With innovations in the market, plant-based meat is quickly gaining interest and popularity among meat lovers and plant lovers alike. But what are we eating?
Meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh, and veggie burgers have been around for decades. They are marketed among vegans and vegetarians as a protein source with a consistency similar to meat. In recent years, scientists have studied the flavors and aromas of meat that give meat-eaters the satisfaction they crave. They have worked to achieve plant-based options that mimic the taste, smell, texture of meat, and have the same amount or more protein. It is a compromise between meat and plants. It bridges the gap between more sustainable foods that use less energy to produce while maintaining that smokey flavor and chewy consistency. They have created products that serve as plant-based replacements to reduce meat consumption, change perceptions of vegan food, and provide a delicious product. Morally you can feel better about the smaller environmental impact of what you are eating while enjoying the experience you get from meat.
Psychology is changing the perspective. Some meat eaters refuse to give up meat and do not believe plants can taste as meat does. They have grown up in societies that glorify meat in commercials, media, food stereotypes, and within friends and family circles. There is a high demand for meat, and meat suppliers. By figuring out precisely what gives meat its attraction, scientists can replicate those sensations and convince someone they are eating meat when it is made entirely out of plant material. This changes the perception of a plant-based diet and shows meat-eaters that plant-based replacements can taste just like their favorite meat-based foods.
From a health standpoint, there are positives and negatives to this.
The positive is, they are all plant-based ingredients. But activists and health experts argue that some ingredients, such as soy, are grown with GMOs – 90% of all soybean farms in the US use a form of GMOs. Companies that produce these products respond by mentioning how around 80% fewer herbicides are used in each serving of their products than are used in bringing up a cow for the slaughter.
Many of these companies emerged in the last ten years. The two most popular brands are Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. All their products are completely plant-based, although not quite as healthy as one would hope. An Impossible Burger and a Beyond Burger contain 20g of protein per serving, but a whopping 400g of sodium and 18g of fat.
They are not designed to be healthy food; it is more about ethical responsibility.
Impossible Foods primarily uses leghemoglobin in their burgers, which is generally found in soybeans’ roots but can be manufactured by using yeast. It gives meatless meat the red color associated with cooking meat. Beyond meat, on the other hand, colors their burgers with beet juice. They both use plant-based proteins, such as potato and soy, and oils such as sunflower and coconut, with vegan binding agents.
How are these ingredients produced, and what is the environmental impact? The carbon footprint for making these meatless meats is astonishing compared to meat. In a study, Beyond Meats reported that one burger uses 90% less greenhouse gas emissions and 93% less land space than a quarter pound of US beef. Some researchers point out that eating an entirely plant-based, whole foods diet is better than eating processed meat alternatives. While meat alternatives reduce your carbon footprint, they do not beat plant-based whole foods. They could still be a step in the right direction of reducing meat consumption, and as a result, greenhouse gas emissions would decrease as well. We know that meat production is wildly unstable.
If meat-eaters are weaned off animal products by giving them meat alternatives that taste just as good. We can drastically decrease our environmental impact.
Many restaurants now offer some kind of meatless burger on their menus or use it as a base for a vegan meal. This is revolutionary for those who eat out and cannot find plant-based options, mainly at fast-food restaurants, unless it is a salad. While not all of these restaurants are certified vegan, this initiative starts the conversation and educates people. Meatless meat is usually advertised for meat-eaters. As such, some restaurants serve vegan meat alongside non-vegan products; Dunkin Doughnuts’ Beyond Sausage Sandwich comes with egg and cheese. There is also a concern that at non-vegan restaurants, vegan meat might be cooked in butter. Or on the same grill as other animal products.
It is important to ask when eating out.
The fact that restaurants are adopting meatless meats is enough to spread awareness about plant-based foods. By reducing a regular person’s daily intake of meat, they show that vegan products can be equally tasty and satisfying. People who prefer a plant-based diet can reminisce about meat with plant-based alternatives. While meat-eaters get a different perspective on what it means to eat plant-based. The culture is changing, and meatless meat is breaking the stereotype about carnivores and herbivores.
Meatless meats have been revolutionized and put into the spotlight to change the way we think about meat and plants. The stereotypes of being vegan or vegetarian are breaking. And new innovations are exciting the curiosity of those looking to try something new. This is just the beginning, and there is so much farther to go from here. These alternatives are not a good solution to long-term goals of eating sustainably. However, they do reduce our environmental impact and kickstart a powerful conversation for healthy plant-based living.