For most of us, when we think of meat, we think of the flesh of animals. We think of beef, chicken, pork and even fish. We grew up eating these types of meat on our plate, with the edition of potato and veggies, of course.
But you may have noticed that what we think of "meat" is changing. In fact, the way we see and eat meat is never going to be the same.
20 Years ago, the only burger that remotely tasted as good as a chicken burger was Sanitarium's Vegie Delights "Classic Not Burger." It is an animal-free burger patty that is made from wheat and soy, as well as spices and herbs to give it heaps of flavour. There were other vegetarian products, but none, in my opinion, that compared to the flavour of the Not Burger. In my early twenties, when I was vegetarian, there weren't many companies in Australia offering products made from plants, and the ones that did were nothing compared to the Not Burger.
To me, it seemed like vegetarian products were doomed to remain the same forever. I would regularly scan supermarket shelves, looking for new products, but the same products lined the shelves year after year.
I didn't notice the Australian-based Fry Family Food Company until about three years ago in the freezer section of Woolworths. The Fry Family Food Company has been in operation since 1991, but its products had escaped my attention or perhaps weren't offered in my region of Australia.
Unlike the Not Burger, the Fry Family's burgers and sausages have a similar texture and flavour to animal-derived burgers and sausages. They also taste amazing. I started buying their schnitzels for my family but have since moved to buying all their other products. My family love them. It was the Fry Family's products that made our transition from eating some chicken to completely plant-based.
But in contrast to America, there is still a limited range of plant-based products.
Australia doesn't yet have the types of plant-based burgers available in America, but it will no doubt be soon.
In America, ethically-minded enterpreneurs are developing products that look and taste like animal meat. For people finding the transition away from animal meat difficult, as my family did, these burgers will hit the spot.
Impossible Foods is an American company that develops plant-based burgers that look and taste like animal meat patties. They have recreated the texture of animal meat - the muscle, connective tissue and fat - using ingredients exclusively from plants. Their Impossible Burger has been described as a "burger patty that looks, smells, tastes, sounds... and bleeds like meat." (6)
Beyond Meat is another American-based company creating burgers made wholly from plants. Like the Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat patties recreate the look and taste of animal meat but without the negative side-effects (i.e. causing a build up of fatty tissue in our arteries or promoting antibiotic resistance). Descriptions of the burger parallel it with the "juicy/bloody" texture of beef." (3)
It is burgers like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Meat burger that I look forward to seeing in the meat section of local supermarkets.
The most revolutionary company to effect the animal meat industry is Memphis Meats - a company that is growing sustainable cultured meat without the killing of any animals. In contrast to every plant-based burger available, Memphis Meats is growing real muscle tissue by using the stem cells of an animal and growing that tissue with the aid of biotechnologies. In other words, if Memphis Meats wants to grow chicken, the company takes the stems cells from a chicken and grows those cells in what are called bioreactors. The result is real animal meat but no animal has to die. Early reviews of the first meatball created by the company have been described as "good" and "tastes like a meatball." (4)
It is companies like Memphis Meats that will play the biggest role in changing people's perception of meat.
What are the benefits?
With doctors, scientists and nutritionists advocating an increase in plant-based foods and a decrease in animal-based foods, the health benefits of vegetable-derived patties are clear. They don't have the cholesterol that is inherent in animal foods and are the full of the natural fibre that exists in all vegetable matter. But most of all, they don't have the drugs that are fed to animals to keep them disease free and plump. (1) It is these factors that influenced my decision to completely eliminate animal products from my family's diet.
But most of all, the impact that producing animal meat had on the planet was the biggest influencer on us all.
With the world's population projected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, the current demand for animal meat is impossible to sustain. With a third of our Earth's landmass taken by animal agriculture in 2017, and the disastrous toll that this type of large-scale agriculture has had on biodiversity and our ecosystem, many scientists and people with global awareness realise that the current model of using animals for food is no longer sustainable.
What are the negatives?
The cost of plant-based meats are on par with animal-based meats, and in some cases even cheaper. However, the cost of the American plant-based burgers: Impossible Meats and Beyond Burger are still pricey due to their relatively-small scale product. But, with the exponential growth of technology, the price will drop right down in the near future.
Cultured meats are, of course still at the very beginning stages of production in America. The first cultured burger was estimated to cost 33,000 but by 2021 is estimated to be only $10. $10 for one pattie will still be high but this cost is expected to rapidly decrease as the technology and production of Memphis Meats and similar companies reach massive scale production. These real animal meat burgers, of course, will take longer to hit Australian shores, but will no doubt follow closely.
The issue with plant-based meats is processing, as many will claim that animal meats, not including the processed variety, are not processed and are as close to the natural product as possible. The significant level of processing was one of the factors that deterred me from purchasing many of the old vegetarian products. I could see, just from reading the ingredients on the package, that plant-based patties and sausages went through a substantial process before reaching the dinner plate. But what I failed to see is the antibiotics and pharmaceuticals that are given to animals to prevent infection and to help them grow far beyond their natural size. The effects of these drugs on human health has been linked to antibiotic resistance and E.Coli. There is clearly little that is natural about the production of animal meat in the 21st century.
I would rather some processing of plant-based meats than drug-filled meat on my plate.
What can we look forward to?
A world without abattoirs. Most people, if given the chance to see inside an abattoir will forgo the opportunity. There's a quote by Paul McCartney: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” The experience of walking into a piggery, where pigs are packed next to each other like sardines in a can was the one experience that made Wally Fry, the founder of the Fry Family Food Company, decide once and for all to remove animal meats and other products from his family's diet. Most Australians are unaware of what goes on in slaughterhouses or the impact that the animal agriculture industry has on the health of the planet, let alone the impact on humans and other animals.
I don't believe it is a question of whether "if" Memphis Meats will succeed. One of the biggest animal meat producers in America, Tyson Foods, has already bought shares in Beyond Meat, a large indication of where their CEOs believe the food industry is heading.
With investments from Google Ventures, Bill Gates and other investors, Impossible Meats has also raised almost 200 million dollars to fund its expansion around America and the globe. Currently, an Impossible Burger is only available in selected restaurants, but the company aims to produce 4 million plant-based burgers a month by the end of 2017.
It is these innovative companies, and a growing awareness in the general public, that is indeed changing forever how we see the animal meat industry. And, thank goodness.