. Since Gelzen’s product is manufactured, and not simply found and used, there are no surprises and certainly no antibiotics, as is found in traditional gelatin nowadays.

The duo is not looking to put their products on the shelves for direct-to-consumer use, though. Instead, they plan on working directly with food businesses who use gelatin in their product formulations. The food tech innovators have so far received an overwhelmingly positive response from food companies interested in using their product.

Gelzen is another link in the chain of companies working to transform the food system from the ground up. While gelatin may appear like a seemingly small part of the overall food system, at the end of the day it is a by-product of animal agriculture, a vastly unsustainable industry that frankly is destroying the environment and constantly endangering public health.

As Lorestani told Edible Manhattan, “We all need to be working together to build an ecosystem of companies making these products that combat disease as well as improve quality of taste, texture and usability. No one company can tackle this goal alone. What I’ve most enjoyed about this is working with other companies to essentially grow a new and good system.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

With every new company that makes it their vision to create plant-based alternatives, the more apparent it becomes that the future of food is bright, and it is vegan.

Image Source: Tamara S./Flickr