Going meatless – is it another food fad?
Photo Credit: Impossible Foods
by Agnes Chung
From Meatless Monday to EAT-Lancet diet, Canadians are decreasing or eliminating their meat consumption for health, animal welfare, environmental and taste reasons.
Nearly 20 percent of the population (6.5 million Canadians) follow a vegan, vegetarian or meat-restricted diet, according to a March 2019 Canada’s Food Guide perceptions and awareness study. This is up from 6.4 million compared to an October 2018 Dalhousie University study, which pointed out that 63 percent of respondents who follow a vegan diet are under the age of 38 (Gen Z and millennials).
Embracing a meatless diet is nothing new for Christians. In the Old Testament in Daniel 10:2-3, the prophet Daniel went on a plant-based diet when he was in Babylonian captivity. This inspired the popular Daniel Fast, a 21-day prayer and fasting discipline where only non-preserved fruits, nuts, vegetables and water are consumed.
The Friday Fast abstains from animal meat on Fridays, a practice frequented among Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists. Seventh-day Adventists follow a dietary pattern based on the Book of Leviticus. It excludes animal products and focuses on a plant-based diet of legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Meat alternatives and consumers
They range from plant-based food to lab-grown meat and alternative protein sources from edible insects and algae. Flexitarians supplement their plant-based diets with eggs, dairy foods, and sometimes, fish, seafood as well as meat such as poultry. The Mediterranean diet is an example.
Pescatarians cut out meat, and lacto-ovo vegetarians omit meat, fish or seafood. Vegans adhere to strict plant-based diets, avoiding any animal-derived ingredients.
Fake meat has been around for centuries
China perfected imitation meat long before Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat patties hit the food scene. Tofu, a classic meat alternative was invented during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). During Lent in Medieval Europe, chopped almonds and grapes substituted mincemeat.
Soy and tofu are high in protein and low in fat. Interestingly, “beef and soy have a similar Protein Digestibility–Corrected Amino Acid Score, indicating that they have similar protein values in human nutrition,” cited Science Direct.
Impossible Foods’ patty mimics the real taste and texture of beef using two genetically-engineered ingredients: heme (soy leghemoglobin) and soy protein. Rising demand for meat alternatives has fast food chains like Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, A&W and dozens of restaurants jumping on the bandwagon to capture this growing niche industry.
Would you eat lab-grown meat?
The idea may sound icky, but lab-grown meat, also referred to as clean, cultivated, cultured, synthetic or vitro meat could be on store shelves as early as 2022. Israeli startup, Future Meat Technologies “aims to introduce hybrid products – combining plant proteins for texture and cultured fats that create the distinct aroma and flavor of meat” this year, cited a news release. By 2022, the company plans to launch a second line of 100 percent cultured meat products costing less than $10 US per pound.
Lab-grown meat cultivation involves injecting stem cells from the fat or muscle of an animal into a cell culture and grown in a food production plant. This lessens the negative effects of conventional meat production.
How about edible insects?
Many people in Asia, Oceania, Africa, and Latin America acquire their protein source from insects. Fried insects such as, grasshoppers, crickets, silk pupae and bamboo worms are common street foods in Thailand.
Algae is another protein alternative, particularly the Dulse (Palmaria palmata) and Laver or Sleabhac (Porphyra) species. Eight-grams of dry Dulse have more iron than 100-grams of raw sirloin steak. Omega-3 from fish actually comes from the algae that fish eat, cited researcher Pieter de Wolf of Wageningen University & Research.
Is eating meat alternatives healthier than consuming real meat?
The answer depends on what you eat. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet improves overall health and weight management, aids in disease prevention and carbon footprint reduction.
However, meat alternatives saturated with processed ingredients including artificial additives, unhealthy fats with preservatives high in sodium and sugar content does your health injustice. Read the label. The hype continues for lab-grown meat, while its long term benefits and risks have yet to be seen.
Author of The Vegetarian Myth, Lierre Keith told Women’s Health Magazine “People think they’re eating a beautiful, righteous diet, but they don’t realize there’s a potential dark side.” She has heard from vegetarians who didn’t understand why they have terrible depression and anxiety. For Keith, who turned vegan at age 16, the diet had a negative impact on her health.
When asked what diet he would advocate for, author of Happy Gut, Dr. Vincent Pedre told New York Times that “it should be individualized for every person.” “I advocate eating a lot of vegetables, complemented with meat.”
No two persons are genetically alike, not even identical twins. Stick to the diet that works best for you and your health. Buying from your local producer supports your local economy and you!