To Impossible and Beyond! How beating the meat could save the world.
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
'Meatless’ meat sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
The first I heard about so-called meat alternatives was during the ad break of a podcast over a year ago. The podcast's host was enthusiastically telling me about something called the Beyond Meat Burger that "bleeds like real meat" and can be found next to "real" meat in (American) grocery stores. Not long after, I was hearing about this meat-like non-meat patty on just about every podcast I was listening to.
Then suddenly, A&W was bringing the Beyond Meat Burger to Canada and it's selling out everywhere. Since then there's been Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches at Tim Hortons, meatless meat burritos at local Mexican restaurants and I even have a choice of meatless meat patties to pick up for dinner at my own local grocery store.
But wait, I'm not a vegetarian, so why is this even being marketed to me? And also where did all this meatless meat come from all of a sudden? And furthermore, what the hell is going on?
First of all, what is meatless meat?
These products are essentially meat made from plants. But these aren’t just any old veggie burgers. It’s not about mashing black beans and sweet potatoes into some facsimile of delicious dead animals.
As reported by Vox, meatless meat is a product made from vegetables that is meant to taste like meat. In fact, “The teams behind meat alternatives work to ensure their products have the flavor, macronutrient balance, and cooking experience of meat.” The Vox article also points to the Impossible Burger’s ability to “bleed” while it cooks, due to a protein called heme.
Meatless meat is made purposely to mimic its namesake in all but originating from animal proteins.
And it’s having a moment.
2019 has been a banner year for both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, as well as some other meat alternative brands. These companies have quickly expanded into fast food and are now offering sausage and chicken options, in addition to their original burger offerings.
This is just the beginning. With more and more investors getting behind these companies, their product lines are sure to continue growing and expanding, at least as much as consumer demands allow.
The times, they are a changin’
You might reasonably expect the primary target for meatless meat would be vegetarians and vegans. But both Impossible and Beyond are going after meat-eaters.
Is it about possessing the moral superiority to know that eating animals is wrong?
Maybe meat is just the latest victim of the millennial generation’s insatiable industrial bloodlust?
Fun! But no.
As it turns out our collective attitudes toward eating meat are just changing.
Last year CBC News reported on a study from Dalhousie University that states more than half of the 1,000 Canadians they surveyed “said they would be willing to cut down on eating meat. And a third of respondents said they would reduce their meat consumption over the next six months.”
Among the primary reasons given for these changing attitudes were meat’s potentially negative impacts on health and concerns about the meat industry’s effect on the environment.
Wait. Meat is bad for you?
At this point, we’ve all heard that red meat is bad for us.
The Lancet Report, released in January 2019 suggests “a dramatic reduction in red meat consumption for people who eat a lot of [red meat], like Americans and Canadians, but not the world’s poor, who need more animal protein for better health.”
Furthermore, other studies focusing on North Americans have linked at least semi-vegetarian diets to “lower blood pressure, lower body weight, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, improved blood glucose control, and lower risk of some cancers.”
While not definitive, that seems to be enough proof for this health-obsessed generation to at least cut back on meat consumption.
W.W.G. D. – What would Greta do?
Perhaps most importantly, the shift to meat alternatives is also being driven by ecoanxiety—a.k.a. “the dread and helplessness that come with ‘watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children and later generations.’”
Basically, we all feel screwed.
Back in 2015, The Guardian reported that “our diets are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions,” and “agricultural emissions are thought to account for around 30% of global emissions, with livestock responsible for half of these.”
Reinforcing these gloomy stats, The Lancet Report states, “the way we eat and produce food has become so destructive to the environment and our health that it now threatens the long-term survival of the human species.”
Something needs to change, and fast.
Fortunately, the Lancet Report also proffers a plan of action: “’Plant-based foods cause fewer adverse environmental effects’ than animal products by every metric.”
So Impossible and Beyond burgers are the solution?
First, let’s look at the health issue.
Vox writes, “Plant-based meat products are safe [from GMO’s and links to cancer and heart attacks that red meat have] and they are likely at least as healthy as the products they’re replacing. But if you’re hoping for a burger that’s as good for you as a salad, food science has a long way to go.”
A burger is a burger is a burger.
As for the environment, meatless meat’s biggest issue is with scale.
Again from Vox, “Meatless meat can make a huge difference for the environment by almost every metric, including land use, water use, and fighting climate change. Right now, however it’s too small a share of the market to significantly impact those problems.”
So no, the Impossible Burger is not going to save the world.
Not yet at least.
“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes” – Taylor Swift
Meatless meat is not the all-encompassing solution to the bigger problems we’re facing. But it’s a step in the right direction.
If we’re going to bring back our planet from the brink of extinction (#sorrynotsorry for the apocalyptic take) we need to seriously rethink our relationship with meat.
Defintion: “A flexitarian mostly follows a no-meat diet but occasionally includes red meat, poultry or fish/seafood maybe 1-2 times per week.”
This may seem like a ridiculous, even hypocritical, idea.
If you’re going to go vegetarian, why not go all the way?
Well, for one thing. Lots of people—myself included—want to cut down, but also still like the taste of meat—so sue me.
And for another, it’s easier to convince more people to start eating less meat, than to convince almost anyone to stop eating meat entirely. It's a much more attainable goal.
As Brian Kateman, founder of the Reducetarianism movement—I know, there’s a lot of made up words being thrown around. Stay with me—states, “All this idea of perfection and purity is silly. What we really should be focusing on is reducing societal consumption of animal products.”
And if that still seems a little crazy to you meat diehards, even our governments are starting to get on board.
Canada revolutionized their food guide back in January 2019. Instead of focusing on the four food groups that we’ve all grown up with, this new guide simply encourages Canadians to eat “plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods” and to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”
The impact a change in diet can have on the environment cannot be understated. In his speculative piece about what would happen if everyone ate beans instead of beef, James Hamblin writes, “A relatively small, single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact—more so than downsizing one’s car or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.”
In other words: every little bit does help.
Don’t be a meathead
So, meatless meat isn’t going to save the world. But it can be a part of the overall solution.
It’s up to each of us to do what we can (not to mention the steps that governments and corporations need to be taking).
As for me, I’ve gone down to only eating meat on Tuesdays and Fridays. And while I might not immediately see tangible results, I feel like I’m making a healthy choice and I can sleep a little better at night when it comes to my impact on the environment.
And hey, if I’m craving a decent burger on a Wednesday, at least I’ve got options.