Several years ago, I heard about “Beyond Meat,” a new company making soy- and pea-based plant foods that taste like meat. Evidently they’re finally making imitation meat that’s pretty good, or at least good enough that if you pay a fourth-place baseball team with an already-vested spokesperson to eat it, they will eat it. (By the way, that spokesperson, Mets’ captain David Wright, missed all three games since it was reported he had a bite of the fake burger. Hmmm… coincidence?)
I am happy consumers have a choice, and if a small sector of people chooses the fake stuff, I can handle that. But my blood boiled when I heard that food-savvy people like Andrew Zimmern, Bill Gates, and others I put in the “smart” category were backing the imitation products.
In case you don’t know, Zimmern traveled the world through his Bizzare Foods show to explain and experience how other cultures enjoy foods we might find disgusting. Gates, the founder of Microsoft, donates billions of dollars to solve hunger-related crises worldwide. This seems to be a huge contradiction to me; I’ll explain more below.
Milk’s newest imitator
Today, I learned that there’s another potential imitation opponent on the scene for dairy farmers: fake milk. We’ve already got the oils squeezed out of soybeans, almonds, rice, and other nuts masquerading as ‘milk.’ But the new fake on the block is a completely artificial milk being developed in Ireland. As you might guess, the reason for the initiative is the “environmental damage, greenhouse gases and water pollution” found on the “industrial farming operations in North America,” according to researchers Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, who spoke with the UK’s Daily Mail.
But as we head towards an artificial world, something’s missing.
It doesn’t taste right
We live in a world with many terrible inconsistencies.
The customer is always right, but hot dogs still come in packs of 10 and buns in 8s. People who fly first class “get” first chance to climb into an enclosed space with terrible food. Worse yet, the town of Pilger, Neb., can’t rebuild with basements after being decimated by a tornado.
But, by far, the biggest contradictions revolve around everyone’s favorite food buzzword: sustainability. If we forget the social and financial components (oh, you need to make money?), the number one solution for environmental sustainability in some camps seems to be carbon-intensive local production and consumption (of which I’m in whole-hearted support) of a plants-only diet.
Society has somehow decided that livestock are an impossible way to be sustainable. One way many are advocating to “save ourselves” is the vegetarian or vegan diet. That makes me both sad and fearful for the future.
I knew we went off the deep end when hamburger-loving Bill Clinton swore off meat and other animal products after having a heart attack. As you may guess if you read my recent series on fat, I’m not convinced that it’s the meat in the burger causing the cardiac arrest (check the Trans fats in those fries and buns, please). But I am even less convinced that less meat means a healthier planet.
The old organic
If we want to be sustainable we need to first use the most renewable resources, and then second, use them wisely. Early on in American schools, we’re taught that fossil fuels are not ever renewable, pardoning the hundreds-of-thousands-of-years process of turning expired living things into oil. So, while investments like solar, wind, and ethanol may not be as economical as fossil-fuel based energy, I can understand that we should explore these types of investments.
One of the most renewable resources we have is livestock, and vegetarians are missing the main course here in several respects. Much of our planets’ land base is simply not set for vegetable and crop production. We were reminded of this as several members of the Vance Publishing staff marveled at the shallow topsoil sitting on Kansas’ sandstone prairies – the native grass prairies are the best use of that landmass.
In the areas we can grow crops, we can significantly improve our yields (and sustainability) with a little fertilizer. But, in an effort to play nice, we haven’t seen much of a differentiation between livestock fertilizer and synthetic fertilizers except in the organic market. This is a place I think the organic world has it very right.
Manure does a great job building soil structure. It reduces erosion, nitrate leaching, and the energy needed to make natural gas-based nitrogen. We can do a better job in promoting this valuable renewable resource. If we team up with the rest of the livestock sector maybe we can get “Made with Manure” as the next big label everyone wants on their food.