Is this the Food of the Future?
Ever since it was announced that McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC were partnering with Beyond Meat, I was really excited. Finally, plant-based meat is becoming mainstream! As a vegetarian, I loved the recent boom in the fake meat market. I’m also a genuine fan of Beyond Meat. But all this attention for meat alternatives had me wondering. What could plant-based meat mean for our future diets, public health, and of course, the environment?
With the fast food industry including more vegetarian/vegan options, does it help increase the addition of plant-based meat in households? Surprisingly, the plant-based meat market was estimated to be valued at $4.3 billion USD in 2020, and projected to reach $8.3 billion USD by 2025!! This surge in interest in plant-based meat is a direct response to the growing vegan and flexitarian population.
But what exactly is plant-based meat? What are the effects of this alternative meat on our health? Can it solve the climate crisis? Here’s a deep dive into the plant-based meat market.
1. Craving a Burger? You May Be Craving One Singular Molecule
We’ve come a long way from soy patties and black bean burgers. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat were the first companies to discover what makes meat, “meaty”.
Impossible Foods uses heme to create that traditional meaty flavour for their patties. The company makes plant-made heme through fermentation of genetically engineered yeast. As a result, you get a “bleeding” burger with the likeness to real beef.
It’s All In The Heme
According to Impossible Foods, when you’re craving meat you’re actually craving heme – it’s found in every plant and animal on the planet!
As explained in the video above, once the molecule was identified, scientists were able to essentially recreate this naturally-occurring phenomenon. It was a pretty watershed moment for the movement towards plant-based meat.
2. A Win for Animal Welfare!
Fake meat offers an alternative to the real thing. With more people consuming plant-based meat in their diets it can help divert the environmental consequences of red meat. That’s the really good news! There is however a catch. Although fake meat is obviously better for the environmental, we still need to consider the process itself.
Switching to plant-based meat won’t solve the climate crisis. Ultimately, locally grown vegetables and legumes are better for the planet than alternative meats. It takes A LOT to process the fake meat and make it resemble the real thing. There’s also the transportation factor and energy usage that leave their mark on the planet. Not to mention burgers such as the Impossible Burger contain soy protein isolate – which currently rely on chemical production. Unfortunately, that’s not so great for the planet!
3. Plant-Based May Not Mean ‘Healthier’
We know traditional beef burgers are not good for you. Some people switch to plant-based meat for this exact reason. However, before you pick up that Beyond Burger, know that it’s not as healthy as you may think.
Plant-based meat is completely safe to consume, but it’s still a ‘junk food’. Can it help you avoid the elevated risk of cancer from red meat? Sure. But you’d still be consuming a processed food item. In the long run, it’s not something you’d be wanting to eat everyday.
The point of these plant-based burgers is to target people that usually consume beef burgers. They try to imitate meat as closely as possible, including in caloric content. In the end, there’s not much of a difference in terms of calories.
4. A New Source of Protein
Plant-based meat offers a new source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. One Beyond Meat Burger has 20 grams of protein alone. So this new shift toward meatless meat means more people are looking for alternative sources of protein.
In the Beyond Meat Burger, there is pea protein, as well as rice protein. Additionally there are various sources of plant-based protein in fake meat, such as:
- Black beans
- Mung bean protein
- Potato protein
If you’re someone looking to use plant-based proteins, most of these alternative meat sources can provide you with these nutrients. Additionally, if you’re someone worried about B12 intake specifically, fake meat has got you covered!
5. Huge Growth in the Alt-Meat Market
We’re witnessing a major boom in the fake meat industry. Beyond Meat had the best IPO in 2019, growing more than 163% on opening day! Stock was initially selling for $25, now it’s at $140 (BYND). While Impossible Foods isn’t publicly traded yet, they’ve already scored $300 million in funding. This is crazy growth! No wonder more restaurants are dabbling in plant-based meat. The market is there – and growing.
In one year, plant-based meat went from being a niche ‘health’ food, to nearly 40 percent of Americans having tried it. We know that the average consumer today is more conscious of their food habits. More specifically, there is also growing awareness of how our diets impact the planet. Is this a lasting change or a fad?
Are We Moving Towards the Fall of Traditional Meat?
No likely. At least, not yet! Despite the current interest in plant-based meat, global meat consumption remains consistent. That’s because, as many are giving vegetarian options a go, there are others around the world who are also beginning to consumer more meat protein. So where do you stand? Would you be willing to give plant-based meat a try? Do you think it’s, overall, better for the environment?
If so, what have you got to lose? Although plant-based meat still has work to do in terms of sustainability, it can actually help lower your individual environmental impact. So why not consider including it in your diet. Or try adopting Meatless Mondays, if you haven’t already. Veganism and vegetarianism remain minority diets in the world. However, by increasing this demographic we can help combat the 15% of greenhouse gas emissions that are released from livestock.
So if you’re thinking about reducing your meat consumption, don’t be afraid to try out a plant-based meat over a red meat patty. You may be pleasantly surprised!! Reducing your intake of red meat can also be gradual process. It doesn’t have to be an immediate, full-time commitment!
It’s definitely exciting to see how far we’ve come in terms of fake meat (looking at you soy patties!). But it’s ultimately up to you on what you decide is right for your body, and how you can shape your diet to benefit both you and the planet.