What's the deal with meatless alternatives?

Meat eaters are missing the point of meatless meat.

I recently became a vegan. I had already been vegetarian for some time, and prior to that, my meat consumption was minimal (chicken or fish 3-5 times per week, no pork or red meat). So for me, the transition was smooth. My body never really craved much meat, and I thrive without it.

But very few of the people in my life are plant-based, and I constantly hear remarks about my diet. "How can you not eat meat?" and "you must miss it." Of course, I don't miss it, but saying so only seems to prompt further comments about the situation. This conversation invariably evolves into a discussion about meatless meat alternatives. If you aren't familiar with them, these products would be those from Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Quorn. "You must at least eat those then," is the comment I receive, only to be followed by "I couldn't eat that stuff."

Meat eaters have completely missed the point of meatless meat. Companies manufacturing meatless alternatives are very much a part of the bioeconomy regardless of how you may feel about them from a health or nutrition standpoint. The goal of meat alternatives is to sustainably address growing food demands because of a growing global population.

In short, meatless meat isn't some new option cooked up for vegans. Instead, it's for the meat-eaters. Meat eaters are still operating under the assumption that no one could find satisfaction in a plate not structured around meat. Thus, meatless alternatives are the fancy new way for vegans and vegetarians to be "meat adjacent." To them, vegetarianism seems more a temporary affliction or fleeting obligation during which we must miss meat terribly and after which we will surely resume eating meat. They fail to realize that since vegans and vegetarians have already abandoned the traditional "meat and sides" notion, a plant-based lifestyle isn't fleeting, and we don't live for the hope of someday eating meat again. This being the case, if meat eaters understood this, they would most surely wonder about the target consumer for meatless meat.

Meatless meat is engineered to mimic meat in texture, look, and taste. Why would a company manufacture such a product for a group of people who do not care to eat meat in the first place? They wouldn't. Meat eaters are the target consumer! They are the group who cares about the taste and texture of meat, and their eating patterns are the ones most taxing to the environment.

Meatless meat has a way to go. Maybe it is in its quality, marketing, or branding. Who knows, but meat-eaters have not yet picked up on the fact that meatless meat isn't a way to appease vegetarians but a way to offset carbon-intensive meat consumption on the part of meat-eaters.

As of 2020, it was estimated that a little over two-thirds of the American populace classified as omnivores. On average, Americans consume 274 pounds of meat annually. Depending on the type of meat consumed, their total carbon emissions in meat alone equates to somewhere between 300 and 2,000 pounds of CO2 each year depending on the type of meat consumed. For the sake of our quick calculation, let's just say they eat a mix of meats, and this generates 1,000 pounds of CO2. Split that between two meat-containing meals per day for a year, and each meal generates 1.4 pounds of CO2 each meal. With legumes, vegetables, and fruits boasting significantly lower carbon intensities (0.02-0.2 pounds of CO2 per serving), if they replaced just one meat-containing meal per week with a meatless one, their carbon footprint could be reduced by up to 50 pounds of CO2 for the year. That may not seem significant, but if only 10% of the meat-eating populace did this, the United States would see a reduction in carbon emissions by 1.64 billion pounds. That's the carbon intensity equivalent of driving the average passenger vehicle nearly 2 billion miles. And that is with just 10% of meat eating Americans replacing one meal each week.

I find it humorous when meat eaters assume I must eat meatless meat primarily because it is evident that the product's fundamental objective and target consumer group escapes them. For it is their own behavior those companies aim to alter. Meatless meat isn't a way to ease vegetarians back into eating meat. It's a way to help meat eaters ween themselves off of eating meat.

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