Fake burgers and the chicken nuggets have a moment. In 2018, Impossible Foods, the Silicon Valley-based alternative meat company known for its plant-based burger that “bleeds” like the real thing, got its start in fast food nationwide at all White Castle sites in the United States. A year later, KFC partnered with Los Angeles-based alt protein producer Beyond Meat to create a plant-based fried chicken that is “finger licking good. “And since the start of the pandemic, sales of vegetable meats in supermarkets have more than doubled. Once booked only for hippies and PETA employees, protein alternatives have finally entered the mainstream. But that doesn’t mean industrial animal agriculture is on the way out. Far from there.
At the end of 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture predicted that the Americans will have eaten one more pound of beef and poultry in 2020 compared to 2019 (exact totals are still being calculated). At 225 pounds per person, that would be the highest amount of meat consumed in recorded history. And that’s right, there’s the catch: The explosive growth in plant-based meat is real and significant, but it’s still a fraction of the conventional meat market. The world’s most developed US vegetable meat market is now worth a little less $ 1 billion. The American animal meat market? A standard 95 billion dollars.
Part of the problem is that despite significant improvements to the vile veggie discs of yesteryear, plant-based meat still gets a bad rap. According to a survey from December 2019 According to the International Food Information Council, more than half of respondents had not even tried a product in the category yet, saying they didn’t expect it to taste very good. But even among those who did, the hype did not live up to the reality: nearly a third said they found its texture not similar to meat from animal origin.
Another challenge is that vegetable meat is expensive. At my local Whole Foods, a Beyond Burger costs $ 3.00. Your average factory burger costs half of that on average.
The consequences are serious for the planet and all of its inhabitants. Cattle represent between 14.5 percent and 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Overconsumption of meat is directly related an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. And in the United States alone, 9 billion land animals are bred in cruel and unusual ways before being slaughtered every year.
If we are serious about solving these problems and putting plant-based meat at the center of consumers’ plates in 2021, two steps must be taken.
First, the industry needs billions of dollars in venture capital investment. There are approximately 4000 molecules that give meat the taste of meat. If food scientists have any hope of identifying which of them are the source of most of the flavor of the human sensory experience – the culinary equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack – they will need a lot of money for research and development.
While it is true that vegetable meat has experienced a influx of capital over the past decade, it is pale compared to other technologies. For example, in 2019, autonomous vehicle companies received $ 10.4 billion in funding. Meanwhile, plant meat companies reported less than $ 750 million. Any investor keen to generate a social and environmental impact as well as financial returns must seriously consider this space.
Second, governments around the world must prioritize alt proteins. Unlike private investments, which focus on commercialization and short-term financial gains among shareholders, public investments fund research that may not have immediate economic returns but that benefits society. long-term. Technologies like the Internet and even the Google search engine were born from this type of federal funding– why not vegetable meat?