Plant-Based Meats - The Seven Sons Guide
By now you have 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. I can't make this up.
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 maybe questions exist about these plant-based foods, too.
How healthy are they? What are they made of exactly? Are they really made of plants?
We'll address these questions and more in this article.
Also, please know that my goal in writing this article is not to disparage anyone who is making a genuine effort to eat healthier and improve our food system.
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.
Let's get started...As we start to 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.
The Ingredients of Plant-Based Meat
Between the 3D-printed meats and the long list of hard-to-pronounce man-made ingredients in these lab foods, there's A LOT to unpack.
While I will refer to science to support my recommendations about the questions consumers should be asking about their food, I also want to give practical advice. In our house, we use a very simple 3 question "filter" to determine what foods we consistently feed our family.
My wife, Charis, and I as parents of 5 children ask these questions before we bring any type of food into our home (be it animal-based, or plant-based foods.)
Can This Food Be Replicated or Made in Our Kitchen?
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?
Just like the above foods, fake meat is a product of an ultra-processed food manufacturing system that uses preservatives and ingredients that you could never make in your own kitchen.
With the exception of the primary ingredient (water, which is the first ingredient listed among top brands I reviewed), the list of ingredients is both long, complex and quite "science-ey".
I go into a few of the problem ingredients I found on the Impossible brand label in the next section.
But, to wrap up question #1, fake meat products don't use ingredients or a recipe we could reproduce in our kitchen, so it fails the "Blaine and Charis" test.
Can I Pronounce The Ingredients?
Charis and I, like you, have now been trained to have a heightened awareness of how common it is for food companies to include ingredients that we can’t pronounce in many foods.
As parents, we feel like 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.
As it relates to our topic today, one of the ingredients in Beyond Burger is something called Methylcellulose, which actually is a chemical compound that is used in both laxatives and cosmetics.
Similarly, we didn't have a high level of understanding of what Soy Leghemoglobin was...but with a little bit of research (directly from the Impossible Foods brand), this new genetically engineered ingredient is one we'll choose to omit, too.
Lastly, ingredients like Pea Protein Isolate, Soy Protein Concentrate, and Canola Oil, are all known as highly processed and from GMO sources.
As it turns out, the "pronounceability" of ingredients is a reliable and simple filter for us as parents.
Where Does This Food Come From?
Most of what my family eats at home comes from our very own farm or from the farm partners that 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 take it to a whole new level!!!
The Good Food Institute reports that almost 80% of global textured soy proteins and other popular plant-based proteins are being processed in China.
So, after using these 3 questions as filters both Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger fake meat brands failed our test.
They fail because they create a very 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
Are Plant-Based Meats Healthy?
Plant-based Meats & The Environment
There are some pretty smart people like Bill Gates who are heavily invested in promoting the beneficial claims of fake meat.
While I believe Bill Gates is a really smart guy, I do believe he’s choosing to ignore the environmental differences between industrial feedlot beef versus regenerative grass-fed beef systems.
Are Plant-Based Meats Good For The Environment?
Net Carbon Affect
First off, let us humble ourselves and remember the fact 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.
As a result, this ecosystem process speeds up the rate of biomass accumulation thus enabling the cow to actually have a NET positive carbon footprint.
Here's a chart from a Quantis International study that was 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 around 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 is still propped on the exact same industrial-scale, high tillage, high chemical, carbon-releasing farming systems that continues to degrade our soils, and pollute our waterways.
Net Total Emissions
Instead of using the term “plant-based" meat, perhaps, fake meat brands should be labeled as “grain-based meat” because that’s exactly what the ingredient label reads.
Thankfully research is finally catching up to common sense…
Quantis International recently conducted a full lifecycle analysis to compare the full carbon effects of grain-fed beef versus Impossible Burger and found that plant-based meats indeed have a lower carbon footprint compared to grain-fed beef.
Impossible Burger actually highlights this study on their website here.
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 where as 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.”
I’ll leave it at that. ;)
Fake Meat - Ethics & Morality
Is Eating Plant-Based Ethical?
Are Plant-Based Meats Healthy For You?
Are Plant-Based Meats Good For The Planet?
Plant-Based Meat vs Traditional Meat — What To Choose?
On the surface, the term “plant-based” 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.
By now, you can see that's not exactly the case.