It can be found in Dallas-local Whole Foods Markets, ready to pile into a take-out box in the prepared food section. It looks, shreds, feels and tastes just like chicken, yet it is made up entirely of plants.
It is Beyond Meat’s chicken-less tenders, an imitation meat product made with real meat eaters in mind.
While veganism and vegetarianism have become growing trends, companies like Beyond Meat are working hard at creating plant-based imitation meats, hoping not just vegan or vegetarians will start replacing meat with plant based foods in their diets. These innovations claim to create positive impacts while some food activists aren’t so sure.
Meat consumption is projected to rise nearly 73 percent by 2050 according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which means there won’t be enough meat to supply every meat eater in the future.
Innovative companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods that make plant based foods look, feel and taste like meat and egg products, are creating new alternatives so that consumers can benefit from animal nutrients while avoiding real meat and eggs.
Besides being animal free, plant-based products from these companies are missing saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, hormones, gluten, dairy and GMOs yet contain high, if not equal, protein values compared to real meat.
SMU senior and applied physiology and enterprise major Jennifer Robb believes a diet with more plant-based foods will promote healthy nutritional habits that can help decrease some of the deadly trends Americans face today, including the rise in sodium and saturated fat consumption.
“Processed foods and red meats play a major role in changes that have occurred in the obesity rates over the years. A more plant-based diet will not only decrease the obesity rate, but it would also […] decrease the occurrence of chronic diseases that are linked to obesity such as type 2 diabetes and heart diseases,” Robb explained.
According to the FAO, the world will need millions more tons of meat in 2030 than it does today, a motivational statistic for companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods.
Yet these companies are also motivated by their environmental impact.
Using data from the Environmental Working Group, an environmental health research organization, and research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit dedicated to independent scientific analysis, Beyond Meat products take less grain, use less land and emit fewer carbon dioxide molecules compared to chicken and
Robb agrees that if plant-based imitation meats become a bigger success in the food industry, companies like Beyond Meat will help decrease global warming issues.
“Factory farms play a huge role in methane and nitrous oxide emission which harms the environment tremendously,” Robb said.
In an interview with Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, he explains that 51 percent of climate change emissions can be attributed to livestock.
Bill Gates, an advocate for the production of plant based imitation meats, interviewed Michael Pollan on these issues for a blog post on his blog, www.gatesnotes.com. Pollan, a food activist and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” expressed his opinion that replacing meat in people’s diets has become easier than ever.
Pollan believes that in the past companies have marketed lower quality soy based products with higher price tags. But now, not only are plant based imitation meats being sold at reasonable costs, the products are now designed to appeal to actual meat eaters instead of vegans or vegetarians.
This difference has caused Gates himself to believe that Beyond Meat’s chicken-free products are “indistinguishable from the real thing.”
Brown visited Mark Bittman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of “Food Matters,” at his home and “fooled [him] badly in a blind tasting” with the chicken-free strips. This prompted Bittman to write an article entitled, “A Chicken without Guilt for The Times.
But if the majority of people were to truly trade animal meat with plant-based imitation meats in their diets, changing the future of food, what kinds of consequences should people expect?
Beyond Meat’s chicken free strips, one of their most popular products and marketed with the tag line, “tastes, shreds and satisfies like chicken – without the cluck,” are made of peas, flour, fiber and large amounts of soy.
According to Globalization 101, the rise in demand for soy beans has greatly contributed to the destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest and since the majority of soy bean plantations are located outside of the U.S., shipping costs contribute
large amounts of fossil fuel emissions.
Pollan also believes that plant-based imitation meats are, “a legitimate option for a conscious carnivore […but…] it must be said that growing more soy is no boon to the landscape either. It won’t help us diversify our farms.”
SMU junior Evan Tormollen, who is double majoring in applied physiology and enterprise as well as biology, believes that if plant based imitation meats become a staple in American’s diets, the U.S. can expect consequences.
“Our economic landscape could completely change. While there would certainly be some jobs created by this field, I think that a push to eliminate animal meats could really put a lot of Americans out of work,” Tormollen said. “[While] these plant-based foods seem to be made in relatively healthful ways and are likely actually very good for you […] I think that at the end of the day, there is no substitute for animal meat […and…] there are many nutrients that come solely from animal meat that we cannot obtain anywhere else.”
As plant-based imitation meats are certainly creating nutritional and environmental differences, whether their impact is positive or negative remains uncertain while companies like Beyond Meat are pioneering this segment of the food industry.