Meet Parendi Birdie – presented by PwC

Cellular Agriculture Research Associate, JUST, Food & Beverage

What do you enjoy most about working in manufacturing? I really enjoy my job. I love the feeling of making something that is real and tangible, something people want and something that will be utilized all over the world. I’m confident that our work will also make the world a more peaceful place. I believe I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to really help change the world. Sometimes I look at my research as if I’m watching a documentary 50 years in the future about an historic science project that moved our society forward — led by a group of researchers who used their intellect, grit and unending persistence to eliminate one of the largest drains on our environment and resources.

I chose this field, and to study biochemistry, because of a deep motivation to eliminate factory farming. Having spent most of my life in Kansas and Texas, I’m often asked why I felt the need to move to Silicon Valley to make meat, which is something we have plenty of where I grew up. We’re doing this because we truly believe that meat as a product is great. It’s delicious, juicy, aromatic and such an integral part of so many cultures— connected to our identity as humans. We also know that the conventional process of producing meat is long overdue for innovation and can be made much more efficient. So, we asked ourselves: What would it look like to start over — to create the same meat products that people have enjoyed for millennia, but in a way that’s safer and more sustainable? Enter cell-cultured meat (also known as clean meat), which is the same as the meat we’re all familiar with but grown in a different way. To understand this technology, it’s important to note that all meat starts with cells — often a combination of muscle cells and fat cells — and these cells are typically grown in an animal’s body. For example, cows eat grass and the nutrients from that grass allow the cells inside their bodies to grow and multiply. Once the cow (and its cells) grow enough, we slaughter the cow, harvest the meat, then cook it. But that’s not the only environment in which cells can grow. If fed the right nutrients, cells can grow in a vessel known as a cultivator that mimics the physiological conditions of an animal’s body. This is what us researchers like myself and my colleagues spend our days exploring. We’re looking for the optimal environment that’s so similar to an animal’s body, the cells just naturally grow as they would in a cow, chicken or pig.

What attracted you to a career in manufacturing? When asked as a little girl what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always responded with, “I want to change the world.” Not having any real idea about what that would look like, I was absolutely sure I’d do it and I spent two decades trying to figure that out. I knew I wanted to eliminate as much suffering as possible, and I explored a number of options. I considered becoming a doctor, lawyer, teacher, activist, the list goes on. But as I grew older, it became clear that if I really wanted to eliminate suffering and make this world a kinder place, I should focus my attention on helping animals. I researched everything from veterinary school to becoming an activist. Then I discovered cellular agriculture, and everything changed. I quickly learned that there is not a clear path in this emerging field. I’d have to tailor my education, coursework and research projects to pioneer the way for myself. My natural curiosity and craving for intellectual challenge has guided me. I feel lucky to have found a career in which I can be creative, indulge my fascination of science/nature and desire to solve the puzzles of science while making this world a better place for all.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about creating their future in manufacturing? Spend time thinking hard about what you can do to make the world a better and find what speaks to you most. Use your full imagination — unhindered by doubts, uncertainties and insecurities, and picture what it would look like to make that dream a reality. Keep your eye on the prize, cultivate an unwavering inner strength and conquer. Find an end goal to visualize, keep it top of mind and never lose sight of it. For me, that vision is pulling up to the drive-through window at McDonald’s and ordering chicken nuggets, decoupled from animal slaughter.