Meatless used to mean deprivation! Going meatless meant sacrifice… for religious reason, because your cholesterol is high, you might even want to save the planet from global warming. Sacrifice! Today, though, a switch from meat to meatless is probably more because we don’t quite trust meat anymore. That has placed us on the verge of a new world of fake meat. Looks like meat, tastes like meat, it may even be meat…. from a lab! Lets dig right in to a heaping serving of the meatless future!
Meatless products are just that… products. These are products that are being demanded by consumers. Meatless food is no longer the domain of a hippie generation or vegans. Multi-billion dollar corporations are developing meatless products that look and taste a lot more like real meat.
In the 20th century, vegetarians were a mere curiosity. We thought their diets were funny or weird. Today corporate America is fascinated by their diets and their market potential.
Whoever can make the best tasting, nutritious, meat alternative will control a huge market. The US domestic beef industry is worth $60 billion, and the poultry industry is worth another $50 billion. And then there is the global potential for a high quality meat substitute. Nations that have recently become rich, especially those in Asia who come from a vegetarian tradition, might “upscale” their diets with fake meat instead of adding beef, pork and fish.
The rise of the vegetarians in America has been aided by changing demographics. Previous generations of immigrants mostly came from Europe, and brought their meat based cuisines with them. In 1960, 75% of immigrants came from Europe. Today it is a mere 8%.
Recent immigrants are more likely to arrive from Asia or India, nations with vegetarian traditions. America’s palette has slowly evolved, taking in new tastes and spices, incorporating “meatless” foods into mainstream eating. Some dishes merely use vegetables instead of meats. Others use tofu, tempeh and other meat substitutes to add protein. Still, most of these early attempts at meatless dining were more interested in a balanced diet than in duplicating the flavor of beef or chicken.
While our palettes were changing, our domestic agricultural industry was also changing. Family farms were giving way to farm factories. At home, few families were eating home cooked meals. Instead, take out, prepared foods, and microwavable meals became common. While this was very convenient, people began to wonder about the quality of this food. It was too processed, had too many strange ingredients, and factory conditions raised many questions about food quality and how well treated animals are in a “food factory”.
For several decades food producers have been focused on reducing the cost of meat. The most obvious way to reduce cost was to reduce space, but close confinement of animals creates the conditions for breeding disease. Big agriculture struck back with antibiotics. After a while, daily doses of antibiotics caused diseases to become resistant. More antibiotics were given, along with synthetic hormones to speed up growth, and a bit of genetic engineering to keep it all working.
Factory food animals might live and die without ever seeing the sun, or standing on real dirt and grass. Inhumane treatment of animals and rising questions about the safety of meat from factories has made us take a close look at our burgers and chicken nuggets. Many do not like what they see. An alternative made from plants is just what these suspicious consumers want.
The rest of the world, even the non-vegetarian world, eats a lot of plants. Especially in poorer nations. Not just the US market. Fake meat has mostly been a premium product for wealthy American and European consumers. Meat is usually more expensive than the nutritional equivalent from plants. Producing “meat” in a factory, at a lower cost than real meat, that’s the Holy Grail of fake meat.
In theory, it’s possible. It takes 2 to 10 pounds of animal feed to make 1 pound of meat. A factory might be able to make a pound of meat from the very ingredients used to raise animals… without the animals.
Think about it. We’ve been able to make fake leather, fake wood, and fake just about everything else in factories. And we can sell those products at lower prices than the real items, because nature is pretty inefficient. At least compared to a factory. Food engineers are hard at work developing the technology that can make more “meat” from less materials than the natural process of feeding a cow or a chicken. Some entrepreneurs are even trying to grow real meat directly from animal cells. Without the need for the rest of the animal… hair and feathers, skin, bones, and organs… scientists may be able to beat nature at its own game.
Globally, the world meat market is worth $1 trillion or more. Depending on how efficiently we can produce fake meat, greenhouse gasses could be dramatically reduced. Nutrition in the poorest nations could be massively improved, diseases reduced and life prolonged. But are we willing to make the switch to fake meat?
Major fast food chains think so! While their history with fake meat is on again and off again, they all seem to be moving towards some form of non-animal meat. Some early attempts failed. Some are only available at limited restaurants or are just temporary offers.
Consider McDonald’s. In their earliest days they had the “Hula burger (grilled pineapple), which was replaced by the Fillet O’Fish way back in the 1960’s. They do have adopted a permanent vegetarian burger option… but only in Finland. McDonald’s has been reluctant to widely introduce fake meat because the major suppliers (Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger) have not been able to keep up with demand. McDonald’s does not want to introduce an item that then become unavailable. However, once production issues are worked out, McDonald’s may take a second look at a meatless burger.
Other fast food chains are moving ahead. Burger King has committed to the Impossible Burger. It is only available at select restaurants today, but it will be available nationally later in 2019. TGI Fridays, Carl’s Jr., and Red Robin serve either the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger. Del Taco, a lesser known sort of “Taco Bel”, has started to offer impossible burger based taco’s and burritos. Little Caesars will be the first to offer a fake sausage option.
The food revolution is on! What about you? Have you been eagerly awaiting a meatless burger or fried chicken without the chicken? Or do you dread the coming of the meatless revolution? Tell us what you think!