Heated and THI Webinar The Truth About Plant-Based Meats 5 Takeaways
Plant-based meats are obviously better for animal rights, but replacing a beef burger with a Beyond burger isn’t going to save the planet from climate change.
There’s no question that picking up a burger that didn’t involve animal suffering as a main ingredient is a win for animal rights activists.
It’s a fact that cattle contribute largely to greenhouse gas emissions, so many argue that switching from beef to Beyond could be a major way to alleviate climate change. Nutritionist PK Newby calls plant-based meat “an incredible opportunity to incorporate more plants into the diet in a way that is far better for the planet.” Environmental physician Gidon Eshel agrees that alt-meat is supremely better than beef for planetary health. But, there’s a caveat:
Vegetables are better for the environment than plant-based meats.
Grilled local vegetables or a homemade lentil patty are both far superior, environmentally speaking, than the Impossible Burger. Why? Because the processing it takes to make plants literally bleed requires a lot of production. Plant-based burgers go through the same transportation and industrial processes as beef.
“I have no problem at all for my plants to taste like plants,” Katz says. So if you are someone like Katz who is comfortably vegan or vegetarian, maybe don’t immediately reach for the Impossible Burger thinking it’s a win for environmentalism (not to mention, chemical dependent soy relies on farming practices that aren’t particularly good for the planet).
Eshel suggests that we should think about environmental impact in five categories: greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, land occupation, freshwater use, contribution to water pollution on land, and the coastal ocean.
“It’s really not a good reason to change your diet just simply based on greenhouse gas emissions,” Eshel says. “Plants require only 2 to 3 percent of greenhouse gases. All of livestock accounts for about 7 percent of U.S. portfolio of emissions. Even if you reduce it significantly, the difference is modest.”
Plant-based meats are ultraprocessed, but beef has a hefty ingredient list, too.
Human health is the most highly contested discussion surrounding new alternative meats. Newby shared an infographic that shows how similar the ingredient lists are on an Impossible, Beyond, and a beef burger. The stand-out difference in terms of nutritional value is that meatless meats have more sodium: around 190 mg for Impossible, 390 mg for Beyond, and 80 mg for beef, give or take on the latter.
We should not be fooled by “healthy” advertising: Plant-based meat is an ultraprocessed food. Katz and toxicologist Roger Clemens both point to the NOVA classification scale to show how ultraprocessed was added as a distinct category from processed food in 2016 (see Clemens’ slide below). While many forms of food processing are beneficial, ultraprocessed food is hyper-palatable, cheap, attractive, ready-to-eat food that’s usually energy-dense, fatty, sugary, salty, and addictive. Basically: junk.