If you have school aged children in any sort of activities you understand the struggle of dinner. The solution, in my house, is taco night. A few minutes of prep with some ground beef and a bevy of on hand ingredients mean a quick dinner before running out the door to dance or soccer practice or band…you get the idea.
However, ground beef is an ethical and environmental conundrum. Regardless of how the animal is raised the production of ground beef results in the death of a cow. No amount of time on pasture can change this fact. Furthermore, most cows are raised in conditions that most people find deplorable. Feedlots and CAFOs are horrible places. Just driving by one on the interstate can make a person consider becoming a vegan.
America just loves ground beef. More than half of the beef we consume in this country is in the form of ground beef. Be it hamburgers, sloppy joes, loose meat sandwiches, chili, etc. Americans eat a lot of ground beef. Estimates are hard to come by, but the clearest numbers I have seen put our annual consumption north of 30 billion pounds of ground beef consumed in the United States per year. Most of that ground beef (>80%) comes from feedlot cattle.
This is the market that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are trying to disrupt with their plant based alternative “hamburgers.” The ground beef market is not just hamburgers thought and that is where Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef product comes into play:
It comes out of the package looking a little bit like a brick of protein:
After a few minutes on medium-high heat the protein begins to break up into that recognizable crumble:
A package of taco seasoning and a little bit of water gives you a pan full of taco meat. It all worked just like cooking a pound of regular ol’ ground beef.
So, what is the verdict?
The process is the same as cooking traditional ground beef. That is a wash.
The flavor is…close. The texture is…close. I do not know if it is psychological because I knew it was not actual ground beef or if it is something in the formulation. It was just a little off in the same way that some meatless burger patties are off. Perhaps it is the uncanny valley of fake meat. No longer are we in the trough of the uncanny valley where the simulated product is off by enough to make it truly disturbing. Instead we are climbing toward true meat replacements in every facet that only lack a few traits.
This has to be what is scaring traditional meat producers into strong arming state legislatures to pass laws banning the word meat or burger or whatever from faux meat products. When someone who is conscious of the ethical and environmental impacts of meat production is given an alternative that has none of those concerns their choice is going to be easy. If the meat alternative is close enough in taste and texture than it is a slam dunk for a larger percentage of the population. Like Republicans holding onto an ageing base of older, rural, white Americans at the expense of a changing national demographic the meat industry is facing an existential crisis brought on by a competitor.
Beyond Beef is not cheap. At my local coop it cost $9.99 per pound. Compare that to a pound of grass fed, grass finished beef produced in Minnesota that costs anywhere from $6.99 to $8.99 a pound from the same retailer. Consider it the cost of being an early adopter.