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Plant-Based Meats - The Seven Sons Guide

September 1, 2021

By now, you’ve likely seen fast-food restaurants and grocers giving greater visibility to man-made or plant-based “meats.”

There are even venture capital-funded companies across the world that have entered the Fake Meat market with 3D-printed steaks. Can you believe that? If not, watch them being printed in this video on YouTube:

Can you see why we use the term "fake meats" now?

We know our customers value transparency and real, wholesome food and ingredients. But, given all the recent press and options popping up on menus and grocery store shelves, we know many questions exist about these plant-based foods, too.

  • How healthy are the ingredients?
  • What are they made of exactly?
  • Are they really made of plants?
  • Are fake meats better for the environment?
  • Is it really more ethical to eat plant-based foods?

I'll address these questions and more in this article.

Also, please know that my goal in writing this article is not to disparage anyone making a genuine effort to eat healthier and improve our food system. Rather, we applaud and wholly support you!

I want to assure you that my goal is to simply raise questions that I believe consumers should consider before choosing to believe all the fancy marketing claims.

As we dive into this massive topic, I want to clarify that the perspective I bring is one of a farmer who truly believes in (and has seen) the benefits of regenerative livestock principles.

With that said, let's get started.

What Is Plant-Based Meat?

At the most basic level, plant-based meat is a processed food product made from plants to mimic different kinds of meat. It’s also known as synthetic meat, fake meat, faux meat, or meat replacement. These products are manufactured to have a similar texture, flavor, and appearance to meat, without the use of animal protein.

The earliest versions of meat replacements included products like Tofurkey, veggie burgers, and molded soy bacon. These products didn’t really resemble what they were made to replace, and they certainly didn’t have the same taste or texture. 

The science of mimicking meat has come a long way. Products like Impossible Burger, Beyond Chicken Tenders, and Morningstar Farms veggie sausage do a much better job reproducing the smell, texture, and flavor of the meats they’re meant to mimic. Even down to changing color while they cook – the fake burgers even leak red juices and stay pink in the middle. 

But to turn plants into something that looks, tastes, and smells like meat, you need to do a lot to them.

How Is Plant-Based Meat Made?

Between the 3D-printed meats and the long list of hard-to-pronounce artificial ingredients in these lab foods, there's A LOT to unpack.

While I will refer to science to support my recommendations about the questions we believe consumers should consider asking about their food, I also want to give practical advice. In our house, we use a simple three-question "filter" to determine what foods we consistently feed our family.

My wife, Charis, and I, as parents of five children, ask these questions before we bring any type of food into our home (be it animal- or plant-based).

Our three questions are

  • Can this food be replicated or made in our kitchen?
  • Can I pronounce the ingredients?
  • Where does this food come from?

Let’s see how plant-based meats look through this filter.

1. What Is in Plant-Based Meat?

Have you ever tried making high fructose corn syrup at home?

When was the last time you whipped up a fresh batch of homemade Crisco?

Like the above foods, fake meat is a product of an ultra-processed food manufacturing system that uses preservatives and ingredients you could never make in your own kitchen.

With the exception of the primary ingredient (water, which is the first ingredient listed among the top brands I’ve reviewed), the list of ingredients is both long, complex, and quite "science-ey."

In the next section, I’ll go into a few of the problem ingredients I found on the Impossible brand label.

But, to wrap up question #1, fake meat products don't use ingredients or follow a recipe we could reproduce in our kitchen, so it fails the "Blaine and Charis test."

2. Are the Ingredients in Plant-Based Meats Real?

Charis and I, like you, have now been trained to have a heightened awareness of how common it is for companies to include a list of ingredients we can’t pronounce in many foods.

As parents, we feel it's our responsibility to filter out unknown or unpronounceable ingredients when making meals for the family. To be honest, that becomes quite the challenge with many foods on grocery store shelves, especially as it relates to plant-based foods.

Here's an interesting test, if you're interested.

Two of the labels below are ingredient lists for popular, branded plant-based burger alternatives, and the other is a label for Walk About Premium Dog Food.

Can you guess which is which? Take the test – the answer is at the bottom of this article.


I'll give you a hint: One of the ingredients in Beyond Burger is something called Methylcellulose, which is actually a chemical compound used in both laxatives and cosmetics.

Similarly, we didn't have a high level of understanding of what Soy Leghemoglobin was, but with a bit of research (that the Impossible Foods brand was involved in), this new genetically engineered ingredient is one we'll choose to omit, too.

As it turns out, the "pronounceability" of ingredients is a reliable and simple filter for us as parents.

3. Where Does Plant-Based Meat Come From?

Most of what my family eats at home comes from our farm or the farm partners I trust and know by name.

We also do our best to support local food artisans within our region for foods that we don’t raise. This is true both for Charis and I's family food dollars, and in the products that we choose to carry in our on-farm market.

When we buy food in a conventional grocery store, at the very least, we want to know that it came from the USA.

As I've addressed in previous articles, this is getting surprisingly harder and harder for beef, but highly processed, synthetic foods like fake meats take it to a whole new level.

This Good Food Institute report which examines China’s role in growing the plant-based food economy, reports that China processes almost 80% of global textured soy proteins and other popular plant-based proteins.

Lastly, ingredients like Pea Protein Isolate, Soy Protein Concentrate, and Canola Oil, which are common in these products, are all known as highly processed and come from GMO sources.

So, after using these three questions as filters, both Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger fake meat brands failed our test miserably.


They fail because they create a low level of confidence and a high level of uncertainty, especially when compared to real, regeneratively-raised nutrient-dense meats.

  1. Fake meat could never be made in your own kitchen
  2. Fake meat is full of unpronounceable GMO ingredients
  3. Fake meat includes ingredients typically processed in foreign countries

Plant-based Meats & The Environment

Some pretty smart people like Jeff Bezos, Al Gore, and Bill Gates are reported here to be heavily investing their fortunes and time in promoting the beneficial claims of fake meat.

While I believe Bill Gates is a really smart guy, I believe he’s choosing to ignore the environmental differences between industrial feedlot beef versus regenerative grass-fed beef systems.

The Dangers of Plant-Based Meat

Net Carbon Effect

First, let us humble ourselves and remember that ruminant animals like the lowly cow have been a part of regenerating healthy ecosystems for millennia.

You see, when a cow grazes, she only metabolizes 10% of what she eats, and the rest of her food is returned to the grassland as fertile manure. The cow then moves on, allowing the freshly grazed and fertilized grass to regrow before she returns for a second grazing months later.

The fact that she only takes 10% and returns 90% to the soil is the foundation of an environmental benefit, and why our pastures look like this:


Can you tell where our property line rests? ;)

In the Seven Sons ecosystem, the rate of biomass accumulation speeds up, enabling the cow to actually have a NET-positive carbon footprint.

Here's a chart from a Quantis International study conducted with my friends at White Oak Pastures that shows how this net carbon effect can work:


It’s a beautiful system, and it’s been this way for thousands of years until clever humans came along with tillage, chemicals, and cattle feedlots that ultimately displaced cows from their once synergistic role on this earth.

As prideful humans, we then turn and arrogantly blame the humble cow for our environmental woes?

I'm sorry, but that doesn't compute.

Fake meat is not the answer because it’s still propped on the same industrial-scale, high tillage, high chemical, carbon-releasing farming systems that continue to degrade our soils and pollute our waterways.


Net Total Emissions

Ok, let's pivot to address how the manner in which plant-based meats are produced compares to our style of farming at Seven Sons as it relates to emissions.

Instead of using the term “plant-based" meat, perhaps, these brands should be labeled as “grain-based meat” because that’s exactly what the ingredient label includes.

Quantis International recently conducted a full lifecycle analysis to compare the full carbon effects of conventional GRAIN-fed beef versus Impossible Burger and found that plant-based meats have a lower carbon footprint than grain-fed beef.

Impossible Burger actually highlights this study on its website here. Fair enough...

But get this – Do you want to know what Impossible Burger DOES NOT publicize? Any idea what they don't want you to know?

The exact same research firm also conducted a study on regenerative GRASS-fed beef systems and found that grass-fed beef actually has a net positive carbon impact, whereas Impossible Burger was still emitting carbon. Similarly, you can find that study here.

This chart summarizes the results of both studies:


In summary, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of Dana Pearl from Friends of the Earth, who put it this way:

“Instead of investing in risky new food technologies that are potential problems masquerading as solutions, shouldn’t we be investing in proven beneficial agriculture and transparent organic food that consumers are actually demanding.

Increased Chemical Use

To grow the volume of soybeans, peas, and grains that make up the base for plant-based meat, farmers have to adhere to industrialized agricultural practices. A major component of those practices is heavy fertilizer and pesticide use. Farmers in the US use 21 million tons of chemical fertilizers every year, according to the USDA. That amount continues to increase steadily.

Meanwhile, farmers in the US also use about one billion pounds of pesticides every year to control weeds, insects, and other pests, according to a review by the United States Geological Survey. 

All of those chemicals enter the environment through water systems, creating more havoc across ecosystems.

Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?

On one hand, a lot of sources suggest that replacing part of your usual diet with plant-based meats can be a healthier option, if it means cutting back on factory-farmed meat. On the other hand, studies show over and over again that ultra-processed food also leads to increased health risks. 

And plant-based meat replacements definitely qualify as ultra-processed food. Katherine McManus, writing for Harvard Health, defines ultra-processed food as: 

“Foods [that] are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers.” 

There are plenty of those ingredients and additives in products like the Impossible Burger.

In addition, despite the fact that plant-based meat products often use a low-fat tagline as a health benefit, they’re usually a lot higher in sodium and unhealthy fats compared to ethically-raised meat. 

Fake Meat: Ethics & Morality

It may seem logical to conclude that fewer animals would die if everyone switched from consuming animal proteins to plant-based meats. But it’s not that simple… ☝

Is Eating Plant-based Ethical?

The ethical case for plant-based meat breaks down quickly when you consider that millions of small animals like mice and rodents die each year from industrial-scale tilling of farmland. Heavy tillage is part of the process to produce mono-crops like corn, soybeans, and peas – the staple ingredients of fake meat and that of a vegan diet.


As a farm kid who grew up helping in the fields during our early conventional farming days, I can vividly recall seeing baby birds, mice, and bunnies frantically attempting to dodge tractor tires and heavy tillage equipment.

While the debate rages and the research is inconclusive, one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics in 2018 cited the number of small animal deaths into the billions each year.

Many will argue that killing smaller or simpler, undeveloped life forms is somehow justified because it’s considered “unintentional” or creates a means to a better end. But once you’re aware of the consequences, it can no longer be considered unintentional.

Research doesn’t even begin to quantify the loss of billions of beneficial insects like bees and pollinators or soil organisms like earthworms due to tillage and chemicals used for growing the plant ingredients for fake meat.

And the deleterious impact goes beyond animals, bugs, and insects giving life to the soil and the land. Let us not forget all the marine life harmed by chemical runoff and soil erosion into our lakes, streams, and oceans.


Proponents of plant-based meats cannot deny the substantial loss of animal life each year due to industrial mono-cropping systems. I believe we are better off when we recognize the universal truth that all life requires sacrifice. Life is a cycle of death, decay, and regeneration.

The ultimate question is, "How are we honoring and respecting the animals and earth we depend upon for our life?"

This is indeed a deep philosophical question, and as a farmer of faith, I sincerely believe God cares how I steward His creation. This brings us to the very heart and soul of our mission at Seven Sons – to heal and nourish the land and those it sustains.

Consider this:

  • At Seven Sons, we eliminated all tillage practices that would otherwise harm wildlife by converting 100% of our land to diverse perennial pastures.
  • Because we combine zero-tillage with adaptive grazing, our pastures are now teeming with livestock, small wildlife, and beneficial insects all thriving in symbiosis.
  • Because we eliminated tillage and chemicals, our measurable earthworm populations have increased by over 200,000 per acre.
  • By eliminating mono-cropping practices, our increased organic matter levels hold an extra 20-40 thousand gallons of water per acre, contributing to cleaner water for marine life downstream of our lands.
  • While our cattle and bison live on forage alone, we prioritize working with regenerative producers who utilize cover-cropping for sourcing our non-GMO grain to feed our pigs and chickens (which they require for optimal health).

This image above is the ecosystem we wake up each day to create and dutifully care for, for the health of our land, our animals, and thousands of customers.


On the surface, the term “plant-based meat” sounds wholesome to the average consumer. It gives the vision of eating a healthy alternative protein source that's made of nutrient-dense fresh foods you might otherwise see in a colorful produce aisle. But the reality is a highly processed, grain-based product that comes from a factory rather than a field. 

I would propose that a system of agriculture that honors and embraces the distinctive patterns found in nature is far more ethical than resorting to manufactured foods derived from industrial cropping systems that wreak havoc on our ecology.

Not to mention that a diet based on minimally processed foods is healthier all around. So why do plant-based meat products get so much hype?

What do you think? We welcome you to leave comments and join the discussion below.

Thanks for reading.

[Quiz answer from above: Beyond Brand Meats (Left), Walk About Dog Food (Center), Impossible Brand Meats (Right)]

Blaine Hitzfield

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