This year my life of 50 years of eating is officially split in two. The first 25 as a prairie kid in the 70’s growing up on bacon and eggs, fish sticks, microwave dinners, holiday turkeys, and on the most special occasions sirloin steaks. During the last 25 I have walked the other side as a ‘west coast’ vegetarian. Yes, be warned, there are different kinds! Out here, a healthy dose of social consciousness comes standard with every tofurky dinner.
So it’s been on my mind for more than 2 decades how our food choices affect our health, the planet we leave behind for our kids, but also realizing we need to exist in the real world earning a living and finding comfort in our families daily life. I have never found a magic bullet. All ‘good decisions’ seem to be packaged in compromise.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter (a lifetime vegetarian) came home from work raving about a Panago beyond meat pizza her supervisor bought for the crew. I’ve noticed she conveniently stays at the university for dinner on days I announce we’re making pizza at home, yet, this one enthusiastically hit the mark.
This is good news, even great news for the pulse industry. Protein extracted from vegetable sources fetches triple the value of the raw product and offers the opportunity to create exponential demand. It makes a lot of sense adding value where the product is grown. Fracturing pulses at home will create less reliance on volatile export markets and reduce risk. Even for a socially conscious (read: glass half empty) west coast veggie guys like me it checks a lot of boxes. Could this be one of those elusive good decisions that exist without compromise?
I always accepted the conflict in consuming fake meat products as a vegetarian as a product of my upbringing. If you don’t need meat to stay alive, why pretend to eat it? Why go through so much effort to make a bunch of beans taste like bacon? I do not see any companies trying to turn chickens into a block of tofu. Apparently, there is a something primally appealing going on within this experiment in food science. Good enough to make a mainstream impact. There is no doubt that the trend is just starting to catch steam. It is probably a good thing.
What is interesting is that the explosion of fake meat in the marketplace is taking place at the same time every health organization is warning against the dangers of processed foods. The idea of the four food groups engrained in my brain from childhood has evolved to eat whatever the fuck you want as long as it is as close to the original form as possible.
Unfortunately, the process of fracturing pulses to create protein isolate is going the opposite direction.
The problem is saying something is plant-based does not mean it is made with vegetables. Fake meat is full of derivative ingredients. Like overprocessing wheat for white bread which tastes great but results in gluing your insides together; peas, lentils, and beans lose their nutrient value with processing and basically become highly absorbable carbohydrates which will just make you fatter. In their new form, they barely contain a fraction of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that existed in their original form. To go “beyond meat” requires adding the same level of saturated fat through coconut oil and five times the salt for no cholesterol compared to an unseasoned beef patty. (see chart)
Here is how the burgers stack up:
85% Lean Beef Beyond Meat
Calories 283 290
Total Fat (g) 17.5 22
Saturated Fat (g) 6.7 5
Cholesterol (mg) 100 0
Sodium (mg) 82 450
Protein (g) 29.4 20
Iron (daily %) 16% 25%
I have often told people one of the things I love about this business is being able to watch in real time how the fundamental elements of food/money/politics co-exist and evolve on a global level. Once again, we have a front row seat to watch how fake meat moves into the mainstream and heralded as the new industry champion despite all of the contradictions and clear benefit.
As humans, the rational thing to do is to eat a little bit of whole meats, some beans, a bunch of veggies, and a few grains. Eat them simply without a whole lot of fuss and you will live pretty well without too many worries. People have been doing this with lentils and peas for over 2000 years and it’s one thing that’s worked out pretty well for humankind. Somehow, the new exciting food trend is to take something perfectly healthy, bleed all the nutrition out of it and turn it into an alternative to a product that has been demonized for decades without any real nutritional benefit.
Our ability to rationalize adding value by wrecking something that is perfectly fine to get more of something that isn’t is absolutely fascinating.
I guess my glass is still half-empty. Have a great month.