I have a confession. I love meat.
In some ways this isn't surprising. I grew up in South America, where loving meat is practically written into the constitutions of countries like Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. In my house, the concept of vegetarianism was so inconceivable that the best “vegetarian” option you could hope for was chicken or fish.
But as an ecologist, I know all too well the environmental consequences of our carnivorous ways. It takes a much larger environmental toll to produce meat-based protein than an equivalent amount of plant-based protein. Not to mention all of the animal welfare issues.
But meat, it's just so... tasty. It's not a shock to me that people—especially in countries that until recently could not afford to do so—would be increasing the amount of meat in their diets.
But what does all this mean for our environment? Can it withstand the demand for more, faster, cheaper meat?
There is a new line of thinking that believes we can have our meat and eat it too. Well, maybe not meat, but “meat.” That is, plant-based protein that feels, tastes, and looks so much like meat that famous food critics like Mark Bittman can’t tell the difference. Using the power of cutting-edge technology, we are close to making “meat” that is as good as the real thing—without all the guilt. It's a win-win that's better for the planet and better for you. But is it?
For my recent “TechKnow” story, I went to the Beyond Meat factory to learn more about the latest in faux meat creations. I was impressed with their passion and their products. At a glance, they look virtually indistinguishable from meat. The chicken version in particular mimics the structure of real muscle fiber so closely, I'd bet almost anyone would be fooled. And with the right prep and right seasonings, they taste very close to the real thing. Even to a die hard Bolivian carnivore.
But the jury is still out for me. Are these products better for the environment than say, a locally sourced steak that is produced in an environmentally conscious way? Beyond Meat thinks so, and has big time backers like Bill Gates who agree.
I, for one, am excited to keep following Beyond Meat as they continue to work towards bringing “meat” to the masses without tanking the planet in the process. Maybe it'll help this carnivorous ecologist get her meat fix while sleeping better at night.