Whether it’s burgers, steak, chicken or a host of different options, meat has long been a staple food item found in households across the United States. The average american consumes an average of roughly 222 pounds of meat and poultry in 2018 according to the US Department of Agriculture.
With the ever-growing market of plant-based meat, that record is heading in the opposite direction.
At a time, however, when many Americans clutch their firmly-held beliefs tightly, a switch to plant-based meat would seem destined for failure, but that hasn’t been the case.
Popeyes wasn’t the only fast-food restaurant generating buzz in recent weeks. On Aug. 27, KFC became the first national fast-food chain to embrace the change, partnering with Beyond Meat — one of the leading companies for the latest trend — to sell plant-based chicken in a limited test run.
The bold decision was met with a surprising turnout in Atlanta — the only location to sell the product — where the fake chicken was sold out in less than five hours with as many sales as the average week’s amount of popcorn chicken sold at the establishment.
The benefits of plant-based meat for the environment are undeniable. In an article published by CNBC, a study commissioned by Beyond Meat shows a plant-based burger “generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 45% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of traditional U.S. beef.”
On a smaller-scale individual level, a transition over to plant-based meat doesn’t just save plenty of animals from the slaughterhouse. The crops that generally go towards stuffing those soon-to-be sliders would instead be marketed to the general population, resulting in a decrease in price with greater amounts of resources to go around.
Before KFC’s successful experiment, Burger King added an Impossible Burger, which is a burger lacking any meat, to its menu in a deal with Impossible Meat (plant-based meat substitute). Back in May, McDonald’s claimed to have no plans of implementing a similar tactic but did profess to monitoring the plant-based movement.
The trend hasn’t completely taken over America, but it certainly seems headed that way with farmers in both the United States and Canada looking to profit. A commonly used food in the plant-based process, farmers are expected to plant 20 percent more field peas in the coming year.
Of course, not all factors of plant-based alternatives are positive. The saturated fat intake can vary anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the recommended daily intake. Grains might be milled for human consumption, but leftovers like wheat-germ, wheat-bran and wheat-gluten need to be utilized.
Those products can’t be sold to humans and have little use elsewhere, which could eventually lead to hyperinflation of the wheat industry. It’s a case that can also be used for the by-products of maize, barley and rye.
The future of plant-based meat seems promising but isn’t without caveats. The good of environmentally friendly products likely outweigh the relatively unknown health risks and potential backfirings.