Everything You Should Know About Fake Meat


Anna Borgman, MeatEater, Inc.

Aug 1, 2022


MeatEater, Inc. is an outdoor lifestyle company.


In the Ancient Greek Skeptics tradition, one should constantly question and investigate their beliefs. The only way to true knowledge, if such a thing does exist, is to work to prove oneself wrong continually. It is not a comfortable endeavor, and it is not easy.


As a butcher, I am intimately familiar with a process of death and food that is a mystery to most people, and I am constantly questioning the role I play in that process. How are the animals that we slaughter raised, and who raised them? Whose plate will the meat end up on, why do we eat it, and how does it affect our bodies, economy, society, and planet? To answer those questions, I've had to examine counterarguments that challenge my assumptions about one aspect of the food system that often runs contrary to my tenets: fake meat.


The Other, Other White Meat


The original plant-based "veggie" burgers were amalgamations of beans, grains, tofu, mushrooms, seeds, cheese, spices, and binders such as guar or xanthan gum, squished into a patty shape. They didn't pretend to be meat, and no one thought they were trying; you could see the individual seeds and beans with each bite. But hydrated bulgur wheat and yeast extract could only satiate the plant-based palate for so long. It was NASA, whose astronauts were forced to spend extended space tours eating what essentially amounted to tinned cat food and nutrition pellets, that first engineered cell-based meat with the intent to grow "in-vitro" burgers in outer space. NASA soon gave up, but the project was taken on by a private company—and so the lab-based meat industry was born.


There are currently two types of lab-based meat being produced. One is symbolized by the Impossible, Beyond, Quorn, and other vegetable protein imitation meats, alternatives to beef or chicken, comprised of anything from highly processed soy and pea protein isolates, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and methylcellulose to egg whites, palm oil, canola oil, milk protein concentrate, "natural flavors," and a laundry list of added vitamins and binders. The other, not yet on the market, is cell-based meat made from cells taken directly from an animal's muscle tissue that are then cultivated in a lab into the desired meat shape and texture.


Who's Got (Fake) Beef


If you imagine buying faux meat products removes you from the industrial food system, I have bad news. Kellogg's owns Morning Star Farms, Conagra owns Gardein, and Nestle owns Sweet Earth. DuPont, a chemical company, owns Ralston Purina, which produces over a third of all GMO soybean crops, the main ingredient in many fake meat products.


Industrial meat producers have been quick to the fake meat game as well. Tyson Foods was once invested in Beyond Meat and now supports two other lab-based meat companies. JBS, one of the global feedlot and slaughterhouse giants, has launched one vegan meat product in Brazil with plans for another, and it holds a stake in a Spanish fake meat firm. Cargill backs cultured-meat company Memphis Meats, and Smithfield Foods sells eight different soy-meat products under the Pure Farmland brand. Burger King and Carl's Jr., two of the leading sellers of industrial meat products, now offer burgers from Impossible Meats and Beyond Foods, respectively. Every dime spent on fake meat products goes back into the pockets of global agri-food corporations, several of which are giants in the industrial meat production system that those products are meant to curtail.


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