To meat or not to meat? The lowdown on meat substitutes

It’s Christmas time and what would Christmas be without the whole family coming together to scoff down a great big turkey!?

Bad news, it may not seem like it now, but our planet isn’t going to be able to cope with the binge culture we have adopted. What options will we have if meat runs out?

51.72% chose Vegetarianism;  39.66% wanted plant-based substitutes; 8.62% were keen for In Vitro meat

51.72% chose Vegetarianism, 39.66% wanted plant-based substitutes and 8.62% were keen for In Vitro meat. Poll made possible by

  • In Vitro Meat
  • Plant-based substitutes
  • Vegetarianism

Here’s what you chose:

“We’re running out of everything,” professor of sustainability at the Welsh School of Architecture Huw Jenkins explains, “and if we don’t attend to that it will happen sooner.”

He may have been speaking about the architectural context of sustainability, but the fact is that our whole current system of living is absurdly greedy. Not even fifty years ago it would have been ridiculous to expect meat in every meal, but now it would not be unusual to have sausages for breakfast, a chicken sandwich for lunch and spaghetti bolognese for dinner.

Meat is no longer seen as a luxury but it still comes at a cost.

The documentary Meat the Truth, put’s it into perspective, here’s the trailer (try to ignore the overly dramatic music).

Jenkins went on to introduce the “three planet argument”, which describes how the way the human race live now will take the resources of three planets to maintain.

Unfortunately we don’t have three planets, sure a few earth look-a-likes have been spotted, but 42 light-years is a hell of a long commute so it’s probably best to look after the one we’ve got.

Meat farming is one of the biggest drains on our resources and also arguably one of the easiest to change, so what are the alternatives?

Behind door number one we have In Vitro meat, also known as cultured meat, which is made through a stem cell science very similar to the process used in the production of organ grafts.

Here’s an explanatory video from someone with first hand knowledge:

The scientist behind this ground-breaking research, Mark Post, puts it simply, “By our technology we are actually producing meat, it’s just not in a cow.”

For the majority of people, at least according to the survey done a few days ago, the first instinct when considering eating meat grown in a petri dish is “ew”. But is it the way forward?

Winston Churchill thought so way back in 1931 when he wrote,

“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium…The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.”

Dr Neil Stephens, an In Vitro meat specialist from Cardiff University, seems excited by the concept, explaining how the scientists actually producing the meat are looking for ways to exercise the muscle and tissue they are creating in order perfect the familiar meat texture that does essentially come from the way animals use their muscles before they are killed.


Only €300,000 later, a ready made beef patty from stem cells. Image supplied by cuturedbeef

The first cultured beef burger was created by Mark Post and tasted in London in August. Stephens attended the even but admitted, “I didn’t taste any of it myself and I was too far away to even smell it…they said that the texture was better than they expected, but it could have used more salt.”

Watch a snippet of the Telegraph’s coverage of the taste test

But is it really feasible? If this slightly disappointing burger cost around €300,000, imagine how much a turkey with stuffing would cost? Even Stephens admits, “There’s a huge amount of uncertainty about what level of cheapening can be obtained to make it comparable to meat in the supermarket today. If it doesn’t get into the same zone then it’s going to have very limited use and it’s not really going to address global climate change…There’s still some distance to travel between where we are today and when it’s going to be a marketable reality.”

What do the public think of In Vitro meat, we went to find out, have a listen here:

There are some who see no potential in test tube meat, Niko Koffeman, one of the founders of the Vegetarian Butcher, calls cultured meat “a dead born brainchild”.

This leads us to what’s behind door number two: Plant-based substitutes.

This does not just mean Quorn. Though Quorn is a healthy alternative to meat and funnily enough was originally produced because of a predicted protein shortage in the 1960s, it is not anything new.

Koffeman puts it succinctly, “The old-skool meat substitutes are outdated…we developed a chicken structure from soy which cannot be distinguished from real meat.”

And he’s not the only one who thinks so, Marnie Chesterton did a taste test of the Vegetarian Butcher’s chicken on her Radio Netherlands Worldwide show, and said she wouldn’t have known the difference,

“It’s got that fibrous quality that meat has, and it’s really tender and it tastes good!”

Koffeman is confident in his product, explaining, “Our products can completely replace all meat. It has the same taste, bite and nutritional value as the real thing (or even better than that).”

He even recognises their potential to make a positive difference, “With the existing cropland we could feed 10 billion people if we stop degrading plant-based proteins into animal-feed and biofules.

We don’t believe this [in vitro meat] will be the future of food, it will take a long time, it’s still inefficient, it’s expensive and it can’t feed the world…the structuring of plantbased proteins is far ahead of cultured meat now.”


The Vegetarian Butcher’s “chicken”, looks like chicken…


…Apparently it “tastes like chicken” too. Images supplied by Koffeman, the Vegetarian Butcher

While Koffeman states their products contain the same nutrients as animal meats, this is not the case as many nutrients like Vitamin B12, Creatine and Vitamin D3 can only be found in animal products.

This brings us to door number three, Vegetarianism.

It’s the simple, healthy solution, and even stem-cell-burger-grower Mark Post says rather than introducing themselves to his test tube grown meat, vegetarians would be better off remaining vegetarians.

Sure meat has been linked to our evolutionary progress and brain development, but definitely not in the quantities we’ve gotten used to.

Vegetarianism may be an (incredibly) extreme solution, but even if it were just a change made one day a week, like the Norwegian armies ‘Meatless Mondays‘, it would have a tremendous impact.

It might be against the Christmas spirit to eat in moderation, but if eating less meat now will mean the turkey of the future will still come from a bird, it’s definitely a change worth making.

Sprouts are much more delicious than childhood memories indicate, but nothing epitomises Christmas like a stuffed turkey. Photo taken by Sophia Epstein

Sprouts are much more delicious than childhood memories indicate, but nothing epitomises Christmas like a stuffed turkey, or the girl stuffed with it. Photo taken by Sophia Epstein


3 thoughts on “To meat or not to meat? The lowdown on meat substitutes

  1. Pingback: Meatless Mondays: A Vegetarian Lifestyle | Got Meat.

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