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The Beyond Meat Burger: Impossible Expectations?

Sabina Bellisario-Giglio

Science & Environment Editor

Via Sundry Photography

Given the dangerous climate changes and increasing temperatures, it's not surprising that veganism is becoming more pertinent. Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods are only two of the many businesses stocking grocery store shelves and fast-food menus with their revolutionary meat substitutes. These plant-based products strive to capitalize on society's growing concerns about the environmental impact of the animal industry while marketing themselves as a healthier alternative. However, should consumers be suspicious of their sudden supermarket takeover?

The excessive use of greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions continues to pose threats to our planet; big industries, such as meat production, need to begin taking accountability. Plant-based diets are a great way to reduce carbon footprint. A study by the University of Michigan stated that Beyond Meat’s production of plant-based burgers created 90% fewer carbon emissions than typical meat producers. Companies selling these innovative products are revolutionizing the mass production of quality goods with fewer environmental impacts, but is their eco-friendly selling point enough to change the market?

Perhaps not. These companies are relying on the current trend of healthy eating, which is now often associated with vegan or vegetarian diets. Professionals have been concerned about the cholesterol levels in meat-based products, particularly red meat, which the plant-based industry aims to replicate. The Impossible Burger, for example, has soy leghemoglobin, a protein found in soybeans, that has similar properties to blood hemoglobin which allows the meat to “bleed” and “sizzle” on the grill. Both Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat, plant-based meat alternatives, contain more saturated fat and sodium than regular ground beef due to their lengthy processing treatment. These products successfully deliver an umami taste similar to beef, but being plant-based doesn't necessarily make them healthier than real meat.

A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information titled “The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance” evaluates the changes in the human body with the consumption of animal or plant-based proteins. This study assessed the impact of these proteins on a skeletal level in young and older individuals. The main issue found within many plant-based proteins is their digestibility. According to the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS), which measures the amount of amino acids the body can use, plant-based proteins have a lower score than animal proteins. Their decreased digestibility of plant-based proteins may result from the presence of non-starch fibers obstructing enzyme access to proteins. However, the processing treatments for plant-based proteins could increase their digestibility by inactivating up to 80% of their inhibitors. Moreover, they add, “most studies have reported a lower ability of plant-based protein sources to stimulate protein synthesis and induce muscle mass gain compared to animal-based protein sources.” They conclude that despite animal proteins’ ability to support muscle mass, plant-based proteins are essential due to their high levels of fiber and micronutrients and are more environmentally sustainable.

However, this sustainability does come at a cost. Beyond Meat mentioned in the second quarterly report in August that their net revenues fell by 30.5%. They explain that they continue to be affected by “softer demand in the plant-based meat category, high inflation, rising interest rates, and ongoing concerns of a recession.” Plant-based meat is almost twice as expensive as regular meat products, and with the growing cost of living, it’s no surprise that people will turn to the more affordable option. It seems that products such as Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat serve as a transition to a vegetarian diet, but aren't sustainable in the long run. Many cuisines across the world offer a plethora of vegan options, especially Middle Eastern cuisine, which utilizes lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes, ingredients that are nutritious without the extra cost.

It seems that Western countries fall deeply behind the curve in having healthy and accessible vegan/vegetarian alternatives. People can speculate that veganism is a craze, but limiting our intake of animal-based foods can make a sizable impact in helping our planet, and companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods provide a decent stepping stone toward that path. However, we need to have access to more sustainable and affordable options for it to be permanent, as our moral obligation to save the planet should not come at the expense of those who already cannot afford to survive.



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