Plant based Meat: A necessity and not a choice?

Armaan Dobberstein
Aug 14, 2019 · 6 min read

As a collective group we are witnessing turning points in history during this age of technology and mass information, the actions we take will define the future of our society. Given our relentless exploitation of the planet over the past 50 years we have created life-threatening problems: the Climate Crisis and Overpopulation. With the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people are able to enjoy peace and prosperity. Within the FoodTech ecosystem one of the largest areas helping to reach this goal is the growth of Plant Based Meat options.

As per a report published by the UN earlier this week, UN experts claim that switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change. Well that sounds pretty simple — change our diet and the world is fixed, easy as is. Well … not so much. Although the rise of plant based meat has seen an exponential boom, with the standard of quality, taste and likeness to meat having drastically improved over the last 5 years, are the consumers itself ready to make this change? At the end of the day we are the biggest obstacle to climate change. Before delving into the whether we are going to see a mass change in the mentality of the consumers, it is important to understand the implications of the current meat industry and how a plant based diet can help us control the urgency of climate change before it may be too late.

To put the level of urgency into perspective, over the last century (1919–2019) we have seen a year on year rise in average temperature, with the last ten years all being the 10 warmest years ever recorded. In addition 2019 is on course to be at the minimum in the top three warmest years with it being, on average, +1.0 degrees Celsius hotter than the overall 20th century average. If you aren’t coming to a solid conclusion, I am happy to write it out clearly and boldly, this is a problem, an increasing and urgent problem. Something must be done, NOW. Some consensus state that we may only have 10 years left before we pass the tipping point of no return. So what has the UN report said?

The report outlined 3 main issues. Firstly, it calls for vigorous action to halt soil damage and desertification — both of which contribute to climate change. Secondly, it warns that the current plans of certain governments to grow trees and then burn them to generate electricity will compete with the increasing production of food, given the growing population, unless carried out on a limited scale. Lastly, it states the way we are re-shaping the use of the Earth’s land surface, including through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, will have dramatic side effects. How the land responds to human-induced climate change is a vital concern for the future.

Prof Pete Smith, an environmental scientist from Aberdeen University, UK, stated: “We’re not telling people to stop eating meat. In some places people have no other choice. But it’s obvious that in the West we’re eating far too much.”

However, the real question still persists how is the climate crisis and the food industry linked?

Climate change poses a threat to the security of our food supply. Rising temperatures, increased rainfall and more extreme weather events will all have an impact on crops and livestock. However, this is the same in the other direction, the way we produce food also contributes to global warming. Agriculture — together with forestry — accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock rearing contributes to global warming through the methane gas the animals produce, but also via deforestation to expand pastures, for example.

If you are interested in reading a more in depth report about the growth of plant based meat and the starting decline of traditional meat, don’t hesitate to read: Is meat a dead industry?

Peter Stevenson, from Compassion in World Farming, said: “A reduction in meat consumption is essential if we are to meet climate targets.”

However, in countries experiencing economic growth, in addition to growing populations, a prime example being China, beef consumption is on the rise. This is despite the government’s attempts to promote traditional diets.

In order to attempt to encourage readers to take action the UN report encourages action to curb food waste. They suggest using wasted food as animal feed, where suitable, or redirect it towards charities that can use it to feed people in need.

An interesting example attempting to tackle this problem proactively is Toast Ale, Toast uses old stale bread from supermarkets and other sources as its primary ingredient to make beer! I must say they are very tasty as well as helping make a small but positive impact!

However, as stated earlier, what we are observing is that the main obstacle to the mass consumption of plant based meat or diets is the consumer mentality. With the Stigma around veganism not being all that positive, the majority of people haven’t caught on to the idea just yet. However, we are seeing a shift with plant based meat options are continuously growing faster and faster, are people finally starting to catch on!? We are seeing large food chain corporations — Burger King, Subway, Dunkin’ and more, jump on the plant based bandwagon with all these companies now introducing plant based meat options on their menu, at the majority of their locations in the US. Although it isn’t global just yet, we are already seeing a rise in the products offered in supermarkets, compared to just having the classic Quorn option. Sainsburys has even opened the UK’s first plant based butcher in London! So are we witnessing the turning point?

I could argue that 2019 is the breakout year for plant based meat alternatives! Some facts to back up my claim include the Impossible Burger 2.0 being voted no.1 consumer tech at CES 2019 (the world’s biggest and most reputable tech show), the incredible rise of Beyond Meat and their jaw dropping IPO and the rapid incorporation of plant based alternatives into large restaurants and chains menus. Although the industry is still small, the signs of growth is huge.

Do you think you would notice the difference? Why don’t you go out and try!

Will meat become obsolete, unfortunately I am not a time traveller so I can’t give you that answer and personally I don’t believe it will be, particularly with the current investment being pumped into cultured meat, but we are still a few years from that stage, so for another day.

However, if you read all the way till this point and I haven’t bored you yet, I urge you to be more mindful. I’m not saying to give up meat, I would be a hypocrite if I did, but think carefully of where your meats are sourced from, try some alternatives (I promise they are quite good)! Invest in the future with FoodTech companies including the vast range of alternative protein startups, be more proactive, we may not have much time left to make the change needed.

In the wise words of a personal icon — Sir David Attenborough — “We are running out of time, but there is still hope.”

Written by Armaan Dobberstein — Associate at Forward Fooding