Home Articles ‘Alternative’ Meat Reviewed: Not All Substitutes Are Created Equal – Opinion

‘Alternative’ Meat Reviewed: Not All Substitutes Are Created Equal – Opinion

Photo by LikeMeat on Unsplash
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

If you haven’t heard of Beyond Meat or the Impossible Burger, you haven’t been paying attention to recent food news. These two companies have dominated meat substitute foodie headlines for the past couple of years. But if these are the only two meat substitutes you’ve ever heard about then you’re missing out. The world of faux meat is growing at a healthy pace, and new entries to the market are upending the industry. But let’s start with some of the criticisms.

Some are not impressed with the current price levels for either of the famous brands mentioned a few sentences ago. Many vegans enjoy lentils, or sweet potatoes, or other veggies that are high in protein and fiber-rich. These vegetables often retail at perhaps US$2 per pound.

However, 12 oz of one of these fancy imitation meat burgers sell anywhere from US$9-US$11, which equates to somewhere around $12+ per pound… and that’s more expensive than ‘real’ ground beef – depending on where you live.

So, price is one argument while the second is nutrition. Some of these alternatives, such as a recently-reviewed vegan chicken nugget substitute, were found to be high in sodium and do not have the levels of protein that you would expect.

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Also, some have been found to contain too much sugar and other less-than-awesome nutritional statistics. On the plus side – and it is a very big plus side – there’s no cholesterol and any meat substitute product. So, as far as heart health goes you can’t go wrong by switching from red meat to alternatives.

And now for some very good news. Vegan beef, in many ways the Holy Grail of alternative meat as beef is incredibly hard to realistically recreate, is now a reality… and a reality that according to the London-based celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, is about as close to the real deal as you can get.

Some vegans have even complained to Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, the chief executive and founder of one startup called Redefine Meat that his company’s plant-based steak is “too much like meat.”

So-called plant-based ‘alternative fat’ or ‘alternative muscle’ is printed on different areas of the steak to provide an incredibly realistic recreation of bovine animal protein. Ben Bartlett, a chef and barbecue expert, told The Guardian in late 2021, “I judge on taste, texture, and appearance – I’ve had so many bland and dull plant products. Then suddenly this came along and I was marking them 9s and 10s.” Such scores – from a barbeque expert no less – are rather astounding.

All but the most intellectually dishonest of us accept the logic: meat is an unsustainable industry that’s bad for the environment, as well as the reality that meat isn’t necessarily so great for human health either. We also – at least most of us – have some questions about the morality of the way we raise animals for food.

Factory farming doesn’t have a whole bunch of fans, but meat-eaters choose to overlook these inconvenient facts as the end product is just so delicious. And it’s natural – in the sense that humans evolved to crave meat. It supercharged our evolution and without it, civilization as we know it may not exist.

Should we continue on the current trajectory of the demand for meat, which is estimated to be increasing by roughly 3% a year, and if the population estimates turn out to be correct that by 2040 or 2050, we have 9 or 10 billion people on this planet, the math just doesn’t hold up and the environment will collapse under the weight of our dietary desires.

But if instead, we can at least reduce meat consumption with the aid of healthy and delicious 3D printed substitutes, we can wean ourselves off deeply ingrained preferences and perhaps eventually arrive at the vegan ideal of a meat-free world. The reviews and verdicts are in – new ‘alt’ meat is a whole new animal and set to change the world.

Eryk Michael Smith

Eryk Michael Smith is a journalist, broadcaster, writer, and voice actor based in East Asia. For over two decades, he’s written and commented on emerging technologies, social trends, travel, and the cultures, languages, and history of the greater China area. He also works on developing opinion pieces and feature-length articles on global news