The Plant-Based Food Industry: Economists, Vegans, Doctors and Nutritionists Debate Man’s Need For Animal Meat

Joel Eisenberg

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Author’s Note

The author of this article offers no medical advice as to the efficacy of a plant-based diet, and recommends seeking a doctor’s guidance upon undertaking any dietary change. Information and excerpts for this article are fully-attributed to several media outlets, including Eater.com, Wikipedia, Reuters, Byrdie.com, Patch.com, Thrillest.com, InfluencerMarketingHub.com, The Economist, FrontierSin.org, and the National Institute of Health. Direct links to all listed and attributed sources are included below.

Introduction

Plant-based burgers, popularly known as vegetable burgers or garden burgers, have been stables in many American homes since the early-80s. See here for Eater.com article credited to Vox Creative, “Behind the Rise of Plant-Based Burgers.”

Wikipedia, however, in their entry of the history of the so-nicknamed “veggie burger,” states many companies have claimed to invent the patty, though who was first is unclear. See here for Wikipedia entry, which also states the following: The patties that are the essence of a veggie burger have existed in various Eurasian cuisines for millennia, including in the form of disc-shaped grilled or fried meatballs or as koftas, a commonplace item in Indian cuisine.

In 2009, Beyond Meat announced an upcoming plant-based burger that promised to be indistinguishable from real meat. Its burger hit the U.S. markets in 2012 to critical acclaim and explosive growth. A competitor, Impossible Meats, launched in 2011 and its first analog burger became available in the U.S. in 2016.

Beyond Meat went public in 2019, becoming the first vegan meat alternative company to do so. Reuters, citing background sources, reported Impossible Foods was weighing an IPO or SPAC listing in 2022 that could value the startup at $10 billion. See here for Reuters report.

Though both alternatives were critically acclaimed for taste, and Beyond in 2021 offered what they called an “improved” version of its signature Beyond Burger, some critics decried both brands’ highly-processed formulas and sodium levels, considering them as, in fact, not so healthy options. See here for August, 2021 updated article from Byrdie.com, “Are Impossible and Beyond Meats Bad For You? An Investigation.” The article was written by Leigh Weingus, medically reviewed by nutritionist Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, and fact checked by Aaron Johnson.

Beyond Burgers’ primary component is pea protein isolate, while the major ingredient in Impossible Burgers is soy protein concentrate and potato protein. The Byrdie article gives a slight nutritional edge to Beyond Burgers.

Still, today both brands are highly-valued, underscoring what many experts considered a latent public desire for meat alternatives. As of the time of this writing, Beyond Meat is selling at $66.62 per share, while Impossible Foods

In 2021, upon announcing their new McPlant Burger in association with Beyond Meat, a McDonald’s spokesperson said, “We are proud to enter into this strategic global agreement with McDonald's, an exciting milestone for Beyond Meat, and look forward to serving McDonald's as they bring expanded choice to menus globally," Beyond Meat Founder & CEO Ethan Brown said at the time. "We will combine the power of Beyond Meat's rapid and relentless approach to innovation with the strength of McDonald's global brand to introduce craveable, new plant-based menu items that consumers will love." See here for Patch.com article, “McDonalds Bring Meatless McPlant Burger to California.”

An April, 2021 article from Thrillest.com states: In 2019, there were two plant-based fast food burgers: Beyond Meat and Impossible. Plain. A little boring. And even today, it’s mainly those two brands. But wait. Things are escalating quickly! McDonald’s announced it’s debuting an aptly dubbed McPlant fake meat this year. Taco Bell is developing its own special Beyond Meat. And did you know Quizno’s is already serving plant-based corned beef? See here for Thrillest’s “These Are the Best Plant-Based Meat Items from Fast Food Chains.”

In the meantime, companies vegan fish and chicken products are being regularly introduced into a crowded consumer marketplace by companies such as Gardein, as are startups such as Juicy Marbles, that is introducing what they are marketing as the one of the world’s first commercially available vegan filet mignon steaks.

Based on the success of Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, the demand for such options has been proven. But are they, in fact, necessary?

Plant-Based Meat vs. Real Meat: Taste and Texture

A cursory view of YouTube videos by the likes of vegan cooking influencers with handles such as Sauce Stache (Mark Thompson), Fully Raw Kristina, Liv B, Bonny Rebecca, and others are linked here, on Feedspot.com. Other online vegan-related influencers can be found here, on InfluencerMarketingHub.com. Each of the influencers listed on both webpages tout the efficacy of a plant-based diet, while some state larger ambitions related to minimizing their carbon-based footprint or saving animals from cruelty.

Even TV personality and 16-Star Michelin Chef Gordon Ramsay is now offering vegan items on the menus of his multiple restaurants, including a steak made of eggplant which you can find on his website.

For vegan and vegan-friendly individuals, there is an acknowledgement that most any meat dish can be prepared vegan style and still taste very much the same, with very similar texture.

Economists largely agree. As seen in this video from The Economist, titled “How Veganism Can Change the World,” the vegan insights linked above are not only also stressed but so are economic advantages of plant-based alternatives. Additionally, see FontierSin.org for further optimism regarding economic advantages of plant-based meat availability here. Entitled “Social and Economic Opportunities and Challenges of Plant-Based and Cultured Meat for Rural Producers in the US,” the article states the following as it regards possible job creation: The growth of alt-meat sectors could generate several opportunities for people who work in agriculture, with crops or livestock. Such opportunities could accrue to new and beginning farmers who might be attracted to agriculture by new opportunities, as well as to those currently working in agriculture, whose products might gain additional value in these new sectors and/or who might diversify or transition their livelihoods.

Finally, while many nutritionists tout vegan-style eating, doctors are torn. See here for a National Institute of Health article, “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.” Some doctors believe other diets and lifestyles are more optimal due to nutrition lacks in the vegan diet that must be replaced with supplements, and the heavily-processed and high-sodium vegan food alternatives presently on the market. Still other doctors believe raw or otherwise strict vegan diets, with portion control, can be very effective for a healthy lifestyle.

The jury is out, though I myself have been eating a plant-based diet for over a decade and it’s worked for me in terms of overall health and fitness.

Conclusion

While many doctors recommend the value of a plant-based diet, others are skeptical and stress that pre-existing conditions may inhibit any potential health benefits thereof.

There is no debate, however, that the industry is growing. The explosive popularity of brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have revolutionized both home food market and fast food restaurant offerings, having expanded into national chains such as Burger King, Quiznos, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s.

For as long as there is demand, there will be supply. If the natural meat market becomes unsustainable for any reason, vegan versions will remain viable alternatives.

We no longer need animal meat.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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