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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7


It is true that there is a trend towards less meat eating across societies and the debate on how we replace the taste and nutrition of meat is being fought out frenetically. The plant based food lobby is working so hard to sell the positives of its alternative diet and the farmers and fishermen on the other side are literally fighting for their lives to keep producing food the traditional way. The consumer all the while is caught as the ethical and nutritional piggy in the middle not knowing who to believe as the biased science is bought and paid for on each half of the divide.    

    Speaking from inside the world of food it is not very clear for me on where it is all going either. There is a dilemma to struggle with on the ultra processing of the plant based products in order to emulate the look and taste of conventional foods. Then there is the amount of water and air miles needed to offer the consumer the option of a meat free diet. The question then to be asked is, does the cost of producing plant based and synthetic meat like foods fare better or worse for the planet than the way we have made our food up until now?

There is no hope of meeting the so called net zero or carbon neutral catchphrases by 2050 when we still need to slaughter a 100 billion animals a year to survive just right now. The recent pandemic showed how fragile food security is anyway and we reverted to making bread at home again and freaked out when we saw empty supermarket shelves. Whatever food we do eat going forward will be made by robots and delivered by drones but what it consists of is not easy to predict.

There will soon be 10 billion mouths to feed and fruit, vegetables, insects and hemp are not going to cut it. Plant based products like say the alternative milks on the market now offering to replicate the traditional dairy product need to be examined more. It is not easy to replace the protein and calcium of animal milk and fertilizer is required just as much on say almond trees killing any resident insects. Less water and land is needed for some of the milks however. There have been plenty of scandals around them from water usage and ingredients to transport and pricing. They are simply not the same as dairy milk as much they try to be and I think the future is going to be a case of having to provide both in order to satisfy all consumer types.

For the solid foods meat substitutes we just do not know how much of a carbon footprint they are leaving behind as with traditional farming methods. The health risk is also there with potentially higher fat and salt levels resulting in higher calorie intake by being so processed to achieve the satisfactory end product. They also need extra colouring and chemicals to get the look right never mind the taste so when all this is taken into account it has to be not very eco conscious either.

It may be ethically better knowing an animal has not died but in the bigger scheme of things is it really as eco friendly as it can or should be? So we will just have to accept that the food times are a changing, we definitely have to move away from the traditional and industrial farming model and this is happening but the replacement has to also measure up to the end goal of not damaging the earth. Big Food is on it of course as there will be serious money to be made and there is already.

The amount of research and resources being ploughed into this new market is just huge and so far I am still not fully convinced that the alternative plant based product range has been fully achieved so that the environmental impact is indisputable. From a foodie perspective I have my professional bias to get over as well. Cooking has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime and eating too and the future of food is going to be one bizarre but interesting place for us to see and taste.

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