Meat has an enormous environmental footprint. How big? If the people who were involved in advocacy were open and honest about the single change that could make the most difference in our fight against global climate change it would be the elimination of meat and animal products from our diet. So, no matter how many electric cars or solar panels or wind turbines we deploy, if meat is part of our diet we are in trouble.
If you are reading a blog titled My Green Misadventure I am probably preaching to the choir about the need to drastically reduce and, frankly, eliminate meat and animal products from our diets. I know that they will pry the bacon from some people’s cold dead hands, but that is not really my audience.
Many companies are stepping into the fray to offer plant-based meat alternatives that up the game compared to those bizarre textured vegetable protein loaves of Tofurkey. What is that stuff? One company that has gotten a lot of publicity is Beyond Meat. Variously describe by themselves and others as “the future of protein” or “the carnivore alternative” Beyond Meat seems to have tried to crack the one thing missing from other plant-base meat replacements: texture.
No more an astute observer of food Alton Brown pretty much nailed it down in article on Beyond Meat for Wired:
Texture, though, is another matter. That’s because meat is actually skeletal muscle, and muscles are mechanical systems. Every move they make requires a sliding interaction of microscopic filaments set into motion by electrical stimuli. These bundles of fibers are what lend different forms of meat their unique textures, and for humans, texture is a very big deal. We like meaty textures because they’ve been hardwired into us through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Our teeth are built to tear those fibers apart and grind them into digestible bits. Our mouths can perceive the fine-grain differences between fibrous skirt steak and unctuous duck liver. Flavor tofu however you want—barbecue beef, roast turkey, nacho cheese—but it will always feel like tofu. This is why the meat industry has never much worried about an “analog” meat product. No one has ever been able to synthesize authentic meat texture from extruded vegetable proteins. They just can’t get the structure right. And you might rightly ask, why bother?
The “why bother” question is that the environmental footprint or impact of meat production is huge. Additionally, the ethical cost of meat production is equally as large. There is no system in the western world that systematically treats humans and animals as poorly as industrial animal agriculture. People and animals are treated as nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet to be used to further the profit aims of large corporations. If we do not have to raise animals to get our meat fix than we have eliminated all of these problems. Seems easy enough right?
So, to experiment I picked up a 12 ounce tray of grilled “chicken” strips to use in a sweet and sour recipe that normally places cauliflower at the center of the meal:
From the outside looking in this appears to be pre-cooked chicken. Heck, it even has the grill marks. When cut the strips do not have the same texture as chicken. I wish I had a picture but a sharp knife left a very smooth cut with no visible faux muscle fibers, which sort of define the texture of chicken.
I roasted the bit-size pieces with a pan of small cauliflower florets and doused the entire mixture with a from-scratch sweet-and-sour sauce recipe that comes from one of my favorite vegan cookbooks.
The result? It was actually kind of a non-event. My son, who normally turns his nose up at anything resembling tofu, ate the chicken pieces and protested about the presence of scallions. Victory. My wife, who knew the chicken pieces were ersatz, ate everything without complaint. Sometimes the meat alternatives we have for dinner are begrudgingly consumed. Victory. My daughter, oddly enough, identified the chicken as “veggie chicken,” her go-to description for faux meat, and ate it with aplomb. Victory.
In my opinion this product is the closest to resembling meat and offers a compelling alternative for people who need to get their “meat fix.” Maybe it’s the transition product to get people closer to a vegan lifestyle. I do not know if Beyond Meat is the answer, but it is definitely an answer.
NOTE: I bought the package of Beyond Meat and received no compensation or remuneration from the company in question. Often, bloggers get accused of being secretly paid shills for corporations. Not here.