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The double standard for plant-based products

By Gary Truitt

Plant-based meat  alternatives are everywhere and are currently the darling of the food industry. Along with all the hype have come misinformation, accusations and downright lies. The two biggest of these are that plant-based meats are healthier and are better for the environment. In both cases the facts don’t support those claims. At the same time, the one plant-based farm product that can prove it is better for human health and better for the environment is criticized by the same crowd that supports plant-based meat.

Plant-based meat alternatives are not new. In the late 1800s, John Harvey Kellogg developed a peanut-based “meatless meat” called Nuttose. Today’s plant-based meats are far more complicated. Two of the most popular brands, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, utilize pea protein or soy protein concentrate in their burgers, both of which closely mimic the texture and taste of real beef.

While in a few key areas this product has some impressive health claims such as lower fat and cholesterol, it is also very highly processed with almost three times the sodium level of beef which has led to mixed opinions among dietitians. The environmental claims made by plant-based meat products stray much further from reality. Radical environmentalists, anti-animal groups and Hollywood celebrities have been spouting rhetoric for years about how bad animal agriculture is for the environment. From cow flatulence to carbon foot print, the claims made against animal agriculture are fiction.

These outrageous and unsubstantiated claims are all part of the marketing approach. They are a distraction because plant-based meat cannot compete with real meat when it comes to taste and texture. Using a genetic engineering process, Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, created something similar to the protein found in red blood. It allows their simulated meat to bleed and sizzle like real ground beef. So making us feel good when we are eating something that might taste not so good is their goal.

Yet it is the belief that eating real meat is bad for the environment that young consumers say is the reason they choose a plant-based diet. This eco-aware generation, however, seems apathetic about adopting a plant-based fuel for their cars.  Ethanol not only puts less harmful particulate matter into the air we breathe, it comes from a renewable plant-based resource that takes millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere and sequesters it in the ground.

So, why the double standard? Perhaps we should start marketing ethanol-blended fuel as plant-based fuel or perhaps even eco-friendly, plant-based fuel. This is a claim that even the electric cars can’t make since the amount of toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in battery production gives them a carbon footprint several sizes larger than ethanol.

When it comes down to it, almost everything farmers produce is plant-based. All our meat starts out as plants which then run through animals to produce great tasting protein. Wool, cotton, suede, leather and other fibers have plants as their raw materials. Plants are the base for fuels and a host of other industrial and consumer products. Plant-based is what we do, and we do it in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. Plant-based products made in the lab are no better or worse than those made on a farm. So let’s drop the double standard.