From Tofu to beetroot burgers, meat substitutes are everywhere. Forget the taste, are these imitation meats any healthier? In trying to do our bit for our environment and save hapless animals from being butchered, we have tried to shift from the conventional beef hamburger patties to substitutes that are being touted as a green meat alternative, without compensating for the taste, aroma, and texture.
Indeed, red meat, particularly beef, ranks at the top of the worst foods for the environment and has the highest carbon footprint. A kilogram of beef produces 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases and requires 900 gallons of water. Meat substitutes, on the other hand, do not have that detrimental effect on eating red meat. And it is a lot more beneficial for our environment.
Shifting from meat to a plant-based diet could be our greatest contribution to the environment. The total food system makes up 34% of the total greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere. It also devours 70% of the freshwater we consume and has led to 60% of the planet’s biodiversity being wiped out in the last 4 decades. And a huge part of the resources is wasted in the conversion of feed crops to animal protein, which is then consumed by humans. This has led to demands for more meat substitutes to wean people from consuming meat.
One way this could be achieved is through meat substitutes that have the protein content and the taste of red meat. Moreover, they need to be environmentally friendly and have the taste, texture, and aroma of real meat.
We now have a slew of options though each has a different impact on the environment. Grading seems the most reasonable option, but even a ‘C’ for a plant-based product still places it above meat when it comes to environmental friendliness. Black beans and lentils are a popular base for veggie burgers. And if you love the texture and taste, it would be a great decision if you care about the environment. Lentils, beans, and other varieties of legumes in burgers make it very environmentally friendly. Legumes consume much less fertilizer and do not require to be processed.
Natural Unprocessed Meat Substitutes
Beans are the best of the lot when it comes to the environment. Especially when they are grown organically. These legumes contain high levels of fiber and protein. They also add nitrogen to the soil and help in preserving soil health, which places it in the ‘A’ bracket.
Jack fruit is also a sustainable meat substitute and is best when no herbicides or pesticides are used. The jack fruit tree doesn’t require any irrigation and being a shade crop, can be combined with other crops that lead to a regenerative ecosystem.
Seitan is derived from wheat, so its sustainability is linked directly to the way it is cultivated. Most wheat crops consume a large volume of pesticides and agrochemicals. These can cause water contamination and destroy biodiversity in the immediate vicinity. Insect pollinators are wiped out in areas where wheat cultivation takes place. Growing wheat both in spring and winter on the same land can lead to the maximum use of land.
Tofu comes from soy or soya. But soya comes with a notorious reputation of being directly linked to deforestation, especially in the Americas. Improper cultivation practices can lead to the emission of a large volume of greenhouse gases. Soya cultivation also consumes a large volume of pesticides and water, so it does get a good ranking as a meat substitute.
Tempeh, made of soybeans that have been fermented, though not as bad for the environment, is lower in the list of meat substitutes on the sustainability count. Though better than beef when it comes to the environment, it uses pesticides and fertilizers.
Both Tofu and Tempeh rank below the other three products when it comes to sustainability as they use a significant quantity of pesticides and water.
Vegan Companies That Manufacture Meat Substitutes
A couple of vegan companies are close but have unique qualities in their products. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are a couple of companies that have come up with meat substitutes that do taste like meat. They have their version of the burger patties at various fast food establishments, including White Castle, Burger King, and Applebees.
Both these companies have made it their core mission to cut down on our reliance on livestock and go for more sustainable options. Impossible meat patties use a mix of potato protein and soya, which is then mixed with yeast extract and a host of other ingredients.
“Beyond Meat” products use a mix of mung bean, pea, canola, rice proteins, and coconut oil. It uses beet juice extract to give a realistic pink hue to the product.
Meat substitutes have come uncannily close to the real product thanks to the advance in food technology. They have the appearance, texture, and taste of the real product. Their vision is to do away with the cruel process of animal food. And the new kids on the block offer both taste and a sustainable substitute for our meat-obsessed food habits.