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Bryan Wong - Plant Futurist Feature, UC Berkeley

Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Bryan, who has dedicated his studies and career to combining nutrition, sustainability, and bioinspired design. Bryan grew up in Fresno, California, where he connected with his parents' Taiwanese and Hong Kong cultures through food. He studied Food Science & Technology at the National University of Singapore and Bioengineering at UC Berkeley, where he also minored in Food Systems. Bryan has interned at the Good Food Institute. He's currently working on developing a plant-based whole-cut pork alternative and a candy derived from mushrooms grown on plastic waste.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Growing up in the agricultural hub of Fresno, California, I connected to my parents' Taiwanese and Hong Kong cultures primarily through food. I wanted to apply this into a STEM career, so I studied abroad in the Food Science & Technology Dept. at the National University of Singapore, and learned a lot about the innovation and techniques for developing food products. I was able to apply this to the projects I led at UC Berkeley, and I recently graduated with a BS in Bioengineering and a Food Systems Minor!

I've interned at the Good Food Institute, presented at the UN Food Systems Summit, helped kickstart the Berkeley Alt. Protein Project, consulted for the Lazy Food Co. via the Plant Futures Challenge Lab, and was a research assistant for the vegan startup Umaro Foods. So far, I've been exploring opportunities to combine nutrition, sustainability, and bioinspired design, and I'm currently working on a plant-based whole-cut pork alternative and a candy derived from mushrooms grown on plastic waste.

What is your inspiration to seek change?

I think my community and upbringing influenced me a lot. I'm grateful that I'm an adventurous eater - me, my friends, and my family have all shifted our diets to either reduce or eliminate meat, which has allowed me to explore many different recipes and products. Naturally, I got involved in the Berkeley Alt. Meat Lab, and learned a lot about the product design behind the current generation of plant-based foods.

I've found that many flexitarians face an issue of giving up their food culture. From this, I've been exploring ways to combine East Asian dishes with a vegan twist in order to provide cultural authenticity while promoting a healthy eating lifestyle! Hopefully, this community-centered project can be a major step into acceptability of plant-forward diets.

Moreover, the entrepreneurial incubators and classes I've joined taught me a lot about business development. I've been grateful to join a global network of likeminded folks who bring energy, support, and enthusiasm for ideas like mine. However, my Food Systems courses taught me that there was a wider network that I needed to consider. I've been doing a lot of thinking on how to incorporate these into my projects. So, I aim to listen to the right voices and use my own experiences to have a human-centered and equitable approach to my projects. My goal is to have these initiatives harmoniously integrate into, rather than "disrupt," the status quo.

What does the future food system of your dreams look like?

I hope that future food systems become more decentralized, localized, and sustainable. I've seen firsthand how the impacts of both climate change and global demand have changed our use of resources - both on land and water. I believe that smaller scale, community-driven hubs that don't need mass production or unnecessary wastefulness is essential to promoting a more equitable and balanced food system.

What is your favorite plant-centric meal?

I love the deep flavor that a vegan laksa has. Its combination of a velvety rich coconut soup with the spiciness of a chili rempah base really warms me up. The springy white thin rice noodles, seared mushrooms, and chewy vegetables give amazing contrast in texture and flavor. There's one from the Lion Dance Cafe - a vegan Singaporean and Italian fusion restaurant in the Bay Area. I'm on a mission to recreate it in my kitchen!

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