We’ve all seen it in the meat aisle of a grocery store. Beyond Burgers, Impossible Meats: cozying up to regular beef hamburgers and hotdogs in the meat freezer, not looking at all out of place. But then, the word ‘plant-based’ catches your eye.
What’s this? You do a double-take. Vegan food— in the meat freezer?
Yes, vegan meat is here, and it’s available in way more than hipster restaurants and hippie communes. Meatless meat is lining the shelves of Whole Foods, Costco, Target, Kroger, and Publix. Vegan patties compose Impossible Whoppers from Burger King, mini sliders from White Castle, and breakfast croissants from Dunkin’ Donuts. They’re on menus in Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, Qdoba, Mcdonald’s, Del Taco, TGI Friday’s, and countless more— Meatless meat is not just here, it’s here to stay.
The two biggest brands in the plant-based meat wars are Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, each with a signature product: the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, respectively. Impossible Burgers are made from soy and heme (the iron found in meat) while the Beyond Burger draws from isolated pea protein and beet juice. And, by most omnivore’s accounts, they taste pretty damn fine.
The appeal of the fake meat is comfort — it has none of the scary mental barriers of tofu of tempeh (although both are also delicious). It looks, feels, even bleeds like a regular cow-meat burger. But this heme-soaked blood comes with none of the environmental impact, animal cruelty, or e coil outbreaks that factory farms produce. And consumers are starting to notice.
Plant-based meats are having a moment during quarantine
While many customers initially regarded these products with shock and curiosity, they now have newfound appreciation. 93% of those who buy Beyond Burgers are actually omnivores. Meatless meat is no longer a sad-looking grey patty that some poor vegan eats in the corner of a barbecue. It’s mainstream now. And, during our current lockdown, meatless meat is enjoying a skyrocketing popularity.
Beyond Meat (the company behind the Beyond Burger) has seen its stock rise 170% since the start of the pandemic as consumers are flocking away from traditional meat and dairy products to their plant-based alternatives. Beyond Meat have doubled their sales in the last three months, meanwhile, their competitor Impossible Foods had a sales boost of 264%! Ten years ago, these incredible sales for vegan food would have seemed laughable.
The current COVID-19 caused global lockdown has catalyzed existing consumer trends towards diverse and sustainable ingredients. We’ve all seen the dalgona coffee and endless baked goods that populate our lockdown Instagram feeds — but they’re not the only way consumer habits are changing.
According to a Hunter Food Study, over half of Americans are cooking more during quarantine, and 45% are discovering new brands or ingredients. A similar survey in the UK, finds that 20% of Britons are ditching at least some of their normal meat-eating habits. Staying indoors basically non-stop is making many home cooks more creative in the kitchen.
Even before the lockdown began, many Americans’ attitudes towards meat have been shifting. A fourth of Americans have been eating less meat in a survey conducted in January of 2020. Animal rights and health benefits came in as reason #2 and #3. The main reason for the switch to veggies? The environment.
Vegan foods work wonders for Planet Earth
As climate change becomes more and more viscerally visible to everyday people — flash floods, hot summers, and horrid forest fires seasons — consumers are looking for ways to reduce their environmental waste. Our food is the perfect way to start.
Plant-based meats has far less of a carbon footprint than traditional beef. Impossible Burgers, for instance use 96% less land, 87% less water, and emits far less natural gas than a regular ol’ hamburger.
“Our relationship with the natural world is changing as this crisis strips away the layers between humans and the surroundings we used to be too busy to take in.” — Gaby Hinsliff
Animal agriculture is the world’s largest contributor of rainforest destruction and water waste and the second-largest emitter of greenhouses gases, after fossil fuels. It’s wasteful, unsustainable, and cannot continue to be a part of the human race if we intend to survive on this planet. Further, it raises the likelihood of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.
Plant-based meats aren’t perfect — they have processed ingredients and are wrapped in plastic when sold. However, meatless meats represent a significant step forward for our species in reducing our collective carbon footprint.
The Future of Meatless Meats
As meatless meat takes up more shelf space in grocery stores, its impact will soon become undeniable.
Beef’s biggest weapon against alternative meats, aside from consumer habit, is price: a Beyond Burger costs about a dollar more than a regular hamburger patty. But this is simply a matter of scale, not fixed cost. Plant-based meats require less land, less production, and less transportation than regular burgers. Think about it: peas and soybeans can be grown for far cheaper than adult cows. Alternative meats just haven’t had as much time to build bigger and more efficient factories to keep up with demand.
But that is changing fast. Last year, Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown predicted that, come 2022, plant-based meat will be cheaper than beef burgers. With the recent pandemic-caused meat shortages across the country, this milestone may come even faster. Beyond Meat is now slashing prices and selling the Beyond Burgers in value packs, containers with a whopping 8 patties each. It’s all part of a rollout that Ethan Brown calls “offensive measures” to keep up with demand. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are also eyeing rollouts in Asian markets for next year.
Don’t be surprised if meatless meat becomes cheaper than cow meat within a year or two. Such a price decrease, coupled with consumer’s changing shopping habits, may end the dominance of Big Beef in western markets.
. . .
“Some of the most thoughtful people I know find ways not to give the problems of animal agriculture any thought. . . One of the unexpected side effects of these months of sheltering in place is that it’s hard not to think about the things that are essential to who we are.” — Jonathan Foer, New York Times, “The End of Meat”
The current lockdown situation has accelerated what seems inevitable: the global rise of meatless meat. Years and years in the future, the human race may look upon our meat-eating habits now with shock. How could we have eaten something every day that was destroying the planet around us?
As meatless meat becomes more accessible and tastier than ever, beef hamburgers are becoming progressively harder to justify for our species.
For whom the (cow) bell tolls?
It tolls for beef.
This post was previously published on Greener Together and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: https://www.beyondmeat.com/