Vegan shrimp is tackling sustainability and human rights

By Eva Lampert

Vegan shrimp could put an end to disrupted marine life and slave labour.

The Atlantic reports that algae based, synthetic shrimp is on it’s way to replacing America’s most popular seafood. New Wave Foods, a startup that recently graduated from a biotech accelerator called IndieBio, is set on eliminating overfishing, pollution, and slavery with a single product. Founder and marine conservationist Dominique Barnes and her partner Michelle Wolf, a materials scientist, are taking sustainability and human rights seriously, one vegan popcorn shrimp at a time.

The devastation of fulfilling our appetites for shrimp starts in the ocean. With the average American consuming four pounds of shrimp yearly, the amount of aquatic life lost is unimaginable. On dry land, the practices around shrimp preparation are no better. An AP investigation found that in production, hundreds of migrant workers are kept in warehouses in Thailand, forced to peel shrimp in unclean conditions with shifts of up to 15 hours, for only $4 each day. AP found that the result of this slave labour is on store shelves in popular retail chains like Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden. It’s about time this corrupted industry sought change. 

The aptly named New Wave Foods team have figured out how to use plant based protein powders, along with the same pink algae that shrimp eat to create their alternative. The algae helps replicate the colour and flavour we expect, and taste-testers say it has a similar elastic texture, too. Pair that with a mirrored protein and fat content to real shrimp, and there’s absolutely no argument that lab-grown is not the way to go.

New Wave has already been asked for 200 pounds of shrimp from Google for their cafeterias, and a San Francisco kosher sushi company has shown demand as well. Whether or not vegan and non-vegan consumers will be as open to mock shrimp as they have been faux burgers, chicken strips, and bacon is up for evaluation. Until I can get my hands on New Wave shrimp, I’ll be busy perfecting my vegan cocktail sauce.