food sustainability

Three pioneers of alternative meat

One of the things I’ve been keeping an eye on over the few years is the development of alternatives to traditional farmed meat. To remind ourselves why this matters, meat production is a significant source of greenhouse gases. It drives deforestation, and is an inefficient use of land and water in a world with 7 billion people. The animal suffering involved in the global meat industry is not something we should turn a blind eye too. Meat consumption is a big factor in obesity and heart disease anyway, so we every reason to cut down.

Despite the many reasons for reducing our meat intake, it remains completely off the agenda. Government interferes with people’s diets at their peril. Like aviation, it’s a sector that’s slipped through the net. And if we don’t find innovative solutions, it could derail the climate single-handedly.

Of course, the simple answer is to ask everyone politely to eat less meat, but that’s not working. So let’s work with the grain – if people want to eat meat, is there any way that we can create it ethically and sustainably? Are there any alternatives that are so good that people would happily choose them over the ‘real’ thing? That’s a tall order if your experience of meat alternatives so far is Quorn. But a new generation of meat alternatives is arriving, and there’s something of a race to bring them to market.

Impossible Foods – making waves this year is Impossible Foods, who have combined plant ingredients to recreate the taste and texture of meat. Impossible sounds like an apt name, but they’ve been serving their Impossible Burger in San Francisco and now New York, and cynical journalists lining up for a taste test seem convinced. It’s taken years to develop, and $180 million to fund the venture so far, but here’s a burger that tastes, looks and even bleeds like beef, but is in fact entirely vegan. The company claims it uses 1/20th of the land and an eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions to produce, and they’re quite deliberately out to change the world with their invention.

Beyond Meat – You can’t get an Impossible Burger in the shops right now, as they’re rolling it out slowly in select restaurants. But you can buy Beyond Meat products, at least in America. They’re doing something similar, and have produced a range of ready-meals and meat alternatives that are entirely plant derived. Again, it’s a business with an ethical mission, aimed squarely at the mainstream and delivering its products to the freezer aisle. European readers might want to check out The Vegetarian Butcher, a Dutch company taking on the continent’s love of charcuterie.

Memphis Meats – both of the above are alternatives to meat. What about real meat produced without animals, how are we getting on with that? In five years or so the idea of cultured meat has gone from being practically science fiction to an entirely feasible proposition. It’s now a matter of scaling it up and bringing the price down. Memphis Meats is one of the first companies to take the science out of the lab and develop it as a commercial opportunity, and earlier this year they delivered the world’s first cultured meatball. It’s still in development, but making big strides. If you’re so inclined, you can support their current crowdfunding campaign. Here’s their pitch:


  1. The thought of what is suggested above is not appetising! Whilst I agree that we need to eat less meat generally there is good evidence that livestock, farmed correctly, can have a beneficial effect on the environment.For example:
    See also Grass-Fed Nation by Graham Harvey and
    As ever it is the policy makers who struggle to see the shades of grey in the discussion.
    Thank you for your blog.

    1. It seems that we don’t know how to manage human activity to create a sustainable planet for us all. It would be a marvellous thing to know all the calculations and have them as a measure to control our actions which harm our environment. I have taken an extract from the link provided by Charles Whitbread (above) but I wonder if ‘all environmental indicators’ reacting ‘positively’ would be anywhere near sufficient. Balancing the planet’s need for our own benefit has so many factors, I’m sure. Of course, we have to start somewhere, but we, by all accounts, have little time for such slow answers and responses. Is this only my opinion or reality!

      From the link C.Whitbread provided (above):

      ‘what is certain is that none of the scenarios, including the base year, could ever be sustainable without a global shift to sustainable diets (i.e. decreased consumption of livestock products). Therefore, if consumption shares of livestock products will go down to a third or fourth of the base year levels, organic livestock production can be combined perfectly with low-concentrate livestock production. In such a combined Scenario 5, almost all environmental indicators react positively, especially deforestation pressure, and food availability becomes more than sufficient for the 2050 population, as land freed from concentrate feed production would be used for plant-based food.

  2. Yes, it’s quite possible to reduce the impact of livestock and produce more organic meat. But it’s important to note an underlying prerequisite in the FAO’s projections: “In all environmentally favorable scenarios, meat, milk and egg consumption needs to be reduced and possibilities for alternative protein sources need to be explored.”

    So consider this a post about the latter half of that sentence – alternative sources.

  3. Yes. That is the point I was making by showing the first sentence in the piece I copied -‘decreased consumption of livestock products’. It’s important that all angles are tackled, else the ‘shades of grey’ (CW), won’t be light enough. There is so much to do & so lttle time!

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