Why ‘Plant-Based Meat’ Is On The Menu
by Stephanie Williams
You might have noticed the term ‘plant-based meats’ more and more recently. It seems everywhere you turn, another business is creating a product that doesn’t contain any animal products and is made from plants. But why is there such an increase and is it any good for you?
First to why we’re seeing it more. One big reason is the environment is struggling to sustain the amount of animals it takes to feed us all right now, and it will become even worse in the future as our global population pushes toward 8 billion. Resources are tight and animals contribute significantly to greenhouse gases. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), cattle produce more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than cars, and are responsible for 9% of all human-induced GHG. Secondly with more and more bad press coming to light about the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, some people are turning to vegetarianism and veganism to avoid harming animals. And finally, there’s an increase in research about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. People want to add more plant-based protein to their diet (hello meat-free Mondays!) and these ‘meats’ make it easy to do that.
Naturally there’s blow back from industries such as the beef industry. The UK bank Barclays stated in their I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat report (2019) that the alternative meat market (which is made up of plant products like tofu, soy etc and cultured meat like the plant-based meat products you see in the supermarket), is worth $14bn globally today, but is expected to be worth $140bn globally by 2029. And the beef industry should be worried, with the likes of angel investors such as Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s tech billionaire, buying into Australian plant-based meat producer Fable. Fable is made from shiitake mushrooms, coconut oil and sugar. In the US, Beyond Meat is the biggest player, and could potentially go stratospheric as McDonald’s is currently testing a ‘PLT’ (plant, lettuce, tomato) burger using their patties, followed by Impossible Foods which is backed by Bill Gates, from the small and emerging tech company of Microsoft.
But is it healthy? According to the Barclays report, “consumers are increasingly scrutinising their meat consumption because of the risks of high blood cholesterol and heart diseases associated with red meat in particular.” Alternative meat products tend to have higher salt levels than real meat. I’m no nutritionist but these products are generally made from quite processed plant based protein and you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than unprocessed vegetables and legumes. If you take a look at a label, they can contain either just a few natural ingredients or loads of additives, flavours and colours. Because the manufacturers aim to have a nutritional content similar to beef, plant-based meats are about equal in calories and saturated fat, but a bit higher in carbs and of course, sodium.
I tried a few different products recently to get an idea of the taste and texture. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t amazing, yet. It will be interesting to watch the development of plant-based meats, particularly given the level of investment pouring in and the increased interest from food outlets and restaurants. ■