By: Ilona Salim
Vegetarian, Vegan, plant-based diets are among the plethora of diets that have entered our food culture in recent years. With the emphasis on reducing the amount of meat consumption, I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to ask myself the question, “Should I go meatless?”
These diets focus on eating food that comes from plants and reducing, if not eliminating, the consumption of meat. Unlike our traditional view of plant-based diets, our modern food selection for meat alternatives is exploding with options. Not only do we have tempeh, tofu, and other soy-based products, we now have our star players: “meatless meats”. Feast your eyes on the meatless options that range from meatless burger patties, nuggets, chorizos, chicken, and even bacon!
So, for those of you who have questions such as: Is it really worth it? Who are we benefiting from making this change? Or, you may be thinking: I love meat, I don’t want to give it up. I’m scared of it because it looks like too much science. You. Are. Not. Alone. I also had the same questions not too long ago.
Luckily, my good friend Gary Adrian, a Food Technologist at Beyond Meat – agreed to collaborate with bitesize to answer some common questions on plant-based meat. Here is a snippet of how our conversation went:
(Disclaimer: All opinions presented here are solely Gary’s and may not represent those of Beyond Meat.)
Hi all, Gary here! I work as a Food Technologist at Beyond Meat after getting my degree in Food Science from the University of California, Davis in 2019. My day to day involves all the nooks and crannies of the exciting research & development (R&D) work in a food company, which includes formulating new products, reformulating existing ones, etc.
Thanks for agreeing to collaborate with us, Gary! Just a year ago, Gary and I used to cram for the same food science tests together and now he’s off to great things. To start off, I’m curious to know-- what is Meatless Meat to you?
Everyone has varying standards of what is considered as “meatless meat", but my personal standard is that it has to mimic all the sensorial (emphasis on sensorial, not necessarily nutritional and/or compositional) qualities of an animal-based meat, starting from appearance, texture, flavor, to handling except that it doesn't come from animals! For example, my standard of a "meatless beef burger" would be a plant-based alternative that has the char-grilled marks, meaty chew, fatty/juicy bite, and most importantly the intense beefy umami flavor bomb. That is THE perfect “meatless beef burger”!
Oh YUM! You do know how to make people hungry! Could you tell us a little more about your first experience with plant-based meat?
I first discovered the world of meatless meat when I was doing a research assignment about the carnivore diet back in college. I stumbled upon several key players within the American meatless meat industry but quickly grew skeptical about their product capabilities as I perceived them as another "rice and bean burger" maker.
It wasn't until I gave their products a try at a local restaurant that my mind was blown away - everything about it starting from the look, the smell, to the bite are too convincing for meatless meat. As a kid who had grown fond of chemistry since high school, I remember trying to naively come up with some possible scientific explanations to make sense of these convincing meatless meat innovations, and so my fascination over this industry started to grow.
Right?! I had a very similar experience when trying out the Impossible/Beyond Meat burger patty. It was unreal how much it tasted like meat! I remember thinking that it will definitely open up the possibility of reducing my meat consumption! I’m so glad that you get to live out your curiosity on a day-to-day now that you work with one of the first movers of plant-based meat!
Apart from health benefits, the rise in popularity of this food lifestyle is also fueled by its positive environmental impact – from being more diligent with conserving resources, improving animal welfare, and tackling climate change. This empowers consumers to use their food choices to benefit others (your peers, the environment, the world. However, many still ask - “Why should I spend more money on this than normal meat?”
Ideally, you shouldn't, right? If the goal of the meatless meat industry is to provide enough food supply through means other than traditional livestock agriculture, it only makes sense that these meatless products are as affordable, or even more affordable, than their animal-based counterparts. The industry is hard at work to make sure that we secure a consistent supply chain, mass-scalable processes, and large production capacity to be able to bring down the cost.
Yes, those are definitely good points, and I think that also relates to the question of “How am I helping others through this choice?”
I've definitely got a lot of cynicism about the premium feel of meatless meat, but by purchasing these meatless meat products, you're supporting the notion of a more sustainable food production and more efficient agricultural practices that will guarantee sufficient food supply for many generations to come. More importantly, you'll actually be helping the industry bring the cost even further down to be made available to a wider group of consumers, so making these products more affordable works two ways between the producers and consumers.
Lastly, one of the major concerns people have of incorporating these meat alternatives is a nutrient deficiency due to cutting meat out of their diet. Do you have any thoughts to share on this?
Not at all! At the core of its foundation, both real meat and meatless meat are made of the same constituents of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Many of the meatless meat front-runners have created products that match or even surpass the nutrients found in real meat through means of fortifications and eliminations. For example, cholesterol isn't present in plant-based meat products as it is solely an animal-derived constituent.
That was super helpful! Thank you so much, Gary! I’m sure our readers really appreciate an explanation from your perspective. Okay, bonus question just for the future food science undergrads! What is your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is that I get to eat a lot!!! It's a food company, after all, so we constantly taste our products to make sure that we uphold the highest standard, best-tasting products for consumers. I would have never eaten this much if I were to work in a different industry!
Well, there you have it, folks! A deeper look into the plant-based world from the perspective of a young food technologist working at Beyond Meat. In honor of this interview, bitesize cooked up a delicious Beyond Meat Loco Moco, see below!!