Everything but the Cluck: Sonoma State Graduate Creates Plant-Based Chicken Nuggets

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Christie Lagally, a Sonoma State University graduate, is the mastermind behind a growing company dedicated to one thing: creating “chicken” nuggets without the chicken. Rebellyous Foods, which was founded in 2017, is now a rapidly growing company that has successfully placed its products in hospitals, restaurants, schools, cafeterias and more. An ex-Boeing engineer and former senior scientist at a plant-based food think tank, Lagally has now dedicated her career to revolutionizing the food industry. 

While some extremely popular meatless products like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger are rapidly making their way into mainstream eating, Rebellyous Foods is quite possibly the only company dedicated entirely to creating chicken substitutes. “Not only is the scale of the chicken industry hurting animals and the environment, chicken production is rife with workers’ rights abuses and creates impossible situations for farmers who have to conform to industry standards or go hungry,” Lagally explains, “Factory farming as we know it today began in the chicken industry, so there’s something poetic about beginning our work with plant-based chicken.” Lagally says that her love of animals, passion for sustainability, and determination to fight climate change led her to pursue this idea. 

Rebellyous Foods also focuses on making plant-based meat alternatives more affordable to the average working-class American, recognizing that some of these products have a reputation for being expensive. “We believe plant-based options should be available to everyone,” Lagally states, “no matter where you live or how big your paycheck is.” 

Lagally believes that the rapidly rising plant-based meat industry will eventually become a strong competitor with conventional meat. “Demand for plant-based meat is on a constant upward trajectory,” Lagally says, “In the same way that non-dairy milks have taken over the dairy aisle, plant-based options will eventually challenge animal options at the meat counter.”

While Lagally’s statements may have been laughed at a few decades ago, in today’s market, they may not be far fetched. Recent data shows that the retail market for plant-based foods is worth approximately $4.5 billion, with dollar sales growing by 31% in the past two years. Major fast-food chains including Del Taco, Subway, Burger King and Carl’s Jr have recently launched plant-based meat options. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken has begun experimenting with meatless chicken trials--painting an entire location green for its launch in Atlanta, which attracted thousands of hungry customers and sold out in just five hours. When Bill Gates tried Beyond Meat’s chicken strips, he described it on his blog as “a taste of the future of food”.

This new surge of demand for plant-based options comes at the same time that climate change awareness and activism is increasing rapidly around the world. Whether this is why more people are choosing to try plant-based meats is unclear, but the new trend is undoubtedly making an impact. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report asking citizens to reduce their meat consumption, citing domestic livestock as a major contributor to land, resource, and water use as well as greenhouse gas emissions. “Just about everyone wants to make choices that are consistent with their values,” Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute stated in an interview with Food Tank, “so just about everyone supports sustainable farming practices, wants to lessen their adverse impact on the climate, and wants to see animals treated well. The solution is pretty simple--we just need to create and promote the companies that are making plant-based and clean alternatives to animal products a reality.”

Christie Lagally’s Rebellyous Foods is just one of many of these companies, and her enormous success might signal the future of the ever-changing food industry.