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Are Mixed Burgers Better Than Plant Based Meat?

Earlier this year, food tech startup The Better Meat Co. announced $ 8.1 million in seed funding. The company, founded by longtime vegan animal rights activist Paul Shapiro, supplies plant-based protein to traditional meat producers.

The concept is simple: take meat as we know it historically – beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc. – and mix it with non-meaty proteins designed to taste or complement the meat with which it is mixed.

But it’s not as easy as chopping mushrooms, for example, and tossing them in your ground beef. The Better Meat Co. offers product lines for beef, pork, chicken and fish, each uniquely formulated for seamless integration, retaining shape, size, texture and, of course, texture. familiar taste of animal products.

Mixed meat: more than just a trend

Manufacturers are massively adopting mixed meat. Chicken giant Perdue is listed as one of Better Meat’s biggest customers. Tyson Foods, meanwhile, has launched its own line of blended products under the Raised and Rooted label. It includes mixes of nuggets and burgers.

Restaurant giant Sodexo has been blending meat products since 2016, and fast food chain Sonic launched a blended burger last year. The natural meat brand Applegate has also launched a mixed range. And one of the newer brands to dive into the trend is Misfit Foods. Better known as a fruit juice company, last year it launched a line of chicken sausages that are 50 percent vegetable. He is not afraid of his motivation.

“We care the most about climate change,” Phil Wong, co-founder of Misfit Foods, told Modern Farmer last January. “With juices we have focused on food waste, but here with this mixed product platform we actually have a much greater opportunity to tackle this exact issue that is most important to us as we work. on meat reduction. “

The James Beard Foundation has also joined in the action, with its Blended Burger Project launched in 2015. The challenge asks restaurants to create burgers that contain at least 25 percent mushrooms. (While most blends are 25-30 percent plant-based, some blends are half-derived from plants.) In the aftermath of COVID, Project 2020 challenged home cooks to do the same in an attempt to win a prize of $ 10,000. (Winners will be announced this fall.)

Two-time Blended Burger Project winner and chef and restaurateur Fiore Moletz says mixed burgers now account for 10 percent of his restaurant’s sales.

“The most important thing for me with the mixture is that it is long lasting and healthy,” says Moletz. “We always advocate a healthier and more sustainable approach. The more we educate everyone, the better off we will be.

Mixed meat products are on the rise: here's what you need to know

Benefits of mixed meat

Mixed meat products offer a lower percentage of cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which are linked to diet-related illnesses, including the leading killer in the United States: heart disease. Reducing saturated fat and cholesterol also lowers your chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and strokes. These mixed products can even help reverse conditions.

They also reduce the massive environmental impact of the meat industry. Although it is more difficult to quantify, reducing the overall meat mass of a meat product means fewer animals in the supply chain. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and the pressure on resources such as freshwater, land, pastures and energy in transportation. Recent estimates from the World Resources Institute suggest that making every burger sold in the United States just 30% plant-based would save over 80 billion gallons of water per year (that’s the water used by most. 2.6 million households each year). It would also reduce demands for farmland larger than the entire state of Maryland, over 14,000 square miles.

All without giving up your favorite burger.

Sounds pretty perfect, right?

Mixed meat products are on the rise: here's what you need to know

An imperfect mix?

But where mixed meat solves the problems in theory, it’s really complicated. It takes a booming category – plant-based proteins – and turns it into a sick category. It’s a bit like using a smartphone to get people to go get a landline. Case in point: sales of vegan meat during the pandemic have exploded. By some estimates, sales have increased by more than 140% since March for vegan giants like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. These spikes come as conventional meat sales are flat or declining – in a way, declining.

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This is because even when mixed with healthy vegetables, meat is inherently problematic. The health risks and environmental footprints associated with meat production are well established, but COVID-19 has also highlighted other issues with the industry. After all, almost all recent outbreaks of deadly viruses (SARS, MERS, Ebola, COVID-19) were rooted in animal consumption.

Antibiotic resistant “superbugs” are also strongly linked to the meat industry. The overwhelming majority of antibiotic stocks are used to increase animal growth as well as to control endemic infections in concentrated animal feed operations. This leads to infections that don’t even respond to ‘last resort’ antibiotics, as the World Health Organization warned almost ten years ago in 2012.

“If current trends continue unabated, the future is easy to predict,” WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said at the time. “Some experts say we are going back to the pre-antibiotic era. No. It will be a post-antibiotic era.”

The meat industry is also linked to human rights abuses, an issue also illuminated by the current pandemic. Meat processing facilities have been among the biggest hot spots for COVID outbreaks. The nature of these facilities, which process thousands of animals per hour, requires workers to stand shoulder to shoulder for entire shifts. Many of these workers in the United States are here illegally, paid less than minimum wage and threatened with deportation or worse for speaking out against animal cruelty and violations of workers’ rights.

A recent campaign led by Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix shed light on the problems in the meat industry. The campaign, launched by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in July, set up a whistleblower hotline for meat workers.

“Despite the food industry’s blatant disregard for worker safety as COVID-19 ravages slaughterhouses, a wave of whistleblowers – under constant threat of employer retaliation – present slaughter information animal mass and disposal practices that have serious environmental implications, ”Phoenix said in a statement. “Whistleblowers are essential in helping animal welfare organizations identify, investigate, document and expose cruelty.”

The human health and environmental benefits of blended meat products are easy to justify, but cruelty to animals is an indefensible element that can only be resolved with a massive switch to vegan meat.

Mixed meat products are on the rise: here's what you need to know

Plant-based demand

So why not keep producing what is already in high demand – those “rare” vegan burgers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods? Isn’t that what consumers want?

The demand for vegan meat is definitely on the rise, but animal protein is still a booming industry, generating around $ 1 trillion in annual sales worldwide. Sales of plant-based meat, impressive as they are, account for less than one percent of all retail meat sales.

Humans are creatures of habit. We want what we want, especially in times of stress like the pandemic we are in right now. This doesn’t mean that most people aren’t open to trying new things, but it’s not always true when it comes to changing our diets. . Night shifts can be confusing. It takes time to acclimate to new tastes, textures, concepts.

But according to Better Meat, the change is happening and the demand for blended products is increasing. A 2019 survey found that nearly half of regular meat eaters prefer a meat product mixed with plant protein rather than meat.

This flexitarian approach is significant. While this doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as going vegan, a consistent commitment to a meat-reduced diet can result in individual GHG reductions of up to 15%. Individual health benefits will vary, but countless studies show that a decrease in meat consumption while an increase in plant consumption is linked to many benefits, especially for heart health.

And while blended products mean little for slaughtered animals today, animals of the future could also benefit if consumers use blended meat as a step towards all-plant options.

Which can be the case if fast food menus are an indicator.

Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC have all given up on the mixed route and opted for all-vegan options instead. Carnivorous shoppers have adopted these items with a bang, with queues at the doorstep. It’s a buzz that a mixed burger has never reached … and probably never will.

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