I'm baaack! After a year hiatus to have a baby, promote a new book, and start a new job, I think I *might* have the spare time to occasionally write a few prescient words. Don't expect miracles- probably once a month postings. But I intend to talk about the same kind of subjects with the same level of thought and research that I put into my previous work. This means no clickbait, fake news, pseudo science. If you want short tidbits, look elsewhere.
As the year 2016 comes to a close, I have been thinking about the vast amount of media and money that is now being thrown at factory foods. I am not talking about factory farmed foods, but rather foods that are developed in a laboratory and then reproduced en masse in food factories. Very different beasts altogether. One involves farmers, farmland, animals, pastures, and rural livelihoods. The other involves urban laboratories, industrial buildings, concrete, non-solar energy, workers, CEOs, venture capitalists and shareholders.
Yes, we all know that the production of animal products (meat, milk, eggs, wool, hides, etc) can and does have some vast environmental impacts, both positive and negative. But it is also a LIVELIHOOD for tens of thousands of people, mostly rural folks, around the globe. Animals, in large part, turn solar energy and photosynthesis into food. Plants of course do that too, but animals often eat the plants that we don't eat directly ourselves.
Now it is quite easy for a person almost anywhere on the globe to choose to eat a mostly plant-based diet. They can eat things like legumes, grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, vegetable fats, and some dairy foods. I was a vegetarian for 12 years and ate my fair share of whole grains, beans, peas, olives, nuts, produce, eggs, and dairy. Most of these foods I ate in their real form or close to it. Grains were milled into flour which then are baked into bread. Beans were soaked and then simmered to be edible. Vegetables sauteed in fat. With exception of a little tofu, nearly everything I ate could be identified by name and closely resembled the original crop. Nothing was fake. I didn't have to eat a broccoli pill made from broccoli essence to get my need for broccoli. I just ate broccoli. If I needed more 'umami' flavors, I would saute some mushrooms or use seaweed flakes on my soup. But again, I knew I was eating mushrooms and seaweed flakes.
In the last few years and really exploding in 2016, there has been millions of dollars pouring into new fake meat or cultured meat products (over $300 million according to this Entrepreneur article). These companies either recreate the flavors of meat altogether using things like pea flour, nutritional yeasts, and other chemical flavorings, or they grow meat from animal cells. Some are developing fake leather (don't we already have that? I am pretty sure I have had multiple pleather shoes in my lifetime) or fake eggs that don't come from chickens but rather biotechnology. All of these companies websites purport to be saving the environment, freeing domesticated livestock from bondage, and freeing up crops that should be going to feed humans instead of animals. In a nutshell, they say they are 'saving the world'. Is this the case?
Since I don't have full life cycle analysis on all of the ingredients that make up these fake animal products (most of the info is proprietary at this point), I can only go with some gut feelings based on the scientific analysis of animal production and the production of other crops. I will compare a fake meat product that is made up of legumes, grains, vegetable fats, and synthetic ingredients (such as a Beyond Meat chicken tender). I will compare that to some pasture-raised organic chicken. I know it would make more sense to compare to confinement chicken, but I think a better choice than fake meat is choosing to buy from smaller scale farmers who raise their animals on pasture.
|Fake Meat Chicken Tenders||Real Pasture-Raised Chicken|
|Main ingredient: Soy protein isolate||Main ingredient: meat protein|
|Energy source to manufacture: coal/gas||Energy source to grow: sunshine fueled crops|
|Ingredients grown: in monocultures||Ingredients grown: mixed pastures, diversified farms, some grains grown in monoculture|
|Manufactured in: an industrial warehouse||Manufactured in: family-farms all over the US|
|Location of headquarters: Manhattan Beach, CA||Location of headquarters: farmhouse table|
|Location of manufacturing: Columbus, MI||Location of manufacturing: on a family-farm all over the US|
|Packaging: plastic bag, non recyclabe||Packaging: plastic bag, non recyclabe|
|Serving size: 9 ounces||Serving size: 56 ounces (3.5lb chicken)|
|Price per ounce: .667 ($6 package avg)||Price per ounce: .3125 (for a $5lb chicken)|
|Key investors: Bill Gates, Tyson Foods, Humane Society of America||Key investors: farmers, maybe a smidge of USDA loan $ from US taxpayers|
|Where do profits go: to investors (see above)||Where do profits go: to farmers, to farmworkers, back into the communities|
Seriously, if you crave the flavor of meat, eat good meat. If you don't crave the flavor of meat, eat grains, beans, and vegetables. There is no need for more manufactured fake meats in the marketplace. By eating this junk, you are not only taking away power and dollars from the farmers who could be stewarding our land and rural communities, you are also getting ripped off. Compare the per ounce prices above. Even a relatively expensive organic, pasture-raised chicken prices at $5/lb. is a bargain compared to the Beyond Meat chicken tenders which are more than double the price.
I've said it before and I will say it again: Just Eat Real Food
If you want to save the planet and humanity: Eat Less Meat, Better Meat