How is the alternative meat industry changing?

Bernardo Montes de Oca

Food, from bread to coffee, has helped shape our society into what it is today. What we consume determines our daily lives, and one ingredient has been essential in this change: meat. Throughout the history of its consumption, meat has taken up several symbolic roles, from a status symbol to a divisive ingredient that plays a role in our climate's future. Yet, the more we learn about its impact, its future hangs in the balance. 

Right now, the Western world has a deadset stance on meat consumption. It's an essential part of our diet, but it might not be like that for long. In fact, we're fast approaching a turning point, and our Sunday grill outs could change forever. Before we dive into this, let me be clear about one thing: I'm not a vegan. I enjoy eating meat, but that doesn't take away the fact that it's a topic that we must address.

Every year, on November 1st, people globally discuss the consumption of animal products. It's World Vegan Day, an unofficial celebration of all the alternative sources. Lately, the discussion has focused on the sheer amount of meat we consume, and the energy it requires. In the past five decades, meat production has quadrupled, and the impact is palpable, from deforestation to greenhouse gases. It pains me to say it, but it's hard to argue against these numbers. 

Hence, the grounds for the future of meat are fertile with debate. Some argue that we can leave it as an essential part of our diet, and reduce its consumption. It's a challenging task, but there are creative ways to do it. One is being aware of our food's impact on the environment. With more information, we can take action to reduce our carbon footprint. 

That's the goal of startups such as Footsteps. This startup, born in 2021, has made great strides in educating businesses and individuals. It provides a database of more than 1,000 ingredients, their carbon footprint, and possible replacements. Plus, calculating how much a meal pollutes is easier with an easy method for gauging ingredients and products. The problem with this is that these processes still depend on us, as consumers, to actively change our ways. It's a great tool, but the impact will remain unless we do something about it.

From a product standpoint, solving the meat puzzle is complicated, but there's another dark side. It's easy to accept that meat pollutes our environment, but changing this means facing one of the most powerful industries in the world. During the pandemic, the meat industry was one of the primary beneficiaries of lax regulations on working conditions and bailouts. However, that's not to say they don't feel the pressure. In fact, the same meat industry is rushing to buy fake meat companies to keep holding its grasp on the market by all means necessary

Another critical party in the meat battle believes that we can, and should, find a suitable replacement. One that, ideally, has a lesser impact on the planet. Meat alternatives aren’t new, but the battle has intensified as technology improves. Soon, we might see a plant-based product that fools more than one, but this party faces one excellent counterargument: people love eating meat, and changing these perceptions is hard. Plus, finding the perfect recipe is challenging, and I'm not necessarily talking about the ingredients. 

The traditional meat industry has solidified its reputation over more than a century, so one kink won't bring it down. Yet, on the other hand, the plant-based protein sector has to slowly gain the consumer's trust, break the paradigm, and convince millions of people. All the while, it has to bring a product that tastes just like one of the most coveted ingredients in the world. Yet, despite all those challenges, these startups are convinced they can do it. 

Sempera Organics is another startup determined to provide a meat substitute that has been with us all along. In fact, many are betting that this vital ingredient will be the future of meat. So much so that, already, the competition is looking tough, and that's a good thing. As a meat lover, that's excellent news. One is bound to hit it big, and I'm open to testing new products.

The last alternative is the one that intrigues me the most. What if we remove the animal altogether, but we keep the end product? Mosa Meat is working on cell-cultured meat, which does come from an animal, but not how most of us imagine. The startup uses livestock cells, instead of relying on an entire animal, and from there, technology takes over, and a company, such as Mosa Meat, can create burgers and steaks (though the burgers, it turns out, are a little dry). At first, this idea had me wary; lab-grown meat doesn't sound enticing, but 70% of people in a survey said they'd make the change to cultured meat. Just four years ago that percentage was as low as 30%. 

Undoubtedly, what we eat will change in the future, and we're witnessing the beginning of a revolution. It's a battle between ideals, climate impact, and sustainability. I love grilling up a steak, but at the same time, I can see a future where the next one will come from a lab, or from mushroom roots, or something else - and I don't mind that. The question is: will the rest of the world embrace it?

Bernardo Montes de Oca
Content creator in love with writing in all its forms, from scripts to short stories to investigative journalism, and about almost every topic imaginable.
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