Most understand the environmental problems associated with the meat industry, but we like how it tastes. This could a best of both worlds solution.
For millions of Americans, part of the pleasure of warming summer temperatures are outdoor cookouts; cooking burgers while kids splash in the pool, barbecuing ribs while watching football games, and inviting friends over to share plump steaks on the 4th of July. But almost all of us also have friends and family who do not consume meat, and their ranks are growing fast. Most vegans and vegetarians cite the environment, human health, and animal welfare as their reasons for going green…and especially when it comes to the environment, they have some strong facts on their side.
We should stop right here, however, and make (what might be to some) a controversial statement: There’s nothing wrong with eating meat. There’s nothing inherently wrong with killing an animal for food. Humans have eaten and enjoyed meat for many tens of thousands of years. And another controversial statement: it’s possible to hunt and eat meat ethically. In some cases, this ethical killing might even be needed. For example, thinning out deer herds in certain parts of North America so they don’t spiral into starvation due to overpopulation.
So, why is meat bad for the environment? Well, humans are the only omnivore that has made meat-eating an industry – one worth $838.3 billion in 2020 – a figure projected to grow by three billion by 2025. And we didn’t grow a near trillion-dollar meat industry via the ethical culling of deer. Massively polluting factory farming is the only viable way to get billions of animals processed into hundreds of millions of tons of meat each year, and virtually everyone these days is cognizant of how factory farm operations are far from ideal. Add in resource issues: fresh water, land, etc., and it’s clear meat has become a problem.
Despite a growing environmental awareness regarding meat, however, vegans and vegetarians are estimated to make up less than 8% of the US population. However, 39% of Americans told the Nielsen research market firm that while their diets are not fully plant-based – they are working towards eliminating as many animals related food products as possible and have an aspiration to one day become completely vegan. A figure such as 39% is massive and it helps confirm other research showing that plant-based foods sold two and a half times faster between 2018 and 2020.
One plant-based food manufacturer told Forbes magazine that they saw a 63% growth surge in 2020, but attributed this growth not to vegans but rather to omnivores. This is good news for any plant-based food company as marketing products to a niche of, say 6%, is hardly the road towards becoming a food empire. But if that number is closer to 45 or even 50%, well, now we’re cooking. One particular segment of the plant food-based industry that’s booming is high-tech so-called “new” meat.
No, we’re not talking about the fancy veggie burgers or other meat substitutes you’ve seen on supermarket shelves before. This new meat is 100% made with natural ingredients, but courtesy of artificial intelligence and 3D printing, these new plant-based meat substitutes are, as one company’s tagline has it, a whole different animal. This is a meat substitute that looks, smells, tastes, feels, and even cooks like animal meat – to the point that it’s winning fans among celebrity chefs and barbecue experts – folks who stereotypically would not even give such products a second look.
Such high-tech alternatives or new meat is already available in Israel and a few other select places but is on track to appear in a store near you very soon. When you taste it for the first time, you’ll be the judge that decides if you agree with both blind tasters and celebrity chefs, and others who have given 3D printed meat scores of 90% for meatiness. If so, it would be a breakthrough that can non-hyperbolically be called revolutionary.
And because “new meat” startup companies creating these products are fixated on taste and texture rather than a primarily environmental or animal welfare message, their products are well-positioned to reach everyone, from carnivores who occasionally want to take a break and have a vegan kabab, for example, to vegans who want to offer something to their meat-eating friends at a vegan dinner party.
We are currently in the middle of a new evolutionary shift in human diets. A cultural evolution away from animal protein is causing many people to reevaluate their diets to include considerations related to health, the health of the planet, and of course, animal welfare and well-being. The good news for all of us cookout enthusiasts is that we are on the cusp of having high-tech plant-based “new meat” options on the grill that look and taste darn near identical to chunks of animal protein. An awesome development that could let us continue savoring the tastes and textures so many of us enjoy while helping preserve a fragile environment.