There’s a Huge, Angry Backlash Against Fake Meat
Some argue that plant-based meats are overprocessed and unhealthy.
Victor Tangermann, Futurism
Oct 8, 2019
Fake meat is having a huge moment right now. With massive financial gains, brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are creating an entirely new — and thriving — market.
But not everybody is on board with veggie burgers that aren’t entirely “veggie,” as Vox reports, with critics arguing that fake meat is unhealthy and goes against the idea of consuming “whole,” GMO-free foods.
CEOs of major corporations including Whole Foods and Chipotle have dismissed the plant-based meats as far too processed — a valid criticism considering how companies produce the meatless products flooding the markets right now.
“I don’t think eating highly processed foods is healthy,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey told CNBC in August. “I think people thrive on eating whole foods. As for health, I will not endorse that, and that is about as big of criticism that I will do in public.”
It’s arguably too early to tell if Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods’ products do negatively affect our health. Some argue they’re healthier because they let consumers avoid the cancer risks associated with red meat and provide a comparable substitute for people sensitive to the growth hormones and antibiotics fed to cattle.
However, that didn’t stop one critic, registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey, from telling CNBC in July that plant-based burgers “are not necessarily healthier than beef burgers.”
So, the big question remains: do the pros of fake meat outweigh the cons?
There is a second criticism, backed up by many years of scientific research, that could sway your answer: factory farming is terrible for the environment...
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In red meat vs plant protein wars, science is not a buffet where you pick and choose the results you like
Opinion: There is no right or wrong in food research, even if the steamrolling plant-based narrative has gotten us all thinking that way
By Sylvain Charlebois, Special to Financial Post (Canada)
October 8, 2019
Charlebois is Director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab and Professor in Food Distribution and Policy and at Dalhousie University.
For years now, we have been force-fed the notion that red meat and processed meat products threaten our health. In 2015, the World Health Organization went as far as to say that processed meats were carcinogenic, adding them to the same category as asbestos. That’s when everything went sideways for animal proteins. Since then, the collective conventional wisdom on proteins has suggested that we go plant-based, as far as possible. The latest edition of Canada’s Food Guide, released earlier this year, was the exclamation point the plant-based movement had been looking for.
But the current protein war between the livestock industry and plant-based supporters has just taken an interesting twist. A group of 14 scholars has published a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the most cited journals in the world, that suggests the consequences of eating meat vary from person to person. The report stated that health effects of red meat consumption are detectable only in the largest groups and that advice to individuals to cut back may not be justified by the available data. In other words, the group claims that the findings of many studies may have been inappropriately generalized and, to some extent, scientifically alarmist. Their “meta-analysis” looked at 54 different studies with high methodological standards published over a period of about 20 years. It’s an interesting read. The disclosure section where conflicts of interest are listed takes up almost half the report. The journal editors obviously knew the findings were going to be controversial.
But if the report is controversial, it’s only because many of us have been led to believe red meat should be avoided at all costs. Time and time again, we have been reminded that red meat, and even worse, processed meats, are evil and that we should be ashamed to eat them. Proteins were on everyone’s mind and everyone had an opinion, whether based on facts or not.
Like any other study, however, this report should be taken with a grain of salt. There is no such thing as the perfect study. Scientific research is not absolute. It is a journey of discovery intended to better our society by helping us make better choices as individuals, businesses and governments. This latest instalment on the consumption of proteins only adds to the breadth of knowledge we now have on the subject. At the same time, the study’s judgment-free stance on scientific findings is refreshing, as it does not attempt to condemn alternative choices. The group clearly does not want the report to become a weapon in the food wars — which may be why it does not discuss either the environmental or ethical aspects of meat consumption, subjects that carry their own share of confusion and controversies.
When it comes to food research, we should remind ourselves there is no right or wrong, even if the steamrolling plant-based narrative has gotten us all thinking that way. Some diets are more desirable than others, health-wise, but, as the report points out, the way we assess risks related to food should be individualized. In recent years, many health professionals have, to the contrary, talked down to us, forgetting that we are all individuals, with unique pasts and futures and our own dietary biases. Choices around food are intrinsically human. As we look to science to address some of the ambiguities, we tend to forget that. This new study reminds us that generalizations are dangerously limiting in terms of giving choices to consumers.
The “protein war” isn’t about how much meat we should eat but more about how scientific findings on the subject should be interpreted. It’s a mess, created by academic factions pursuing the agenda of curing the world of its dietary ills. Many are to blame for this one-sided dialogue, but academia, most of all. Some scholars clearly see protein as a cause, which often makes them blind and unreceptive to opposite views. Panels on university campuses are often dull, idealistic and predictable. Scholars tend to state what people want to hear, not going beyond what everyone already knows — or should know. Academic research in agri-food lost its way when it stopped valuing protein plurality. A largely uninformed media went along for the ride. Science is not a buffet where you pick and choose the results you like. In the end, consumers are the real victims, as such misleading scientific interpretations generate more confusion than anything else. The public deserves better...