Earlier this year, food tech startup The Better Meat Co. announced start-up funding of $ 8.1 million. The company, founded by longtime vegan animal rights activist Paul Shapiro, supplies plant-based protein to traditional meat producers.
The concept is simple: take meat as we know it historically – beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc. – and mix it with non-meat protein that tastes like that or complements the meat it’s mixed with.
But it’s not as easy as chopping mushrooms, for example, and tossing them into your ground beef. The Better Meat Co. offers lines of beef, pork, chicken and fish, each uniquely formulated for seamless integration while maintaining the shape, size, texture and of course the familiar taste of animal products.
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Meat mixes: more than just a trend
The manufacturers attach great importance to meat mixes. Chicken giant Perdue is considered one of Better Meat’s largest customers. Tyson Foods has now launched its own range of mixed products under the Raised and Rooted label. It contains nugget and burger mixes.
Food service giant Sodexo has been mixing meat products since 2016, and fast food chain Sonic launched a blended burger last year. The natural meat brand Applegate has also launched a mixed range of products. And one of the newest brands to dive into this trend is Misfit Foods. Best known as a juice company, it launched a line of chicken sausages last year that are 50 percent vegetable. It is not shy about its motivation.
“Climate change matters most to us,” Phil Wong, co-founder of Misfit Foods, told Modern Farmer last January. “With juices, we focused on food waste, but here with this mixed-product platform we actually have a much greater chance of tackling the very issue we care about most by working on meat reduction.”
The James Beard Foundation also participated in the campaign with its Blended Burger Project, which started in 2015. The challenge is that restaurants have to make burgers with at least 25 percent mushrooms. (While most mixes are 25 to 30 percent plant-based, some mixes are half plant-based.) Due to COVID, Project 2020 asked home cooks to do the same for a chance at a $ 10,000 prize . (The winners will be announced in the fall.)
Two-time blended burger project winner, chef and restaurateur Fiore Moletz, says blended burgers now make up 10 percent of his restaurant’s sales.
“For me, the most important thing about the mixture is that it is sustainable and healthy,” says Moletz. “We always advocate a healthier and more sustainable approach. The more we train all of us, the better off we will be. “
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Advantages of meat mixes
Meat mix products contain lower percentages of cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which are related to diet-related diseases, including the number one killer in the US: heart disease. Reducing saturated fat and cholesterol also reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. These mixed products can even help reverse the conditions.
They also reduce the massive environmental impact of the meat industry. While this is more difficult to quantify, reducing the total meat mass of a meat product means fewer animals in the supply chain. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and the pressure on resources such as fresh water, land, pasture land and energy in transport. The latest estimates from the World Resources Institute suggest that any burger sold only 30 percent plant-based in the U.S. would save more than 80 billion gallons of water annually (that is, the water consumed by more than 2 percent each year) , 6 million households is consumed). It would also reduce the demand for agricultural land by an area larger than the entire state of Maryland and exceeding 14,000 square miles.
All without having to do without your favorite burger.
Sounds pretty perfect, doesn’t it?
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An imperfect mix?
But where mixed meat is a problem solver in concept, it is really complicated. It takes a booming category – vegetable protein – and crushes it into a sick one. It’s a bit like using a smartphone to encourage people to find a landline. Case in point: Sales of vegan meat have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Some estimates suggest that sales for vegan giants like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have increased more than 140 percent since March. These peaks occur when conventional meat sales are flat or in decline – kind of, far, down.
This is because meat is inherently problematic, even when mixed with healthy vegetables. The health risks and environmental footprints associated with meat production are well known, but COVID-19 has highlighted other issues with the industry as well. After all, almost every single one of the recent fatal virus outbreaks (SARS, MERS, Ebola, COVID-19) have been due to animal consumption.
Antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” are also strongly linked to the meat industry. The vast majority of antibiotic stocks are used to increase animal growth and control the infections that are prevalent in concentrated animal feeding operations. This leads to infections that don’t even respond to antibiotics of last resort, as the World Health Organization warned almost a decade ago in 2012.
“If current trends continue unabated, the future will be easy to predict,” said WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, at the time. “Some experts say we are going back to the pre-antibiotic era. No. This will be a post-antibiotic era.”
The meat industry is also linked to human rights abuses, an issue that is also being highlighted by the current pandemic. Meat processing plants have been some of the biggest hotspots for COVID outbreaks. The nature of these facilities, which process thousands of animals an hour, forces workers to stand “elbow to elbow” for full shifts. Many of these workers in the US are here illegally, paying less than the minimum wage, and threatening deportation or worse for talking about animal cruelty and labor rights violations.
A recent campaign led by Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix highlighted the problems facing the meat industry. The campaign launched in July by the Animal Legal Defense Fund established a whistleblowing hotline for meat workers.
“Despite the obvious disregard for occupational safety by the animal agriculture industry, as COVID-19 devastates slaughterhouses, a flood of whistleblowers – under constant threat of retaliatory measures by employers – are providing information about the mass murders of animals and disposal practices with serious effects on the environment”, Phoenix said in a statement, “Whistleblowers are instrumental in helping animal welfare organizations identify, investigate, document and expose atrocities.”
The health and environmental benefits of mixed meat products are easy to justify, but cruelty to animals is an unjustifiable element that can be carved out with nothing more than a mass shift towards vegan meat.
Image maintenance of Beyond Burger
So why not just keep producing what is already in great demand – those “bleeding” vegan burgers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods? Isn’t that what consumers want?
The demand for vegan meat is undoubtedly increasing, but animal protein is still a booming industry with annual sales of around $ 1 trillion worldwide. Plant-based meat sales, impressive as it may be, accounts for less than one percent of all retail meat sales.
Humans are creatures of habit. We want what we want, especially in stressful times like the pandemic we are in right now. That doesn’t mean most people aren’t ready to try new things, but that’s not always true when it comes to changing our diet. Night shifts can be disruptive. It takes time to get used to new tastes, textures and concepts.
However, according to Better Meat, things are changing and the demand for mixed products is growing. A 2019 survey found that nearly half of normal meat eaters prefer a meat product mixed with vegetable protein to meat product.
This flexible approach matters. While it does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions nearly as much as the vegan diet, a consistent commitment to a meat-reduced diet can lead to individual greenhouse gases being reduced by up to 15 percent. Individual health benefits will vary, but countless studies show that as plant consumption increases, the decrease in meat consumption is linked to numerous benefits, particularly for heart health.
And while mixed products meanwhile do little for animals slaughtered today, animals of the future can benefit if consumers use mixed meat as a step towards fully plant-based options.
This can only be the case when fast food menus are an indicator.
Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC all skipped the mixed route and opted for fully vegan options instead. Carnivorous customers have embraced these items in full force, with lines out the door. This is an craze that a blended burger has never achieved … and probably never has.
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