Originally published in Meatingplace by Will Coggin on April 10, 2019:
A recent industry column suggested that when it comes to fake meat, companies invested in animal agriculture have two choices: Embrace plant-based and cellular technologies, or be doomed to failure. It’s a false choice. Ranchers and farmers have a third option.
Surveys show Americans are reducing their meat consumption by large margins. The majority cite health concerns. It’s an unsurprising trend, considering the proliferation of highly publicized studies linking red and processed meats with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Plant-based competitors have latched on, and are broadly advertising their products as “better-for-you” options that taste just as satisfying as their meaty counterparts. Even the notion that a protein is “plant-based” rather than “vegan” evokes the image of leafy greens and vegetables that our mothers always told us to eat.
In short, meat mimics are benefiting from a health halo while meat is falling out of favor. But what if it isn’t better for you? Who should spend the money to inform the consumer?
We’ve seen this cycle of waxing and waning food trends before. Eggs were considered a healthy breakfast staple before the country’s nutrition experts waged a crusade against cholesterol and took eggs down with it. Several decades later, we once again consider eggs a “superfood” and health influencers give them a prominent seat at the breakfast table. The same trend that played out with nuts (high in fat!) and potatoes (high glycemic index!) is now hitting red meat and processed meat. The radical but influential Center for Science in the Public Interest fist lectured us that trans fats were bad, then they were ok. Or was it the other way around?
The difference in the contemporary battle over fake meat is that animal protein companies have yet to challenge the health claims touted by their competitors. Health and personal wellness are powerful drivers of consumer choice, and the animal protein industry certainly has a lot of ammunition to choose from when it comes to knocking their competitor’s self-proclaimed health halo.