Plant-Based Meat Is Not a Panacea
But in two out of three categories, it’s better than beef
You have undoubtedly encountered the new wave of meat alternatives, whether online, on a plate, or both. As a result, people are asking questions about Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, and related innovations: Are they good for you? Good for the environment? Overall, are they reliably better in important ways than the meats they might replace?
Although the new incarnations are heralded as radically different, there have always been plant-based meat alternatives: tofu and tempeh, made from soy, are staples in Asian cuisines, and have become popular elsewhere. Texturized vegetable protein, or TVP, also made from soy, has long been available to home cooks looking to mimic the taste and texture of meat. More recently, Quorn makes available a fermented fungus product that can be used in home cooking; they have their own extensive line of ready-to-eat products as well.
Of course, for those who know how to cook — something, if not everything — replacing meat was an option before any major food industry advances. Assuming you don’t need your veggie burger to bleed, the artful assembly of whole-food plant ingredients can achieve delightful wonders.
Those content to avoid meat and eat plants all along have little need for the new wave of meat alternatives. But they have obvious appeal for people who like consuming meat but would prefer — always or sometimes — to avoid its liabilities: ethics and the treatment of our fellow creatures; environmental impact; and direct human health effects.
There is little legitimate doubt or debate regarding the benefits across all three of these broad questions of simply eating whole plant foods in the place of meat: most notably, beans and legumes, the world’s most important protein sources. There is little legitimate doubt or debate regarding the expanse of benefits when whole plant foods are used as ingredients to make patties or burgers. No animals are harmed; the environmental impact is considerably lower; the provision of protein is more than ample; and beans are prominent staples in the world’s most healthful diets.
For better or worse, such approaches to meat substitution seem like yesterday’s news. How, then, do…