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The world is full of scary headlines right now (wash those hands!), but flexitarians at least got some good news this week when Impossible Foods announced it would be cutting wholesale prices 15 percent to help the product reach price parity with traditional beef. As I wrote in my piece covering the news, this is a significant step for Impossible as the company sprints towards its goal of replacing all animal agriculture by 2035.
But no matter how close Impossible Foods gets to imitating the flavor, cooking properties and even bloodiness of meat, it’s still not, well, meat. Given that, do the products even carry the same significance as meat?
That question came to mind this week when I read a story in Food & Wine discussing the issue of Catholics eating Impossible — and other meatless meats — during Lent. Lent is traditionally a time when Catholics and other Christians eschew all meat (besides fish and seafood). But do plant-based beef and pork that taste very uncannily like the real thing count as meat?
The Bible doesn’t cover this one. (For its part, the Church has not come out with a statement about whether plant-based meat is appropriate for Lent.) But as plant-based meat improves and starts tasting and behaving just like the real thing, its role within certain diets will become more and more relevant.
Just like some vegetarians and vegans see no reason to eat meatless meats — why would they when they’re perfectly happy with vegetables and legumes? — I expect some who adhere to religious diets won’t be tempted to try Beyond, Impossible and the like.
Others will. While this is just conjecture on my part, I’m sure there’s a contingent of kosher folks, for example, who will be very keen to sample Impossible’s new plant-based pork, which is certified as both halal and kosher by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), respectively. At least some restaurants are on board — for example, this month the Halal Shack will begin serving the Impossible Burger.
The larger question at play is this: As the offerings from Impossible and Beyond get closer and closer to imitating meat, at some point do they actually become meat — at least in terms of meaning, taboo, and cultural connotations?
It’s a complex quandary to be sure, and one that we won’t solve in this newsletter (sorry!) But as Impossible and others make better-and-better imitations of meat, it’s a topic that will likely become more contentious.
And once cell-based meat — which is actual meat, just made without killing an animal — comes on the scene? That’s when things will get really sticky.
The next realm of plant-based innovation? Cheese.
Something that’s a little less controversial than the religious significance of plant-based meat? Vegan cheese. An ever-growing number of consumers are seeking it, but, at least according to this writer, no company has yet to truly nail the concept.
But last week when I was in New York for Customize, our food personalization summit, I tried some products that were pretty darn close. Grounded Foods is a new startup that ferments everyday ingredients like cauliflower, oats, and hemp seed to make surprisingly realistic plant-based cheese, including camembert, gruyere, feta, and more.
It’s about damn time! We have made plant-based versions of meat, fish, milk, and ice cream that are good enough to if not fool the average consumer then at least keep them satisfied. But cheese has long eluded even the most innovative of plant-based companies, despite the dozens of SKUs on the shelf.
Are Grounded Foods’ products as good as actual cheese? No. But they do come the closest of the offerings that I’ve seen and tasted thus far. I’m hoping that 2020 will be to cheese what 2018 was to plant-based meat: the year when we start to see a variety of actually good-tasting options hit the market. I’ll get my crackers ready.
Protein ’round the web
- NUGGS, maker of D2C plant-based chicken nuggets, announced an impending retail launch this spring.
- Seth Goldman, former Executive Chair of Beyond Meat, spoke with the Washington Post about his new vegan QSR PLNT Burger.
- Good Catch Foods, a startup making plant-based tuna, is partnering with seafood giant Bumble Bee Foods to help it scale.
- El Pollo Loco has developed its own plant-based chicken internally and is rolling it out to all locations (h/t FoodDive).
That’s it from me this week. I’m off to go stockpile some oat milk, just in case.