Upon being seated at a restaurant, after staring holes in the menu and critically eyeing whatever the neighboring table ordered, the restaurant’s server kindly asks you to make a selection off their menu. At least once in your rush to make a decision, your speculative eyes have stumbled across the newest addition to the modern-day menu, the beloved, and the hated, beyond meat burger. Health-nuts love it, farmers hate it, and the average person understands nothing about it.
We owe our inherent craving for animal products to our genetics. Meat: protein-rich, filled with vital vitamins with high quantities of iron, made it a preeminent element to the survival of the human race. However, human’s underlying love for animal products has taken a heavy toll on the earth, especially the environment.
Live-stock animals are directly related to the record-breaking rates of deforestation found today. It is estimated that half of the habitable land on this planet is already being used for agricultural purposes. In fact, 77% of that land is designated for livestock.
2. Loss of Biodiversity
As forests are cut down to create farmland, organisms, microorganisms, and bacteria’s habitats are severely impacted or destroyed. This not only disrupts food chains but also makes species much more likely to become severely endangered. An example of this is the orangutans, who have already lost 80% of their habitats to deforestation and whose population is in rapid decline.
3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Farms and livestock emit an unsustainable supply of methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide that letch into the atmosphere and the soil. The amount of these gases released is directly related to climate change. As the demand for livestock products increases, especially in developing countries, the amount of these gases entering our atmosphere is expected to skyrocket.
4. Water Usage
Out of all the food groups, meat requires the most water. For instance, pork requires four times as much water to produce compared to alternative protein sources, such as lentils. It is also important to note that livestock farming also contaminates water supplies, possibly leading to the spread of diseases and eutrophication.
5. Soil Degradation
Raising livestock requires the removal of trees to create a flat farming landscape. However, the removal of trees and natural vegetation leaves land susceptible to wind, rain, and snow. Exposure to the elements, matched with intense grazing, increases risks of floods and has the ability to turn fertile land into waste grounds.
6. Climate Change
All of these issues combined to create an immense amount of climate change. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, the meat and dairy industry is responsible for approximately 14.5% of global emissions. Moving forward, the world as a whole must work to minimize climate change as it poses a devastating threat to all aspects of human life.
Many entrepreneurs and environmentalists have attempted to find creative solutions to mitigate the alarming effects that animal products have on our environment. Despite this, fighting human genetics is no piece of cake. Potatoes, gravy, turkey. Fries, salad, burger. Pasta, alfredo, chicken. These brave people are trying to mess with modern-day staples and the very foundations of the food industry. Trying to stop people from celebrating thanksgiving with turkey is like trying to ask the science department for a retest; Simply never going to happen.
However, in the past few years, these companies have been a massive hit in the western world.
Their environmental campaigns that market meat alternatives to a population of omnivores have been surprisingly successful, creating a new 16.6 million dollar industry. The methods of individual companies may vary but their process is simple: selling plant-based alternatives instead of animal products. This is a viable environmentally-friendly solution as plants take up a fraction of the space, water, and manpower that livestock requires. The world-renowned ‘impossible’ and ‘beyond’ brands have dominated these markets, despite being indistinguishable to many curious menu ponderers and grocery shoppers.
On the technical side, the gluten-free ‘Impossible’ products include soy protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and a genetically manufactured ‘heme’ that makes the product almost indistinguishable from regular burgers. In fact, 70% of consumers who have tried the Impossible Burger say it tastes as good as or better than the ground beef alternative.
On the other hand, ‘Beyond’ products are composed of pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil, and seasonings. It is important to note that ‘Beyond’ products are not genetically modified which makes a difference to a handful of consumers. At the end of the day, both competing brands have similar nutritional benefits and a significantly lower carbon footprint than mainstream animal products. In fact, studies have shown that both company’s burger lines produce approximately 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than beef burgers.
There is no denying the immense importance of meat in our diets. It is crucial to a balanced, healthy, diet and provides essential minerals, protein, and vitamins that our bodies require to function properly. However, there is also no denying that frequently consuming animal products is highly damaging to the environment. As the demand for food increases with the population, the negative environmental effects of agriculture are only supposed to grow more and more devastating. So the next time that you sit down at a restaurant and carefully contemplate the menu, don’t let your speculative eyes skim over the environmentally-friendly, plant-based alternatives. You just may find your new go-to alternative! At the rate this industry is expanding, don’t be surprised if you find an ‘impossible’ turkey on the shelves this Thanksgiving.