Canada, compared to many other Western nations, ranks high on the vegetarian/vegan-friendly list. There are plenty of options in virtually every Canadian city for those who’ve adopted a meat-free diet. The Whistler ski resort has been lauded for its wide variety of vegan options, with one blog even calling it the “best vegan ski resort in the world.” As many as 850,000 Canadians identified themselves as vegans in stats from a few years back, while 2.3+ million Canadians told Statista in a report released in 2020 that they were vegetarians. There are reams of research indicating that – in general – following a healthy and balanced vegan diet means you are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, your risk of heart disease is lower, you’re less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, you won’t pack on the pounds as much, your cholesterol levels will drop, and you could have a lower risk of suffering from cancer. But while Canada might outshine the United States in per capita vegan and vegetarian population numbers, non-meat eaters are – of course – not anywhere close to a majority. Most people around the world, including in Canada, enjoy eating meat. This is a fact that shouldn’t be seized on by vegan activists or animal rights campaigners as justification for condemnation of people’s dietary preferences. There’s no question we evolved to eat meat and that eating meat spurred our evolution in a cycle that led to the civilizations we enjoyed today. There’s also no question, however, that eating meat is problematic. Not only do many have issues with ethical or moral dilemmas connected to consuming animal protein, but also many are coming to more fully understand the destructive power of the meat industry and it’s horrific unsustainability. The World Bank reports that 91% of land clearing in the Amazon rainforest was being deforested for cattle ranching. And that’s just one example of the environmental problems that come with our planet’s increasing population and the concurrent increase in demand for meat.
The Canadian vegans and vegetarians we noted at the top of the article may be fine with a diet of lentils, beans, eggplant, sweet potatoes, and the like… but the majority still want the textures and flavours of meat. And this includes people who are well-educated and understand the detrimental environmental issues related to the meat industry. So, is there a solution? The answer for some is meat substitutes. The idea of producing plant-based meat isn’t new, but over the past few decades, we’ve seen science step in and attempt to create something that tastes and looks a bit more convincing. Witness the arrival of the Impossible Burger or products from Beyond Meat, for example. As we entered the 2020s, however, entrepreneurs began asking themselves if it wasn’t possible to take the science of taste and texture and improve upon even the best of those so-called ‘bleeding burgers.’ What they have developed is stunning. We’re talking about meat that is 100% plant-based but is so close to the real deal that even celebrity chefs and barbecue experts are hailing it as a game-changer. Some of this meat is printed with a 3D printer, allowing for layers of various flavours and textures.
The biggest difference between the meat substitutes of the past and the new high-tech versions about ready to flood supermarket shelves across the globe is that this ‘new meat’ or ‘alternative meat’ was created by people who actually like the tastes and textures of animal protein and are not necessarily on some type of crusade to convert the planet to veganism. The teams behind this new meat include butchers and taste experts as well as scientists and computer experts with fancy AI programs. What they share with vegan activists is an understanding that the meat industry as we know it is unsustainable, and growing more so by the day. What they don’t share with some vegan activists is an understanding that most people enjoy eating meat, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These startups, several of which are based in Israel, want to give the majority what they want – while simultaneously giving the planet what it needs.
3D printed meat that tastes, smells, and even cooks like beef or lamb may not be the top choice for someone who’s been vegan for 20 years. But those individuals aren’t the target audience. These new meat substitutes are designed to satisfy even the most rabid meat-loving consumer. Baby steps towards change have historically proven to be more effective than forced revolutions, and if some version of plant-based meat can get meat lovers to switch over for even a couple of days a week, that’s progress that’s not to be sneered at. Give these high-tech ‘alt-meat’ firms a few years and their products will likely be cheaper than animal meat. It’s a bit of a cliché but think of these products as a bridge to the future. We cannot have 10 billion people on this planet and raise enough cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and other animals at the same time. It’s mathematically impossible. Water resources are becoming scarcer, and land is not exactly a renewable resource… In short, something’s got to give – so we might as well get to it sooner rather than later. It’s exciting to read about taste tests where meat-eaters scored alternative meat as 90% or higher ‘similar’ to ‘real’ meat as it shows what’s already possible… and points to even tastier, healthier, more environmentally-friendly future food solutions.