So recently I have noticed an influx of mock-meats and faux animal products in my local supermarket. I personally can’t stand the stuff: it tastes nothing like meat and only invites the comparison to the real deal. But last year saw $5 billion in isolated soy protein sales (the main ingredient in most fake meats) and obviously someone is buying it. In the last 10 years, meat substitutes have come a long way. According to an NPR report, in the last year alone, over 100 new fake meat products have been introduced in the United States. It’s multi-billion dollar industry–but are meat substitutes really better for the planet, or for your health?
Allow me to clarify: when I say “faux meat,” I’m not referring to the many protein-rich processed foods which are used in ancient cuisines around the world. Tofu is a great filler when it’s well made, and I like tempeh, the traditional Indonesian product of whole fermented soy beans. I’m also not talking about things like veggie burgers that actually taste like veggies.
I am talking rather about things like “Boca Burgers,” which contain hydrolyzed wheat protein, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, methylcellulose and a ‘non-meat’ artificial flavor, according to their site. And Philip Morris, the giant tobacco company, owns them. These products use an overabundance of salt (Salt Sells) and mystery ingredients like those mentioned above. The main ingredient, soy meal, is not so good either, in the quantities you’re eating. Soy tends to cause hormonal imbalances, has something like sixteen known allergens, and the things they use in processing it (such as the toxic chemical hexane) appear to cause cancer.
And secondly, the environment isn’t going to be much better off. The other main reason for Brazilian rain forest destruction (besides tearing up land for factory cattle farming) is soy production. This topsoil-ruining crop is extremely polluting and terrible for the Earth when grown continuously in huge quantities using pesticides.
While I can see how meat substitutes are a quick and easy fix when you are running late, or to satisfy a craving, it just defeats the whole point of vegetarianism if you are doing more damage to the Earth than you would by eating a burger. Though there aren’t many, this site suggests a few health- and environment-conscious choices.