“Our vision is to become the market leader in the development and introduction of new plant protein products. We are focused on perfectly replacing animal protein with plant protein where doing so creates nutritional value at lower cost.”
That’s the stated mission of Beyond Meat, apparently one of the bright lights in the world of meat analogues. A meat analogue is simply a substitute for meat that is made from plant protein, such as soy and pea proteins.
By all accounts, meat analogues today aren’t like the dry, tasteless soy burgers some of us were forced to choke down in the school cafeteria. This is “meat” manufactured to mimic the taste, texture, mouth-feel and nutritional profile of specific meats.
Ironically, some of the loudest champions of fake meat are the vegetarians and vegans who seem to hate anything and everything associated with meat.
Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, is a champion, too. And, he’s pro-agriculture. In fact, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave away $375 million in agricultural development grants in 2012. Some of it went to the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines to provide livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for resource-poor people.
His blog, Gates Notes, carried a feature last year supporting meat analogues as part of the solution to providing protein to the world’s expanding population.
“Meat consumption worldwide has doubled in the last 20 years, and it is expected to double again by 2050,” Gates says. “This is happening in large part because economies are growing, and people can afford more meat. That’s all good news. But raising meat takes a great deal of land and water and has a substantial environmental impact.”
Gates says there’s no way to produce enough meat for a projected nine billion people by 2050. “Yet we can’t ask everyone to become vegetarians. We need more options for producing meat without depleting our resources.”
He says he’s encountered a few companies over the past few years “doing pioneering work on innovations that give a glimpse into possible solutions.” Beyond Meat is one of the firms he highlights.
Gates makes no mention of whether society approves of livestock production, or plant production for that matter. There’s also no pondering about whether meat processors themselves might one day lead such an analogue movement, as some in the meat industry have suggested intermittently.
Call me a purist or just sentimental. It pains me that non-leather billfolds are so inexpensive and last so long, at least according to friends who use and swear by them. Nothing can replace the smell and feel of genuine leather, which can last a lifetime. Tooling a leather billfold and stitching it by hand makes it one of a kind, too. But craftsmanship takes time, and time multiplies the cost.
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In other words, the utility/price value of fake leather is too high for some shoppers to ignore. Others simply don’t have the economic luxury of choosing between what they want and what they need.
Through the recent recession, data indicated some beef consumers were trading down in their beef purchases from middle meats to end meats and ground beef. Some who couldn’t afford that transition traded out beef for pork and chicken, etc. Shoppers will buy the best protein they can afford.
I hope I’m eating brisket in heaven long before meat analogues go mainstream, if they ever do. But given the price differential between beef and other animal proteins, as well as our continuing challenge of product consistency, beef must do all it can to preserve and grow its utility relative to the price.
A lot of folks likely laughed at the first belching horseless carriages that rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly lines a century ago. It’s just as likely that few horse breeders, harness makers or wainwrights fully appreciated the threat of these primitive machines to their livelihoods. I hope the beef industry has more prescience.
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