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Food for good

Christian Cadeo is trying to save the world, one meal at a time.
25/09/2020 - 05:50

CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN but so does his diet, believes Christian Cadeo. Since 2014, he's been pushing forth every ethical and ecological argument for why we need to reduce meat consumption. The meat industry is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. And the father of three wants to make sure he does what he can to leave the world a better place for his kids.

As managing partner of alternative protein venture capital fund Big Idea Ventures, which has headquarters in Singapore and New York, he supports over two dozen companies and entrepreneurs that are developing plant- or cellbased food and ingredients.

Among them are Singapore's Shiok Meats (cell-based shrimp, crab and lobster), Fenn Foods (carbon neutral beef) and Gaiafoods (cell-based pork). These early-stage companies receive funding from Big Idea Ventures' US$50 million New Protein Fund and get access to workspaces, test kitchens, business mentors, media advisers and other resources.

Mr Cadeo, 42, says: "The idea is not to try to turn everyone vegan. Rather, we want to persuade people to try it one day a week, maybe even one meal of the week. If we can all do this together, we can make a real impact on what's happening with the environment and animal welfare."

Livestock farming accounts for between 14.5 per cent and 18 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than all the emissions from cars, planes, ships and other modes of transport put together. Animal agriculture contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss and deforestation.

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Cutting down our reliance on meat products is essential if we are to meet global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. Yet, why is it so hard to convince people to eat less meat?

"Because meat is cheap and plentiful," says Mr Cadeo. "Because people are used to eating it, disregarding the fact that it's bad for the environment. And because plant-based meat is still more expensive and harder to find in Singapore."

CHANGING APPETITES

But watch out. All that might change in less than a decade. He says: "In five years' time, plant-based meat will be cheaper than animal protein. Think about it – if you take out the parts that are most expensive and time-consuming (such as R&D), how can it not eventually be cheaper? What's more, it will taste, smell and look exactly like the meat you're eating right now. So you get the same experience of eating meat – but without the negative impact on the environment."

Mr Cadeo and his team's optimistic vision of a plant-based future has already attracted the backing of major investors such as Temasek Holdings, the Buhler Group and Tyson Foods. Tyson is the biggest meat producer in the US. And, in 2019, it announced that it was moving into the alternative meat space, currently dominated by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. The competition, observers say, will only benefit consumers, who can expect better products at lower prices in future.

Mr Cadeo is Asian-American and has lived with his family in Singapore since 2007. A graduate of Fullerton College who will be attending the University of Oxford in the fall for a Masters, he worked for five years in advertising before moving to Singapore to be Microsoft's country manager of Indonesia and Vietnam, and then later, Google's head of enterprise and mobile in South-east Asia.

But it was his subsequent role as general manager (international) of plant-based food company Eat Just Inc that convinced him that this was the market he wanted to be in: "There's definitely a macro trend of people eating more healthily and becoming more concerned over environmental sustainability." So when the founder of Big Idea Ventures, Andrew D Ive, offered him the opportunity to champion young alternative protein companies, Mr Cadeo jumped at it.

The tide, he says, is turning for plant-based foods as younger generations of consumers power the global move towards social responsibility. And that attitude extends beyond the environment to also embrace issues such diversity, inclusion and gender equity.

On the latter point, Mr Cadeo is proud to say that Big Idea Ventures has a racially diverse staff with 8 of the 12 members being women. "In fact, the first two companies we invested in were founded by women including two Singaporeans…

As a company, Big Idea Ventures want to push ourselves to have greater representation across race, gender and other categories. We value people's opinions and we know that great ideas can come from a wide spectrum of individuals."

DRESS SENSE

When it comes to his personal style, Mr Cadeo says his favourite brand is Ermenegildo Zegna. He says: "I'm not a big clothing guy, so I tend to stick to just one brand which is Zegna. You get amazing quality, comfort and a great fit. I especially love my Zegna jeans and sneakers. I find any excuse to wear them."

Meanwhile Zegna's #WhatMakesAMan campaign on modern masculinity fronted by actor Mahershala Ali also resonates with him. Ali won the 2017 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing a kind mentor to a teenage boy struggling with his sexuality in Moonlight. Ali scored another Oscar in 2019 playing a pianist battling racism in 1960s America in Green Book. Ali is the first Muslim to have won two Oscars for acting, and his victory is seen as an early signal that Hollywood is embracing more diversity.

Zegna considers Ali to be the embodiment of modern masculinity, which it describes as "a state of mind, one that takes on different meanings and includes many qualities, both expected and not: courtesy, politeness, patience, vulnerability, wisdom, eccentricity… the dignity and openness to accept and embrace the contradictions of life, to evolve day by day."

For Mr Cadeo, this couldn't be a better definition of modern masculinity. He says: "My idea of a modern man is someone who knows what he wants, but is respectful of those around him. The modern man has the confidence to be who he is. But he is also empathetic and compassionate towards others. That, to me, is true masculinity."