What if it was really possible to get animal muscle off the menu of human consumables? The Beyond Meat brand aims to do exactly that. And they keep getting better at it. Veggie meat analogues have become so much more convincing, that some vegans such as myself, won’t consume them if they are being served at non-veg restaurants.
I haven’t eaten animal muscle in about 5 years. I’ve been vegan for around 5 years, with a few brief months as an ovo vegetarian (meaning I ate eggs for a few months, sadly, and inexcusably, for religious purposes). Poultry, beef, and seafood have been off my plate for around 5 years, but I didn’t stop eating them because I didn’t like the taste of seasoned flesh. I initially stopped eating animals for health reasons (post on that is in the works), but quickly connected consumption of all animal products (clothing/accessories, cosmetics/personal care products, household products, bicycle/car tires), to cruelty. If I think it’s wrong and cruel to eat animals, why would I want to wear them or use them for other purposes?! I quickly got into activism when I met another vegan who knew the local PETA volunteer (shoutout to Laura Ray), but I digress…
When I started my vegan journey in 2012, I received this email:
I am writing about my vegan journey in another post, but the goal of this introduction is to put the animal-muscle-for-human-consumption issue into context of my timeline of transitioning, and into the context of food science and technology.
A few well-known brands of vegan meat analogues have been prominent in many grocery stores locally and nationwide, Tofurky being the most established.
But Tofurky still seemed, at least to me in 2012, to appeal to the more “advanced” vegans: those who had been vegan for a very long time and forgot what animal muscle tasted like. Their “look” just didn’t appeal to me in my earliest days and months of being vegan. (For full disclosure: Tofurky products are now some of my favorite protein foods, and their Italian sausages are always in my fridge, but it did take me a while to appreciate their awesomeness.) I really wanted something that could genuinely hide the vegan-ness from the meat analogue, look and taste like animal muscle, and market the product to new vegans and non-veggies.
This company’s press accolades are enough to persuade the most ardent meat eater to give the brand a try. And they sold me on the Chicken Strips first when they launched in 2013, which was also their first product.
I’ve been a fan of all of Beyond Meat’s products since they launched in my area in 2013. I was a new vegan, and their products looked like meat on the package. They were speaking my language of a vegan who wants meat textures and flavors. I tried their products and was immediately hooked.
The initial experience of eating the Southwest flavor chicken strips cold, right out of the package, on green salad with Californian Extra Virgin olive oil and fresh pressed lemon juice, was admittedly a bit weird at first. I was looking for a protein that I could just throw on a salad in place of the Whole Foods 365 brand of vegetarian (animal rennet-free) feta I had been using. The Southwest Chicken strips were tangy and satisfying, so they quickly became my new salad protein.
Fast forward to the launch of the Beyond Burger in my area (Cambridge, MA.) this year…
This burger has been one of the most anticipated and controversial launches of the veggie protein/vegan movement. And for good reason. The product is designed to be indistinguishable from premium beef burgers, especially when cooked “medium rare”. Whole Foods even got an exclusive on the initial launch if they agreed to merchandise the plant based patties in the meat section of their stores.
There are a few logistical issues that Beyond Meat needs to overcome if they want to attract the carnivorous foodies (“paleo” dieters) who can afford the premium price of the Beyond Burger: the more extensive “processing” (if you watch the many slaughterhouse videos on the Internet, this “processing” issue is rendered moot), the longer list of ingredients, and a price that isn’t competitive with “grass-fed” beef. If you think unselfishly, the issues above become non-issues. Animals have intrinsic worth that isn’t ours to judge or value as consumable commodities. They are our companions, friends, and loved ones. Their lives have the same worth as all sentient beings. And they have physiological nervous systems that feel and react negatively to pain. Therefore, putting a barcode on their non-consenting butchered bodies is insulting, selfish, uncivilized, and outdated. Now, the price of a package of Beyond Burgers seems quite reasonable if you want that taste and texture.
And Beyond Meat has nailed it with the taste and texture. I grill mine, completely defrosted, on a large cast iron pan, with Californian Extra Virgin olive oil. I cook them on high for a few minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook them because they are genuinely the best “medium rare”. The outside gets charred and crisp, and the inside is warm and pink. It does in fact “bleed” beefy-flavored cruelty-free juices.
This is from my birthday weekend, when I got my first package of Beyond Burgers. There is also a kale and chard bouquet, and a card made for me that says, affectionately, “vegan”.
With the rise of Beyond Meat, as well as a number of other veggie meat brands that are so convincingly real many vegans are turned off by them, I see no reason why animal agriculture isn’t over.