Foods of the Future

In a Tell Me More podcast, experts predict that tomorrows meals will marry familiar favorites with radically new ingredients

In this episode of the Tell Me More podcast, we look ahead to the foods of the future. The experts say our meals might not look that different from what we have today—the familiar burger on a bun, for example, doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere soon—but the ingredients may be completely new. 

An expert on food trends explains why tomorrows crops may include newcomers like algae and insects, which are nutrition rich but cause less wear and tear on the planet than some conventional crops.


We hear about advances in cellular agriculture that are bringing us animal-free dairy and meat that are essentially identical to the real thing. Is a cell-cultured prosciutto only a matter of time?

Stepping away from our plates for a bit, we talk with an anthropologist and the former owner of a charcuterie company about what all these alternative proteins will mean for the communities that have grown up around the meat industry.

We also learn about an invisible, edible, tasteless coating made of silk that keeps foods fresher longer and could be coming soon to a produce section near you.


headshot of Rachel Cheatham

Courtesy of Rachel Cheatham

Rachel Cheatham, N05, NG08, is an adjunct assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She is the founder and CEO of Foodscape Group, a nutrition strategy consultancy designed to help businesses develop and market healthier foods based on global wellness trends and insights. She has been a commercial television producer, director at the International Food Information Council, and senior vice president at Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm.


headshot David Kaplan

Photo: Alonso Nichols

David Kaplan is the Stern Family Endowed Professor of Engineering at Tufts, a Distinguished University Professor, and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He is the director of the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture. His research focuses include biopolymer engineering, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. He has published over 1,000 peer-reviewed papers, is editor-in-chief of ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering and is an elected fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering.


headshot of Sophie Letcher

Sophie Letcher is a Ph.D. candidate and New Harvest Research Fellow in the Kaplan Lab, where her research primarily focuses on culturing insect muscle and fat cells to create novel food products. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2018 with a B.A. in Neuroscience. After graduation, she spent two years working as a technical research assistant in the Butovsky Lab at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.


headshot of Ryan Pandya

Photo: Courtesy of Perfect Day

Ryan Pandya, E13, is the chief executive officer of Perfect Day, the precision fermentation company he co-founded with Perumal Gandhi in 2014. Pandya studied chemical and biological engineering at Tufts, where he contributed to seminal research on tissue engineered meat at the Kaplan Lab. Following graduation, he worked on breakthrough upstream process development for biotechnology company MassBiologics. An unfortunate incident with a bagel and a sad soy “cream cheese” substitute led him to search for a better way to make the dairy foods he loved. The result, Perfect Day, was named one of Time magazine’s most influential companies of 2022.



headshot of Fiorenzo Omenetto

Photo: Carlo Ricci

Fiorenzo G. Omenetto is the Frank C. Doble Professor of Engineering and the director of the Silklab at Tufts. He is a special advisor to the provost, a professor of biomedical engineering with secondary appointments in the physics and electrical engineering departments.

His research interests are in the convergence of technology, biologically inspired materials, and the natural sciences with an emphasis on new, transformative approaches for sustainable materials for high-technology applications and solutions for global health and sustainability.

He has proposed and pioneered the use of silk as a material platform for advanced technology with uses in photonics, optoelectronics, and nanotechnology applications.

Omenetto was formerly a J. Robert Oppenheimer Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratories, a Guggenheim Fellow, and is a fellow of the Optical Society of America, the National Academy of Inventors, and of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Tällberg global leadership prize. His research has been featured extensively in the press with coverage in the most important media outlets worldwide.


headshot of Alex Blanchette

Photo: Alonso Nichols

Alex Blanchette, an associate professor of anthropology at Tufts, studies the politics of industrial labor and life in the post-industrial United States. His first book, Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm (Duke University Press, 2020), is an ethnography of work within some of the world's largest meat corporations. He teaches classes on environmentalism, capitalism, labor politics, value beyond work, interspecies relations, food production, political economy, ethnography, and the rural United States.


headshot of Davide Dukcevich

Photo: Alonso Nichols

Davide Dukcevich, A96, studied history at Tufts and worked as a journalist at Forbes and other publications. He then joined the family business: making and selling charcuterie, a tradition begun by his Croatian grandparents in Italy. Dukcevich and his brother led Rhode Island-based Daniele, Inc., for 15 years before selling the company. He is now a private investor and a supporter of cellular agriculture research.

­Julie Flaherty: What will the food of the future be like? Will we be popping nutrient pellets, 3D printing our dinners, or drinking blue milk like in Star Wars 

Ronee Saroff: The reality may be far more revolutionary than that.

Flaherty: This is Tell Me More, the Tufts University podcast. I’m Julie Flaherty.

Saroff: And I’m Ronee Saroff.

Flaherty: Today, we’re talking about the foods of tomorrow.

Saroff: The experts say meals in 2050 might not look that different from what we have today—the familiar burger on a bun, for example, doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere soon. But the ingredients may be completely new.

Flaherty: That hamburger might come from beef that never touched a cow.

Saroff: Your breakfast sausages might be stuffed with protein-rich algae.

Flaherty: And your pancakes might be made with cricket flour.

Saroff: The hope is that new crops and technologies will lead to a food system that is less wasteful, better for the planet, and more resistant to climate change. Let’s dig in.

Flaherty: What will we have on our plates in 20 years? Rachel Cheatham has a good guess. She’s a faculty member at the Friedman School, where she got her PhD in nutritional biochemistry. She’s also the founder of the nutrition consulting group Foodscape, where she keeps an eye on consumer trends for food companies. Her prediction? A lot more variety in the food we buy. And she doesn’t mean the number of Oreo flavors at the supermarket. She’s talking about the different crops that food companies will be working with. She says right now, we’re kind of depending on the same main ingredients, like wheat and corn and chicken, for most of our foods. 

Rachel Cheatham: 75% of the global food supply comes from 12 plants and 5 animal species. Over the decades, we’ve kind of narrowed down variety even within a crop—variety of types of rice, variety of types of wheat.  

When you lack the diversity and variety, that can really have some devastating consequences. If that particular variety or crop is more susceptible to disease or if it is unable to, you know—maybe it doesn’t have good drought tolerance.

Flaherty: And with climate change, who knows if we’ll still be able to grow those same old crops. So Cheatham says food companies are looking at other crops. Instead of wheat, that might mean quinoa, which is naturally pest resistant, or amaranth, which requires little water to grow. They’re looking at wild grains and pseudocereals, such as buckwheat, teff, einkorn, millet, and spelt. 

Cheatham: They’re looking into these to figure out which ones are the most sustainable, disease resistant, drought tolerant, but also high nutrition, high fiber, high level plant protein— all these kind of elements coupled with what can they reasonably pull into their supply chain for a price point that their consumer will still accept.  

Flaherty: As a nutritionist, Cheatham likes to point out that eating a diverse diet is better for human health, too. But whether people do it for the planet or for themselves, are they going to change the way they eat to something drastically different? 

Cheatham: There’s comfort in familiar foods for sure. Having said that, I think there is greater awareness now maybe more than ever that the health of the planet and the health of my body are not completely separate and the more as a consumer I can think about how that fits together and try some different kinds of foods and just kind of explore the world of flavors and tastes and textures more than I have in the past, I think is becoming more popular and just more normal.  

Flaherty: But will consumers be willing to try algae? 

Cheatham: One of the top three or four ingredients that I’ll get asked about does include algae.  

Flaherty: We’re talking about big algae, like kelp, as well as tiny microalgae. Food companies are interested because it’s high in protein, loaded with micronutrients, and growing it could take far less water and land than traditional crops. 

Cheatham: And of course we’ve had our sushi wrapped in seaweed for many years in a traditional way so people have some familiarity there, but you have other innovative brands in this country and I’m sure and others that are doing kelp burgers and kelp dogs, almost like a hot dog.  

Flaherty: So we’ve had beef burgers, bean burgers, Impossible Burgers, and now kelp burgers? Cheatham says there’s a reason for that.  

Cheatham: The more a novel ingredient—something like Kelp or whatever it may be—can come in a familiar form factor—a burger—at least then consumers will feel—they’ll feel comfortable giving it a try.  

Flaherty: The same goes for another food that we may be seeing more of: crickets. Scientists, including those at Tufts, are studying whether insects, which are high in protein, arguably more sustainable than meat, and eaten regularly in some parts of the world, can find a market in the United States. Are Americans ready to eat bugs? Depends how they’re prepared.   

Cheatham: If it’s a whole cricket and you’re biting into it and its legs are flipping out and flopping out, that might be a lot for the average American consumer to take in, literally and figuratively. If that same cricket is ground up into flour then mixed with peanut butter, chocolate, and turned into a bar, it can be a lot more approachable, a lot more palatable.  

Do I think insects and especially the protein they deliver will ever reach mass levels that it’s like, oh, I could have a chicken breast or I could have some cricket protein? Truthfully, no, I don’t think that’s what will happen. On the other hand, I do think we’ll see, and hopefully so, see a greater diversity of protein options, which should help with sustainability. It should have a good ripple effect. We don’t all need to eat chicken or beef all the time. 

Saroff: For those who aren’t quite ready to trade their favorite hamburger for a kelp and cricket sandwich, researchers in Tufts School of Engineering have another idea. It’s called cellular agriculture.

David Kaplan: The simplest way to describe cellular agriculture is essentially growing meats and foods without animals.

Saroff: That’s David Kaplan, a professor of biomedical engineering. He uses tissue engineering techniques to cultivate small samples of cells into foods like beef, chicken, and fish.

Kaplan: Really all we need from the animal is the cells. And so we use the cells to recreate the substance, the structure, the nutrition, the features of meats and protein-rich foods, but we never need a living animal to do this.

Saroff: To learn how scientists can turn a few cells from, say, a cow into a beef burger, we spoke with Sophie Letcher, a Ph.D. student in Kaplan’s lab.

Sophie Letcher: So usually you’d start with just a harmless biopsy from the cow muscle or fat tissue. Then we try to recreate the conditions that the cells are exposed to while they’re inside the cow in order for them to grow a lot more. We heat them to physiological temperature. We make sure they have enough oxygen. We feed them nutrients and then we hope that they multiply a lot.

We give them cues to mature them into their final forms. And then you could either just grow these cells by themselves or you could add some sort of texture, which we call a scaffold, and try and recreate the actual texture and mouth feel of meat.

If you’re trying to make an unstructured thing like a chicken nugget or a hamburger, then maybe you don’t care so much about getting your exact, really long, big fibers. You’re just going to grind it all up anyway. But if you’re trying to mimic a steak or a chicken breast, that gets a little bit more complicated. 

Saroff: While research into cultured meat has boomed, Letcher says there’s still a lot to figure out. 

Letcher: We’re pretty good on being able to get cells and grow cells. People have been doing that for a long time in biology and bioengineering and biotech stuff. But understanding how to grow a bunch of those cells at a low cost is I think what the field is struggling with right now.

We also have to  make sure throughout this entire process that we are actually creating products that are more environmentally friendly than their animal counterparts. Like, we still have to think about relying on renewable energy to power our huge bioreactors and things like that. So I think the wide-scale adoption of cellular agriculture is pretty dependent on a lot of big advances in our field as well as in adjacent fields. 

Saroff: One thing the lab has been working on is a challenge put out by NASA and a nonprofit called the Methuselah Foundation. 

Letcher: That was to create some sort of new technology to create a food product that would feed a crew of four astronauts on a three-plus-year mission to Mars. So it has to be the greatest potential food output with the smallest input possible.

Saroff: At the same time, it has to be something that astronauts won’t get sick of on a long journey.  

Letcher: If you’re eating kind of freeze-dried things. That’s okay for a while. But if people are going to be gone for that long. They want to be eating something a little bit more fresh with a little bit more variety.  

Our solution, you might guess, was having to do with cellular agriculture. But instead of using the maybe more traditional cell species—so like the cow or pigs or chickens—we were using insect cells.

All the reasons that insect cells could be interesting options and promising options for cultured meat in general are kind of amplified when we think about growing them as a food source in space. And that’s because compared to mammalian cells, they require a lot fewer resources to grow. They are a lot more adaptable to changing conditions, for example, like they can just grow at room temperature and then they can also adapt to things like different pH or salt concentrations or the actual vessel that you’re growing them in a lot easier than other cell types. And so we are proposing to grow insect cells in space and kind of this closed system bioreactor that could create fresh protein throughout the entire mission. 

Saroff: They’ve been experimenting with caterpillar cells, and so far, so good.  

Letcher: We’ve been able to isolate cells that can grow, up to this point, almost two years continuously which is pretty exciting for us.

Saroff: Letcher herself is a vegetarian, but one day, she hopes to add meat—cultured meat—back into her diet. 

Letcher: Yeah, I think—I mean I’ll definitely eat them. The amount at which I would eat them, of course, is dependent upon them being more environmentally friendly than I guess any plant-based alternatives that I would eat right now. But I’ll definitely eat them. 

Saroff: Bugs in space may be a ways away, and cell-cultured meat is only just beginning to hit the market. But a kind of animal-free milk that is essentially identical to cow's milk is already on the shelves. Emily Wright Brognano spoke with the engineer-entrepreneur from the Tufts class of 2013 who created the company behind it, called Perfect Day.

Emily Wright Brognano: As a Tufts undergrad, Ryan Pandya took advantage of the opportunity to reinvent himself.

Pandya: I decided to go vegetarian and then eventually totally plant based. And this transition was underway for me while I was a freshman/sophomore at Tufts. And it was not easy.

Wright Brognano: His personal journey to adopting a plant-based lifestyle was what inspired Pandya to begin experimenting with cellular agriculture. He started working in David Kaplan’s lab after taking a course in biomaterials and tissue engineering.

Pandya: It was not only fascinating to me, but seemed to be this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine something so personal and so important to me with my education, right? And with a really cool, cutting-edge science.

Wright Brognano: Pandya spent the next two years in the lab learning how to use cutting-edge biomedical techniques to try to grow food-grade meat. After graduation and a brief role in pharmaceutical engineering, he started brainstorming ways to get involved in cellular agriculture again. One of those ideas helped him launch his company, Perfect Day.

Pandya: So these things sort of combined in my mind of there’s got to be a way to use technology that’s similar to what people are trying to do in meat and yet can actually make dairy, which should be a lot easier, I thought, because you’re not growing a whole hunk of an animal, you’re just making some protein and maybe some fats and whatever else is in milk, right?

Wright Brognano: Right. Well, sort of. It was a little bit more complicated, but fast forward to 2023 and Pandya and his team at Perfect Day have the process figured out. Perfect Day creates whey protein, one of the major proteins found in milk, through a process known as precision fermentation. Completely animal-free, Perfect Day’s protein is used to make dairy products that are indistinguishable from the animal-based dairy we’re familiar with. But just how exactly does Perfect Day use fermentation to create that protein? Think beer, Pandya says.

Pandya: We’re all familiar with the idea that if you go to a winery or if you go to a brewery, they’ve got these big, beautiful stainless-steel tanks and there’s some kind of a yeast or microflora floating around in that tank, eating sugar, converting it into alcohol, right? At its core, you can think of fermentation as this conversion process where sugar is the input, and in the case of alcohol, alcohol is the output. In our case, what we’ve done is actually work with microflora that are able to convert sugar into protein.

Wright Brognano: But Perfect Day takes it a step further. It uses a bioengineering technique called strain engineering to encode the microflora—in this case fungi—with milk protein DNA sequences. So rather than the protein they naturally create, the microflora create whey protein.

Pandya: The field of biological sciences has come to a level of maturity to where you can actually change the protein that the cell is making. So the exact same process that’s being done and has been for 50 years to make not only flavors, fragrances, enzymes, even medicines— things like insulin have been made this way—we are now applying it to make core food proteins that really meet consumer needs that haven’t been possible before.  

Wright Brognano: With the animal-free proteins, food makers can create products like yogurt, sour cream, and ice cream with identical textures to products made with animal-based dairy.

Pandya: So you can basically imagine it as a plant-based milk that just happens to have Perfect Day protein in it. And all of a sudden it now has the protein content, the nutrition, and the versatility and culinary utility that milk would have to turn into all these end products.

Wright Brognano: Perfect Day’s protein is already in a number of products you know, including ice cream and beverages in your local grocery store. Many of those options could wind up replacing traditional dairy one day. But Pandya says that’s not Perfect Day’s goal.

Pandya: We don’t really need to displace dairy. We’re looking at it more as a way to supplement and a way to, if anything, help the dairy industry themselves to move in this direction.

Wright Brognano: That new direction has sustainability in mind.

Pandya: Protein to protein, like if you’re going get whey protein out of cow’s milk versus make it in fermentation, the animal-free whey protein reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 97%, water use up to 99%, and energy consumption up to 60%.

Wright Brognano: Pandya understands that change will take time. But even in small increments, it will make a big difference.

Pandya: We don’t have to change the entire world overnight, right? If you imagine that just 5% of the U.S. dairy market was converted to animal free, just 5%, that means in a year we would save the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 140,000 roundtrip flights, coast-to-coast, from San Francisco to New York; enough water to fill 1.4 million Olympic swimming pools; and enough energy to power Washington D.C. for six years. And that’s on an annual basis.

Flaherty: A food system that takes less water and energy would have huge environmental benefits. So would a system that just wastes less. Each year, an estimated 40% of food in the U.S. ends up in the trash. It happens at farms and stores, and we’ve all been guilty of tossing out food that we didn’t get a chance to eat before it went bad.

So imagine if you could have strawberries that keep their just-picked taste long after you get them home from the store, and bananas that can sit on the counter for more than a week without turning brown. It’s possible, thanks to a preservation technique that was developed here in a lab at Tufts.    

Fiorenzo Omenetto: So I’m Fiorenzo Omenetto—I go by Fio—I am a professor in the biomedical engineering department and I work mostly nowadays on silk. 

Flaherty: Just like the silk that goes into fine fabric, the silk used in Omenetto’s lab comes from the cocoons of silkworms, but it’s processed in a very different way.   

Omenetto: Instead of taking the fibers and weaving them into clothes, we take the fibers and we melt them into a liquid version and we transform it into a variety of materials that are plastic-like, that are coatings, that are blocks, that are sponges.  

Flaherty: The Silklab has formed that fibrous protein base into all sorts of useful things, from faux leather to optical sensors to glue that can be used underwater. But discovering silk could extend the shelf-life of foods was almost an accident.  

Omenetto: I’m embarrassed to say that it was not the product of long, sleepless nights and notebooks. This was more serendipity.  

I think that the first time that we did something that spoke to preservation was around Halloween when we did have some human blood around in the lab because we were doing some experiments on blood analysis, and then we said let’s mix it with silk and make a film of silk and blood.

Flaherty: Wait, wait—you mean because it’s Halloween and it’s spooky? 

Omenetto: Absolutely. This was the deep thought. And so we made it and we felt really proud of ourselves. And then we completely forgot about it.  

Flaherty: When they noticed the samples a couple months later, they saw where the blood should to have turned brown, it was still bright red. That led to a series of studies on silk’s preservation qualities, including one where they coated strawberries and bananas in liquid silk and left them at room temperature. After a week, the berries were red and firm, and the bananas weren’t overripe.  

Omenetto: Basically, silk, in its liquid form, it wets the surface of the fruit and then it dries and it makes a very thin film one-fifth the diameter of your hair. And it’s transparent and tasteless. It acts as a barrier, as a protective barrier, so it slows down the respiration of the fruit. 

Flaherty: And it turns out it doesn’t just work on fruit. It can keep moisture out of dry foods, like nuts, and keep mold and bacteria from growing on foods like meat and fish. Plus, it’s safe to eat.

Omenetto: Silk is very inert. It’s something that is composed by native amino acids and water. And it’s fairly invisible to the body.

Flaherty: Their research became the basis for a company called Mori.

Omenetto: It has scaled up the process and taken silk coating to an industrial scale to the point that now it is a product on the shelves. Silk-covered spinach is now being sold across major retail stores in the Northeast.  

Flaherty: How can it be cost-effective to coat food in silk? Well, Omenetto says the threads used in silk clothing have very particular qualities that add to their price.  

Omenetto: We don’t really care about the qualities of the threads because we dissolve them anyway.  

Flaherty: So Omenetto can use just about any silk. Plus, he says it takes very little silk to protect food, which makes the price point work.  

It’s great that my strawberries will last longer once I get them home from the store, but there are far wider ramifications, particularly for the more than one billion tons of food we waste each year.  

Omenetto: And certainly anything that can be done to mitigate this has a positive effect across the globe, whether it is actually giving opportunities to preserve food in settings that do not have the same refrigeration infrastructure that we are accustomed to, or whether it is adding shelf life and ability to keep our food fresh longer so that we don’t throw it away, I mean all of these things are very, very important. 

Flaherty: Silk-based food preservation, animal-free meat and dairy—all these technologies mean big changes not just for consumers, but for all the people who work in the food industry. Take livestock workers: What will it be like if we no longer need to raise and slaughter so many animals?  

Alex Blanchette: My name is Alex Blanchette. I’m an associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies here at Tufts, and for about 15 years I’ve worked on industrial meat production. 

Flaherty: As part of his research, Blanchette spent 2 1/2 years living in a small town where a pork production facility was by far the largest employer. He interviewed and shadowed employees at all levels in the company; he even worked an entry-level job in the birthing department.

He has seen first-hand the realities of large-scale meat production.  

Blanchette: If you are trying to move 20,000 pig bodies through a single disassembly line in 18 hours it brings with it a lot of consequences. Each of those mega slaughterhouses brings with it mega hog bars all around them, which in turn has the effect of, say, concentrating animal manure in one place that makes it very difficult to dispose of, that can create water issues, certain stench and scent issues for surrounding communities. 

If you are trying to kill a pig every three seconds, you really do need a pig body that is remarkably uniform, so the workers don’t need to adjust their motions too much on the fly. But that in turn, I think, has ripple effects down the entire life of the pig, and how animals are raised. We arguably need to keep pigs indoors ingesting doses of antibiotics in very, very controlled conditions in order to generate that kind of uniformity. 

Finally, if you are killing 20,000 pigs a day, it means that one person could be positioned on one part of the line making anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 motions a day. That creates a real risk of injury, of repetitive motion injury. And what I found in a lot of my research was that line speeds as they were moving in 2015 were already kind of at the limits of what human workers could do. 

Flaherty: Now in theory, a switch to cellular agriculture should fix a lot of those problems—for workers, for animals, for the environment. Blanchette just hopes everyone can benefit from the changes.  

He says it could be that we eat far fewer animals, and the industry downsizes, but that those slaughterhouses that remain still operate the same way, processing thousands of animals per day.  

He also wonders about all the other animal products, besides meat, that now come out of factory farms.

Blanchette: Corporations have long tried to break even on meat and in turn make their profit margins by finding profit from all of the other substances in the animal body. Where I did my research, in the midwestern United States, there was 1,100 product codes earmarked onto each pig body.

About 700 of those are different cuts of meat, different ways of processing meat, but a solid 400 didn’t have anything to do with meat. It was taking all of the fat and turning it into biodiesel. It was all sorts of different preparations for gelatin that in turn are used later on in value chains. All sorts of different products from drugs to other industrial inputs.

If we did devise a system where the urban factories were just producing sheer meat, what happens to all of the gelatin, all of the other substances that make up our everyday consumer goods, even if we don’t realize it? 

Flaherty: Blanchette is also concerned about what will happen to the communities that have grown up around the meat industry. 

Blanchette: As it stands, most of the nation’s meat packing plants are concentrated in one single given community, and it is the economic basis of that whole area. And so I do think a big question is, if we were to imagine a replacement for these large plants, these large industries, these things that for better or for worse do organize significant rural economies, are they going to be located in cities or are they going to be located in the countryside? Who’s going to reap the benefits of these plants? How much labor will they actually need? The striking thing about meat packing in the U.S. is actually how much labor it still requires. It just can’t be done at this moment through machines.  

What does rural development look like in the United States if it’s not anchored around the mass production of animals or the mass production of feed crops like corn or soy to feed animals? 

Flaherty: It’s hard to know all the ripple effects that will come from reinventing our food system. We talked with one veteran of the meat business who is embracing the changes.

Saroff: Davide Dukcevich, Tufts class of 1996, grew up surrounded by meat. His parents founded Daniele, Inc., a food company in Rhode Island that specializes in Italian charcuterie like pancetta, mortadella, salami, and its crowning glory, prosciutto. The manufacturing plant was his playground. 

Davide Dukcevich: These prosciutto drying rooms were massive—I mean acres and acres of ham drying. And me and my brother and sister would play hide and go seek in the rooms among the ham. It was a very unusual kind of upbringing.

Saroff: Dukcevich worked in the family business for more than 15 years, until 2019, when they sold the company. The whole time, he tried to ensure that the animals they used in their products were humanely raised. Even so, he had some guilt.  

Dukcevich: Growing up, I remember I tried watching this movie, Babe. You know the one with the pig running around and it was so cute and these animals are so adorable that I couldn’t bear it.

It definitely weighed on my conscience. 

Saroff: And then one day a few years ago, he was listening to a podcast where they talked about something called cellular agriculture.  

Dukcevich: I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard that this technology was out there. 

Saroff: He was drawn to the environmental benefits of cell ag, but especially the idea that animals would not be harmed.  

Dukcevich: That is something that’s very, very important to me, though, is if you can mitigate suffering, you have to right?

Saroff: Since then, Dukcevich has donated a million dollars to the Kaplan Lab here at Tufts to accelerate the research. He’s also been investing in cellular agriculture businesses, because in addition to the societal benefits, he sees an economic opportunity.  

Dukcevich: There’s just so much money to be made, and I think that that’s a really healthy thing, because I do think that in order for things to be sustainable, you need money to do it. You just can’t depend on sort of donations and whatever. This could be the ultimate thing.

Saroff: He’s not too worried about what cultured meat will mean for the livelihoods of the farmers he used to work with.  

Dukcevich: The nicest people who I met in my time as a ham salesman were farmers. These people in the Midwest, they’re just so decent and just good and lovely. They really care and love their animals. When I think about the guys who treat their animals well, who sell their products at a higher cost, their livelihoods will be okay. I do think that the ones that will get really hit hard are the industrial slaughterhouses and the industrial farms and I really pray that those go away.  

My dream is to be able to sell a cell-grown prosciutto, you know what you mean? To do what I used to do, to go see my old friends in the industry and to tell them, listen, this is just as good. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get there, both from the science level but also from the flavor level. I would love that. That would be an amazing homecoming and it’d be an incredible way to come full circle.

Tell Me More is produced by Anna Miller and Julie Flaherty.

Our executive producers are Dave Nuscher, Ronee Saroff, and Katie Strollo.

Editing support by Sara Norberg. Audio support by Jenna Schad.

Our music is by Motion Array and Blue Dot Sessions.

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Or shoot us an email at tellmemore@tufts.edu.

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