Plant-based burgers now so tasty they deserve to be sold alongside the real thing are not just for vegetarians and vegans, says the food writer Aine Carlin
Fake meat. Its a divisive topic, and one that frequently pits vegans against carnivores pretty needless given its just a way of increasing options for the dinner table. Its not just for vegetarians but anyone wishing to reduce their meat intake given the colossal environmental crisis we find ourselves in.
But regardless of which camp you belong to, its going to take a collective effort to undo even some of the damage already done. At this stage of the 21st century we should all be aware of the strain livestock production puts on the planet. So its a head-scratcher that people are up in arms after Sainsburys announced it would be stocking a new range of faux meats alongside the real thing.
Are people worried they will mistakenly purchase a plant-based burger instead of minced beef? And if so (and it tastes just as good), is that really such a travesty? Or is it a marketing strategy that has already been wildly successful in the US (with Beyond Meats pea protein product of the moment) absolutely worth trying here in the UK? After all, what have we got to lose? Well, a lot: according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, cattle-breeding is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being a huge exploiter of land and water resources.
Ethan Brown, the chief executive of Beyond Meat, has urged retailers to stock its products in the burger section; sometimes they have even outsold their meaty counterparts, opening up quality plant-based burgers to consumers who normally wouldnt set foot in the veggie aisle. And with an estimated 22 million flexitarians in the UK, what supermarket wouldnt want to capture a growing market? Not only is fake meat good for commerce, its vital for the planet too. As Brown says: Protein is protein.
Some vegans actually like the taste of meat, and can now get it without consuming animal flesh. There seems to be a strain of thought that says: if youre veggie or vegan, you should stick to vegetables that look and taste like vegetables, not ones that have been reconfigured to look like meat products. For these carnivores, its particularly troublesome when the texture and appearance is convincing leading to petitions in the US, and a law in France to prevent fake meat being labelled as meat.
I would suggest that such alternatives are merely a sign of the times, and instead of battling against them, people should simply accept that our food options are diversifying, in the same way as our lifestyles are. Many of us no longer want to be burdened by labels but simply desire to tread as lightly as we can upon this planet, and regard these products as beneficial to that journey.
Whether brands or industries feel threatened is something they will have to address themselves because as Tescos sell-out vegan-steak scenario demonstrates the public are speaking with their wallets, sending a clear message that plant-based products are here to stay. Instead of seeking ways to undermine them, we should be embracing them for our health, the environment and animal welfare.
Aine Carlin is a vegan food writer and blogger