How Design Thinking Can Help Create Affordable Meat Alternatives


February 19, 2021



SCET Alt:Meat Lab Director Co-Authors Chapter in ‘Design Thinking for Food Well-Being’ with Two Other UC Berkeley Professors and Launches New ‘Design of Affordable Plant-Based Foods’ Class

One of the latest books on food design thinking to hit the shelves, ‘Design Thinking for Food Well-Being’ features several UC Berkeley professors as contributors, including Ricardo San Martin, the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology’s Alt:Meat Lab Director; Anne Fletcher, Lecturer at the Alt:Meat Lab; and Sara Beckman, Professor and Faculty Director of the Product Management program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Design Thinking for Food Well-Being utilizes design thinking methodology to investigate how to design innovative food products that are healthy and create pleasurable experiences for consumers. Professor Ricardo San Martin lends his experience in the domain to contribute to the 12th chapter of the book titled, ”Integrating Consumer Food Experience with Health and Sustainability Outcomes: The Critical Role of Design Imperatives.” 

The chapter dives into the design of plant-based food products using the lens of the consumer food experience. Professors San Martin, Fletcher, and Beckman start with educating the reader about the history, recent trends, and relevant background research about plant-based foods (PBF), followed by breaking down the role of ‘framing’ in food design and implementing ‘design imperatives’ to communicate frames. Framing, as explained in the chapter, is a design concept where teams create an underlying thesis or standpoint and come up with an agreed-upon perception of the problem they are aiming to tackle. Design imperative is another technical concept taught in the chapter that refers to “selected design principles and unique requirements that emerge from research.”

The three professors explain how design teams should have the capability to “frame and reframe” (create a problem statement standpoint and continuously refine it), in order to best engage in the process of sensemaking for finding innovative approaches to problem-solving. In order to implement design imperative principles and requirements, the professors state the example of considering a design imperative such as how food needs to be “healthy.” They explain how the underlying assumptions and discussions around what “healthy” means in the context of food influences the direction and outcome of the project; hence the significance of establishing design imperatives amongst teams when communicating frames. They then move onto explaining ethnographic research that points to how consumers experience food and the important implications that arise for PBF – especially regarding the supply-demand equation for food and its effect on the environment. 

The chapter’s core thesis revolves around the premise that plant-based foods are increasing in demand, especially in today’s day and age where the environment is becoming increasingly strained because of the food industry, which, in turn, is leading to health problems around the world. Simultaneously, as the world is becoming more westernized, consumers with growing wealth seek to adopt more Western-style diets (containing a greater proportion of processed foods) that not only contain significantly higher levels of fat but also contain greater levels of salt and sugar. This has resulted in an observed rise across various chronic diseases, from diabetes to obesity. With people continuing to add more processed animal-based products (such as meat, poultry, and dairy) to their diets, not only has there been a disastrous effect on the environment due to pollution, land utilization, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, it has also led to a surge in associated health problems globally. Professors San Martin, Anne Fletcher, and Sara Beckman thus seek to answer the lingering question in the rest of the chapter: how can we design affordable plant-based foods to reduce the global environmental footprint of the food industry? 

To build on the extensive alternative meat innovation curriculum taught at UC Berkeley and to answer the burning question he addresses in his chapter, Professor Ricardo San Martin will be teaching a newly designed 2-unit class, ‘Design of Affordable Plant-Based Foods.’ The class will be taught remotely this summer and will be open to UC Berkeley and non-UC Berkeley students around the world. The goal of this class is to explore the cutting-edge of science and engineering that goes into designing affordable, minimally processed plant-based food (PBF) products and thereby shape the future of our world. Working in teams, students will learn about food science and the economic principles needed to determine how plausible (or not) it is to design affordable plant-based foods. The class considers technical readings, team presentations, as well as lectures from industry, investors, and entrepreneurs working on PBF. At the end of the course, all teams will design an innovative PBF that may be a real alternative for low-income customers. 

‘Design of Affordable Plant-Based Foods’, an exciting new class under UC Berkeley’sAdvanced Topics in Entrepreneurship & Innovation’ series will be taught remotely from July 6th to August 13th and is open to UC Berkeley as well as non-UC Berkeley students! Learn More: