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The New Battle Over The Future of Meat

From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week

An illustration of a burger waving an Impossible flag. Illustration by Andrea D’Aquino

This post originally appeared on October 12, 2019, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

This week on our podcast, Eater’s Digest, we highlight the new public-relations campaign against plant-based meat companies coming from the meat lobby. I think it dovetails pretty nicely with this impressive and thorough piece from Tad Friend at the New Yorker, which provides a great look at the state of the plant-based-meat industry right now. And this shorter take from Vox that debunks much of the recent backlash we’ve been seeing from major food figures like Mark Bittman and Whole Foods’s John Mackey.

Four big takeaways:

  • Replacing the worldwide creation and consumption of beef is the biggest single thing we can do to combat climate change. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow feed for livestock, which is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That doesn’t even take into account the land used to raise cattle or the impact of water to grow the feed and raise the animals, shipping feed, etc.
  • Lobbying works! Twenty-five U.S. states have introduced bills and 12 states have already passed bills restricting the use of the word “meat” when it comes to meat alternatives. A federal labeling law will require Impossible to add the term “bioengineered” to its products in 2022.
  • PR works! The meat lobby hired Richard Berman, the man behind successful PR campaigns for cigarettes, alcohol, and high-fructose corn syrup, and the inspiration for Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking. Since his hiring, we’ve seen a spike in stories focused on how unhealthy and “hyperprocessed” plant-based meat burgers are, as if they were supposed to be a health food. The goal of these products is to replace the temptation of burgers so we eat fewer animals. It’s not to provide a low-calorie, low-sodium, low-fat food source.
  • Elitism is real. As Vox points out, one aspect of the backlash to plant-based meat is that it’s made in a factory, and our relationship with food should be intimate — which completely ignores the fact that 99 percent of meat produced for consumption comes from factory farms! The Vox writer also finds it suspicious that plant-based meats were lauded when they were only available in high-end restaurants and grocery stores, and are pilloried now that they have expanded so intensely to fast-food restaurants.

But my final takeaway is that this industry is here to stay. The sales, production, and reach of these products are up, but so is investment. Impossible has raised $750 million. Beyond Burger had one of the biggest IPOs of the year. Meat giant Cargill has invested in lab-grown meat and pea protein. Nestle, Kellogg’s, Purdue, and Tyson all have plant-based or hybrid meats on the market or in the works. The meat industry will dominate the market for a long time but these upstarts are gaining ground fast.

On Eater

An assortment of Sri Lankan dishes, along with a yellow-colored cocktail.
Rupee Bar in Seattle
Noah Forbes

Off Eater