By Morgan Walsh
Just because it’s made out of vegetables doesn’t make it good for you.
The sky is blue, a2+b2=c2, and vegans don’t go to McDonald’s. These are the fundamental facts of life… or so it was thought. For some time now, the fast-food industry has done its best to ignore the vegetarian, the vegan, and the “anything other than meat and cheese-loving” communities, but recent trends are starting to show that tables are turning green. Brands such as Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat are now supplying restaurants from Burger King and Dunkin Donuts to Olive Garden and Unos with 100% plant-based burgers. Believe it or not, even Colonel Sanders (KFC) decided to join the bandwagon, testing out beyond chicken in select locations over the summer.
The reasons why someone would want to go vegan, vegetarian, or even flexitarian, an immerging diet where people only consume meat on occasion, are well understood. By lowering our consumption of meat and animal products we save the lives of cute cows and pigs, all the while lowering Earth’s chances of burning up due to the enormous amounts of greenhouse gases released by the meat and dairy industries. Countless studies have proven the environmental benefits of cutting meat from our diets. This includes one done by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment agency which states, “By using an integrated assessment model, we found a global food transition to less meat, or even a complete switch to plant-based protein food to have a dramatic effect on land use. Up to 2,700 Mha (A million-hectare meter) of pasture and 100 Mha of cropland could be abandoned, resulting in a large carbon uptake from regrowing vegetation. Additionally, methane and nitrous oxide emission would be reduced substantially”(Stechfest Elke et al.). That is equivalent to about 10,424,758 square miles of pasture, and 386,102 square miles of cropland.
Besides just being all-around bad for the environment, the consumption of red and processed meats raises many health concerns. The WHO (World Health Organization) has issued statements about the links between cancer and processed red meat. They have said, “The consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect,” and “processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer”(WHO). This only adds to the list of negatives that come with eating meat. People have begun to urge restaurants and food chains for new menu options that have less or imitation meats. That said, the benefits of eating mock meats over 100% beef patties may seem all too good to be true because, well, they kinda are.
The two leading companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, both make their patties in labs where they experiment with different ingredients to make their burger taste, look, and “bleed”(when liquids escape from meat when it cooks) like the real thing. In addition, they have almost identical calories and macronutrients to foods they are imitating. According to CNN, they also contain much more sodium than the average beef patty, having approximately 315 milligrams more. Sodium, if eaten in access amounts, can lead to increased risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. This becomes an issue when people start consuming plant-based burgers, not as a means of enjoying one of their favorite foods without hurting the environment or animals, but instead, eating the fake burgers because they believe them to be healthier. In addition, these plant-based alternatives are also considerably higher in saturated fat, and they lack micronutrients such as B12 that is found in meat. The burgers, while they are natural, are about as processed as Frankenstein, and that’s kinda the point. The plant food brands aren’t trying to make health-foods; they are making all-American burgers minus the beef, which in it of itself is not the best for you.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any health benefits. People do not have to worry about antibiotics and growth hormones that are put into cows affecting them or food poisoning from undercooked meat. So yes, the plant-based burgers may not be the glorious, healthy alternative to a burger everyone was waiting for but that’s what salads are for. An article by Vox mentions that these brands have been found to use about, “90% less greenhouse gas emissions, require 46% less energy, and have 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef,”(Piper). They may not be all that healthy, but they make up for it by allowing Americans to enjoy meat without having to feel guilty about the destruction of the environment and pain to animals it brings. People may argue this new trend in the food industry is simply a fad, but what these companies have done to urge Americans to go green will not soon be forgotten. As people begin experimenting with more environmentally friendly ways to feed people, these plant-based meats will serve as the tip of the iceberg in the food revolution that will soon come.