PT 5: Search for the Silver Spore

Now, breaking down grass and turning it into dairy proteins may be a trick that mother nature herself figured out eons ago, but for us humans it’s proven mighty difficult to replicate. We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that we keep a patch of land and some cattle, and that the milk simply keeps flowing. Problem is, that patch of land kept growing until it wasn’t a patch no more. Instead of a few cows that get lots of personal care and attention in exchange for their milk, we got them cooped up like battery hens and hooked up to machines to meet the ever-increasing demand for dairy. ‘Course, there’s plenty farmers who take good care of their animals and who take pride in their treatment, but those are becoming scarcer by the year. And it ain’t just the cows who’re suffering, neither. The pressure that the dairy industry exerts on our land, our water supply, and our biodiversity has been rising.

Those Vegan Cowboys think it’s high time to look toward the future, and to look for a better way. Well, the molecular miracle that goes on inside those cows is something we’ve taken for granted for a long time, a fact that’s becoming all the more obvious as our efforts in the lab continue. The trick is to find the right strain of fungus; one that eats grass and produces so-called caseins through a process of fermentation. These caseins are essential building blocks of dairy, and producing them in bulk is the key to creating a dairy industry that’s not dependent on the use of live animals. Using their own set of fungal strains, our hard working folks in the lab have caught a rare glimpse of these caseins, like grains of gold in the digger’s pan. This is a sure sign that we’re on the right track, but history rarely remembers those who’ve spent their years just to walk away with a pouch of gold dust in the end. No, we have our sights set on the motherlode, and to that end we need a very specific fungus to guide our way.

We came to calling this fungus the Silver Spore, a stable strain of microbial magic that can efficiently create the caseins we need to change the world of dairy. All the gold and gemstones in the Appalachian mountains put together ain’t worth half as much to us as this spore, so we’ve placed a mighty high bounty on its discovery: two and a half million euros to those who point us to the strain we so sorely need. Reporters and papers quickly took up the message, and boy did word spread fast. Across plains and seas alike, people caught wind of this noble search and all over the world microbiologists have been straining their minds to think of ways in which they could aid us in our quest. It might come from Russia, it might be from China, from a humble lab in Illinois or even on soil much closer to home, but find it we will. And when we do, our road to cheese Eldorado will be laid out in front of us, as plain as a nugget of gold in a handful of mud.

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PT 4: Gold rush in the Milklab

Now, unlike open range, where cows are mostly left unattended until it is time to be rounded up, our milk robot is still in need of constant care. Once she’s had a calf, a cow may produce milk without putting too much thought into it, but life in the MilkLab is different.

In order to get the milk robot to work, the cowboys need to unravel the mystery of casein micelles – the spherical structures much needed for making cheese. All bovine caseins have been broken down to their smallest components, and now the process of putting them together and looking at micelle formation begins. Our posse have their plan laid out and take position behind their microscopes. And then they wait.

Yes, this can be sheer drudgery, but it also bears resemblance with the gold rushes of the past. You couldn’t just throw your pan in the river bed and expect gold to magically deposit itself in there. You needed to wash the ore endlessly and wait for the gold among the mud and gravel to settle on the bottom of your pan. But once it had, you could be pretty damn sure there would be plenty more where that came from. Casein micelles also have the tendency to settle, since they don’t dissolve in water easily, or at all for that matter. And that is what our cowboys are waiting for.

The view underneath the microscopes is like an endless prairie, not a tree within spitting distance. The cowboys will ride for days before encountering something, if anything. But they keep riding, with their hats pulled low, squinting their eyes and scanning the horizon, only resting when… Wait, one of the cowboys jumps up, takes out her gun and shoots a few blanks – it is, after all, still a lab. She sits back down, looks again, but it’s there all right. Drifting into the optical path of her microscope, a first casein makes its appearance. Yee-haw!

PT 3: Cowboy finds himself a lab

After searching long and wide, the quest for knowledge and know-how brought our boys to Belgian soil. Hidden away amidst the sprawling facilities of Ghent University, they found themselves at the doorstep of a laboratory like no other. Inside, cowboys were hard at work, but not with the cowboy’s familiar tools of the trade. No sir, these cowboys worked not with lassos or leather straps, but with beakers and pipettes, with shakers and centrifuges.

These fellers know all there is to know about proteins. Until that day, they had been using their hard-earned knowledge and expertise for the development of medicine, a noble venture indeed, but now they would embark on a journey of applying these skills to a venture nobler still; creating plant-based successors of the milk and cheese we love so dearly.

Jaap and Niko had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Will, the friendly Sheriff in this neck of the woods and the man who would be leading his band of scientific frontiersmen on their newly found mission for the white gold that is vegan dairy. Along with his head honchos Kathleen, Steven and Frank, he’s setting out to investigate and create an animal-friendly alternative to old-fashioned milk and cheese. To this end, these fellers break down the building blocks of milk into their constituent elements, and develop the stuff to replace them with.

These cowboys are hopeful that the fruit of their labors will reveal new ‘n exciting ways to employ yeast and fungi in the synthesis of proteins and casein. This here group of pioneering professors came to calling themselves Those Vegan Cowboys, scientists on a mission for a better world.

Those Vegan Cowboys are dead set on driving the cattle out of our food chain; the logical next step in humanity’s collective development of the dairy industry. From milking by hand back in the day, we took strides towards the future with milking machines, and are now living in a world where fully automated milking robots catch the blisters so we don’t have to. But now that our suffering of the job has lessened with technology, it’s high time for their turn, for the animals whom we have cared for and grown to love all these centuries. Through their hard work and effort in the lab, Those Vegan Cowboys are looking to liberate the cow and replace it with a new milk machine, one that takes grass and turns it into milk. Durable, animal-friendly, and one-hundred percent high grade stainless steel: the first genuine milk robot!

This search won’t be the kind that’s over and done with in a short year or two. In all likelihood, it’ll take years before a true end to this mission is in sight, but Those Vegan Cowboys are nowhere near discouraged by this fact. One day our kids will be sat around the campfire, telling the story of how milk and cheese used to come from animals back in their day, and the youngsters listening wide-eyed won’t be able to imagine such a thing. Fortunately, Jaap and Niko know from personal experience with The Vegetarian Butcher that it sure can take a while before one finds the plant-based egg of Columbus that we’re dreaming of. All the more reason to start searching today. Hi Ho Silver, saddle up, it’s going to be a long, hard ride. Yeehaw!

PT 2: Farmer becomes a cowboy

As tends to happen in life, things turn out differently than planned. Rather than becoming a trapper, Jaap becomes a farmer. Just like his father, his grandfather, and no less than six Korteweg generations before him. Driving his tractor, however, he sometimes still pretends to be that heroic pioneer from the prairies. He’ll aim his finger at a muskrat and whisper ‘Pang’, but his killing days are over. Just like ‘Old Shatterhand’, Jaap often contemplates right and wrong, good and bad.

Then one day, there is an outbreak of swine fever. Watching those endless images of dead pigs on TV, Jaap decides this animal misery must end. Animals that are free: GOOD; animals chained or killed by humans: BAD. The time to fish or cut bait is now, so Jaap and brother Niko, whom he meets by chance, come up with a ruse. Animals are slaughtered simply because people don’t want to live without meat. But what if they were to build a machine that makes that same meat, skipping the whole misery part? And that’s how The Vegetarian Butcher was born.

The farmer has become a cowboy. A rebel with a cause, kicking up a row, waking snakes – turning the status quo upside down. A new type of cattleman. One who doesn’t have a horse, but an electric car with a 449 horsepower rating that can drive like the devil. This cowboy avant la lettre refuses to catch animals, instead, he builds machines so he can release them from their chains. And afterwards, he’ll lead the cattle back to the prairie where they can roam freely.

Thanks to his first machine, killing animals for meat becomes unnecessary. So far, so good. But this vegetarian cowboy has become aware of other sufferings: cows stowed away for their milk, calves separated from their mothers, chickens caged for their eggs. Ho now! That first machine alone won’t do; these two defenders of what’s right start looking for reinforcements.


PT 1: Jaap wants to be a cowboy

Young Jaap wants to be a trapper when he grows up. He wants to be just like Karl May’s most famous character Old Shatterhand, who only fires a bullet as a last resort and lets justice prevail. With this heroic pioneer from the prairies in mind, our young daredevil roams the countryside in Brabant, looking for adventures, his trusty rifle at the ready. Being the honourable cowboy that he is, Japie fantasises about taking on the bullies out there. He will catch them, give them the fright of their lives, and after that he’ll allow the scoundrels to run away, still trembling with fear – just like Old Shatterhand would.

Every Sunday in front of the fire at the Old Nest, young Japie listens to Uncle Piet’s tall tales. His adventurous great-uncle left for North America at seventeen, and lived – he never gets tired of telling this – with the Native Americans. His stories may not always be accurate, but no one minds. Let alone young Japie, who dreams of following in his uncle’s footsteps.


About uncle Piet

  • Oom Piet als kleine jongen (1/6)

    Piet, de latere oudoom van Jaap Korteweg, wordt op 12 februari 1895 geboren in Zierikzee. Hij is de zevende uit een gezin met acht kinderen. Pieter Boudewijn ten Haaf, zoals hij voluit heet, wordt vernoemd naar zijn overgrootvaders Pieter van Poortvliet en Boudewijn van der Slikke.

  • Huize Ruimzicht (2/6)

    De familie ten Haaf heeft het goed. Vader ten Haaf koopt het buitenverblijf van de burgemeester van Zierikzee. De meeste tijd spendeert de familie in het achterhuis van ‘Huize Ruimzicht.’ Moeder ten Haaf, Pieternella van Poortvliet, verwijdert de siertuinen en plant fruitbomen.

  • Vertrek naar Amerika (3/6)

    Volgens het verhaal volgt Piet op zeventienjarige leeftijd zijn broer Leen naar Amerika om daar samen te werken op een nieuwe boerderij.

  • Bericht aan thuis (4/6)

    Of ze dat daadwerkelijk samenwerken, is de vraag. Wel bewijst een ansichtkaart uit 1924 dat Leen en Piet met elkaar optrekken.

  • Op zoek naar goud (5/6)

    In 1928 overlijdt broer Leen, waarna Piet zijn eigen weg gaat. Hij gaat op zoek naar goud, in California bij de Humbug Creek, zoals op de achterkant van een foto beschreven uit 1934 beschreven staat. Oom Piet vertelt later dat hij goud vindt en de klompjes verstopt onder de vensterbank in zijn kamer. Hij bewaart ze voor zijn zussen en nichten. Zij ontvangen het goud nooit – naar zeggen van oom Piet omdat een compagnon hem besteelt. Boze tongen in de familie beweren dat van dat verhaal niets klopt.

  • Weer thuis (6/6)

    Pieternella van Poortvliet verliest haar eerste kind al vroeg. Daarna komen haar zonen Leen, Willem en haar jongste dochter Nel (de oma van Jaap) te overlijden. Pieternella wil niet alleen achterblijven en vraagt aan Piet om terug te komen. In 1938 komt hij terug naar Nederland en trekt bij zijn moeder en zussen in op Huize Ruimzicht. Het bevalt hem matig, trekt. Hij vraagt een nieuw visum aan, waar hij door het uitbreken van de oorlog niets aan heeft. Moeder Pieternella overlijdt in 1943 op 88-jarige leeftijd. Oom Piet blijft met zijn zussen in Zierikzee wonen. Tijdens de watersnood van 1953 spoelt Huize Ruimzicht letterlijk leeg. Piet vertrekt met zijn zussen naar Den Haag, waar hij later in 1983 overlijdt.