Five years ago, Christie Lagally developed aeronautical equipment as a Boeing engineer.
Today, she’s taking sustainable food production to new heights as the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods, a plant-based chicken startup providing foodservice with crispy, juicy nuggets that are created to be affordable and impactful.
“The technical expertise I built at Boeing informed the equipment designs and processes Rebellyous is using to give plant-based meat manufacturing a much-needed upgrade,” she told us.
For decades, Lagally had been concerned about the ecological challenges plaguing the planet. She wanted to come up with the sweeping solutions they demand.
“Reducing meat consumption is one of the most powerful actions humanity can take to protect the environment and combat climate change, yet in the more than 10 years I’ve been in animal and environmental advocacy, meat consumption has continued to rise,” she said. “Plant-based meat is a powerful solution for this problem, but only if scaled. This is why, at Rebellyous Foods, we’re changing how plant-based meat is made so it can finally become affordable and accessible.”
An innovative business takes off
After she heard from the Humane Society of the United States in 2015 that foodservice sorely lacked affordable plant-based chicken nuggets, Lagally started pondering what could decrease the price of plant-based options. Several years later, as a GFI senior scientist, she realized that “replacing ‘chicken’ had more to do with infrastructure than products” and decided to found Rebellyous Foods in Seattle. The brand aims to offset agribusiness’ annual killing of billions of chickens, exploitation of growers and laborers, and severe pollution of air, land, and water.
“Factory farming as we know it began in the chicken industry, so there’s something poetic about beginning our work with plant-based chicken,” she said. “Chicken production is standardized and efficient because we made it that way. At Rebellyous we are making plant-based chicken efficient.”
To accomplish this, they moved their headquarters last month to a conventional meat factory as a model for the manufacturing-focused expansion of plant-forward offerings.
“We want to tell operators we can make more product at a lower cost producing plant-based meat with our optimized equipment than they can by slaughtering and processing chickens,” Lagally explained. “By making the economic argument for converting poultry plants to plant-based meat facilities, we invite transformation from within the industry instead of creating a product and process that competes with the industry from the outside.”
While plant-based companies usually prioritize crafting compelling alternatives to animal-derived meat, she thinks “taste and texture are a given. Our efforts around engineering innovation are built on making food dang good. All products are defined by not just what they are made of but how they are made. With better ways of making plant-based meat, we create better plant-based chicken.”
Majorly revamping plant-based meat
Rebellyous caters to schools, hospitals, and corporations rather than retailers to address the enormous gap in simple, cheap, and nutritious sustainable choices at institutional cafeterias.
“In kitchens that often lacked basic tools like measuring cups and cutting boards, there was no time, space, or funds for plant-based options that require fussy preparation and cost two to five times as much as factory-farmed meat,” Lagally said. “These institutions feed massive numbers of people every day, and we see this market as a huge ignored opportunity for the plant-based meat industry to fill a need for foodservice professionals and their customers.”
The toughest obstacle her venture must overcome is society’s difficulty with totally reimagining generating meat from plants to mitigate traditional meat-eating.”
Many believe plant-based meat will simply become cheaper and more effective at competing with the meat industry when it scales, but today’s plant-based meat production is so inefficient, it’s akin to riding a horse for transportation,” she said. “The better transportation was an internal combustion engine connected by a drive shaft to rubber wheels—nothing close to a horse. Making a better ‘horse’ required making a different machine altogether, not scaling the use of horses. At Rebellyous, we are designing a completely new system for plant-based meat—one that will look as different as a car from a horse.”
Header image credit: Rebellyous Foods; nuggets image credit: Glenn Lacey.