The latest buzz in food technology sees scientists tackling an enticing paradox: meatless meat. The quest for meat substitutes is not new; as early as the 19th century, inventors have tried to transform peanuts, soy and wheat into burger patties. Today’s veggie burgers, however, have higher ambitions. Instead of satisfying only the plant-eaters and the health conscious, they aspire to charm the most devout carnivores. Their trick lies not just in the taste. As the conversation on climate change moves beyond energy conservation towards food consumption, to protect our planet, these veggie burgers claim that the humble cow needs to be saved rather than sacrificed.
The prospect of meat-lovers noshing vegetables certainly seems far-fetched. But it is one that already features in most Singaporeans’ predictions.
In a recent YouKnowANot Survey, Blackbox found that about three in five (59%) Singaporeans believe it likely that half the nation will be prepared to eat laboratory-grown and plant-based meat by 2030. So what can we look forward to?
Nice to Meat You
Two companies are spearheading the effort to produce a substitute that looks, smells and tastes exactly like meat—Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. After a local debut on a Grand Hyatt food truck last year, Beyond Meat’s burgers, meatballs, pizzas and sausages can now be found at the hotel’s restaurants, Pizza Express and select local groceries. Impossible Foods caught up later in March through a partnership with eight restaurants, including Potato Head Singapore, Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsey and Cut by Wolfgang Puck. Besides its signature Impossible Burgers, the company’s plant-based meat made its way into a range of local and foreign cuisines, from nasi lemak and char kway teow to Australian-style sausage rolls.
Critics’ fervour about meatless meat clearly resonated with many Singaporeans. Food delivery firm Deliveroo reports that four restaurants gained an average 15% rise in orders after partnering with Impossible Foods. Beyond Meat’s secret recipe apparently worked too, as its burgers are selling three times as fast as their beef counterparts at Grand Hyatt restaurants.
The Mission of Meatless Meat
Behind the two companies’ commercial success is the common mission to lower the environmental footprints of animal agriculture. Taking up 45% of Earth’s land surface, the gargantuan livestock system generates approximately 14.5% of the world’s human produced greenhouse gas, outnumbering emissions from all forms of transportations combined— from trains and planes to cars and motorcycles. Besides climate change, animal agriculture is also culpable for environmental woes including biodiversity loss, land and water degeneration, ocean dead zones, freshwater pollution and deforestation. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation calls livestock farming “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
Compared to a quarter pound U.S. beef burger, a Beyond Burger uses 99% less water, 93% less land, 46% less energy and emits 90% fewer greenhouse gas. Likewise, an Impossible Burger only requires 4% of the land, 13% of the water and 11% of the gas emissions needed for a conventional beef equivalent.
Plant-based meat also has additional health benefits over animal-based meat. According to the European Food Safety Authority, around 70% of new diseases that inflicted humans over the last decade came from animals or animal products. A carnivorous diet is also contributing to the growing problem of antibiotics resistance, as animal agriculture consumes massive amounts of antibiotics to maintain the health of livestock often living in close quarters. While a Beyond Burger and an Impossible pizza are not health foods—to really become meat, they are processed to match meat’s nutritional profile and calorie contents—their plant-based formulas represent a possible solution in the fight against these pressing public health issues arising from animal-eating.
Survey: Is the Meatless Here to Stay?
Whether plant-based meat can garner enough support in Singapore, though, seems to depend on how much it costs. As our YouKnowAnot survey reveals, almost four in five (77%) Singaporeans are willing to switch at least 10% of their meat consumption if the substitute tastes as good and costs no more. Should the substitute be more expensive, the number of Singaporeans willing to switch drops to just one in five (24%). Price is key if meatless meat is to really go mainstream.
This, however, is the challenge. Currently, an Impossible burger easily costs more than S$20 a pop, representing something closer to a fine dining experience than a practical option for dietary change. The same applies to Beyond Meat. While people can already purchase its patties and sausages at local and online markets, they are more expensive than the meat they are trying to replace. According to The Peak, Beyond Meat Beefy Crumble is sold at S$9.90 for 325g on redmart.com, where minced beef from Mmmm! can be bought at S$7 per half kg.
As Today observes, with the current price of meatless meat, the majority of those interested in a vegetarian diet will stick to traditional plant protein or mock meats.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have energized a revolutionary campaign that aspires to redefine what meat means to both people and the environment. To help more cost-conscious Singaporeans hop on the bandwagon though, their next step needs to focus on the price.
Written by Xavier Xin