The food scene is changing fast. Plant-based products have arrived and they are disruptive. They don’t fit in the usual slots. It’s not the first time rapid change has disrupted our food supply and it probably won’t be the last, but each time a disruption occurs, our sense of normal needs adjusting.
I posed this question in a couple of forums. Where should a supermarket put a product that is engineered to taste like ground beef but manufactured from pulverized plants and here’s what came back.
EMOTION OUTBURSTS FROM STAKEHOLDERS
Plant-based meat analogs evoke passion ranging from evangelical ecstasy to visceral derision.
For true believers, the promise of phasing out livestock production is an absolute good for our health, the planet, sustainability, and the welfare of animals.
For many others and for a variety of reasons, replacing real meat with fake meat is misguided. One particularly caustic commentator suggested putting the product in the pet food section because the texture of pulverized plants is the same as canned dog food.
PRAGMATIC SUGGESTIONS FOR SHOPPERS
The vegan/vegetarian section would be a logical place to start looking. But you’ll probably just find the usual collection of traditional veggie burgers. No faux burgers.
Meat analogs can’t go in the organic food section, at least now yet. The first generation meat analogs don’t meet the USDA organic criteria. One brand even proudly lists the use of two genetically engineered components.
A section dedicated to sustainability might be a candidate for meat analogs. Climate change activists believe red meat is bad for the planet and ruminants like beef and dairy cattle are a big contributor to global warming. But that position is controversial and other groups, especially the regenerative agriculturists, disagree.
Business decisions get made based on many factors and it appears manufacturers have pushed hard to get their meat analogues into the meat department. And that’s exactly where I found the package. Beyond Meat Burgers were right next to the grass-fed burgers in the frozen meat section.
AND NOW FOR FOOD 2.0
Food 2.0 was the most creative response I received. As technology continues to disrupt the food section, supermarkets will respond as best they can. Food 2.0 is as good a catch word as any to describe the brave new world of food tech that we have just entered. The FDA has cleared both major meat analog manufacturers for retail sale and that means a tsunami is about to hit the supermarket floor.
Many of my fellow dietitians have concerns about the healthiness of meat analogs because they are highly processed. I share that concern but to date there’s no good evidence that ultra-processing per se is unhealthy. Lots of speculations and gut feelings but no hard evidence except for one study published this year which established a correlation between a diet of ultra-processed foods and weight gain.
So what should we do while we wait for more evidence?
Here’s my plan. I tried a couple meat analogs but my gut isn’t used to high tech food and I see no reason to change right now. And straight up these analogs don’t taste nearly as good as the real thing. So for the time being, the proteins you will find on my plate most days will be home cooked lentils or one of the many varieties of white beans that please my palette and of course 100% grass-fed beef.