If You Have Not Tried Plant-Based Meat, You Should

Plants. It’s what’s for dinner.

Eating less animal meat is good for the environment. Luckily, you can switch to plant-based meat for some or all of your meals without compromising on taste.

There are many reasons to consider eating less or no animal meat. This includes the massive amount of land, water, and food crops required to raise livestock animals, the enormous volume of greenhouse gas emissions and waste they produce, and the ever-growing quantities of animal hormones and antibiotics in our food. Adding to this is the horrendous treatment of people and animals throughout the industrialized meat system from factory farms to slaughterhouses.

Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment Infographic Sep 2018
Click here for the infographic – source Beyond Meat.

Plant-based meat is not new. Veggie burgers, tempeh, and tofu meat substitutes have been around for years. But now there are plant-based meat products on the market that look and taste a lot like their animal-based counterparts such as burgers, sausages, and nuggets.

About two months ago, I was wrapping up a trip to Oregon where I had been visiting with two wonderful longtime friends. On the way to the Amtrak train station, we stopped to eat a late lunch at the Red Robin restaurant. The Impossible Burger was featured on the menu so I decided to give it a whirl.

That experience got me thinking about revisiting the topic of meat.

It has been six years since I researched and wrote the two posts entitled Environmental Impact of Eating Meat and Vat Meat, Cultured Meat, In Vitro Meat – Would You Eat It?

Rereading those posts reminded me that my children have significantly influenced what I eat, now. In some cases, I changed what I eat because of our discussions about things like the environmental and ethical issues associated with eating meat or that over 80% of food in the U.S. contains corn. Sometimes I was persuaded by their personal food choices.

For instance, one night at dinner during a visit from college several years ago, my younger son announced that he was no longer eating pork as he pushed the baked beans with bacon to the side of his plate.

When I asked him why he told me that pigs are intelligent animals that take care of each other and he did not want to eat them (or something like that). He did not ask or demand that my spouse and I stop eating pork but we chose to follow his lead.

Pork chops and roasts were easy to stop eating. Baby back ribs not so much. Giving up bacon was hard. The local Cookie Crock Market cures and sells the most delicious bacon I have ever tasted, thick but not too thick, with just the right amount of smoke and salt. Even years later, I still miss bacon. If some company comes up with pig-free bacon that looks and tastes like the bacon I remember, I am in.

In the meantime, there are plenty of plant-based meats to try.

Plant-Based Meat Taste Tests

I do not remember when more plants and less meat began appearing for dinner but it has been at least five years, maybe longer. In the past year or so, my spouse who is our family cook has ratcheted it up so our consumption of beef and chicken has continued to decline.

After I returned from Oregon, I announced at dinner one night that I wanted to try different plant-based meats and then write a post. My spouse gamely agreed to participate. There was a decided lack of enthusiasm from our sons but they did say that they would try whatever was put on the table in front of them.

Plant-Based Meat and Meat Substitute Section at Soto's True Earth Market - December 2019

Soto’s True Earth Market one of our two small-town grocery markets carries a decent variety of plant-based meats and meat substitutes like tempeh and tofu look-a-likes. The Cookie Crock Market only carries tofu.

Whenever my spouse was ready to make a plant-based meat test dish, I photographed the product and read up a bit about the company. Sometimes I remembered to photograph the actual dish but not always.

The companies varied from well-established organizations to startups. Ingredients included GMO and non-GMO soybeans, peas, beets, wheat gluten, chickpeas and a wide variety of additives. Most products contained a sizable percentage of the recommended dietary allowance for protein and contained a lot of salt. Prices varied but were consistently higher than factory-farmed ground beef.

Below are my findings from the five plant-based types of meat that I have tried; one at a restaurant and four in meals prepared by my spouse. I suggest you do your own taste test.

Impossible Burger
My Impossible Burger with Sweet Potato Fries at Red Robin
This is the Impossible Burger and sweet potato fries I ate at a Red Robin – photo credit Carrie Ciak.

So far the only plant-based burger I have tried is the Impossible Burger I mentioned earlier. The burger looked and tasted like a basic McDonald’s beef hamburger. It ate like a hamburger but was not juicy. To me, the main drawback of this product is that it is made from soybeans that are grown from herbicide-resistant GMO seeds thus contributing to the proliferation of pesticide use in the United States.

Beyond Beef
Beyond Beef Plant-Based Ground Package

My spouse made a casserole dish with Beyond Beef. It looked and tasted similar to ground beef. Beyond Beef does not contain GMOs. I can see myself eating this product on a regular basis.

Edward & Sons Jackfruit

The photo on the front of the Edward & Sons Trading Company Jackfruit Meatless Alternative looked good. My spouse included it in a pasta and cheese dish. The product looked okay but it had kind of a bitter aftertaste. Chewing it reminded me of artichoke hearts. I like that the product is USDA Organic but not that it comes from far away in India.

No Evil
No Evil Pit Boss Pulled 'Pork' BBQ Package and Pouch

We tried No Evil in a skillet dish. The tiny meat bits were chewy but did not resemble meat. The taste was so-so. I like that the company pays its employees a living wage and is involved in worthwhile programs in their community.

Lifelight

The Lifelight Smart Ground Meatless Original Crumbles were used to make a taco salad. I thought the plant-based meat looked, chewed, and tasted a lot like a crumbled ground beef. Lifelight has been around for many years and their products do not contain GMOs. I would eat this again.

The Bottom Line

All in all the taste tests were a success and there are a lot of other plant-based meat products we are interested in trying.

One of the most exciting things about the newer plant-based meats is that they make a surprisingly burger-like burger. Tens of millions of Americans eat beef hamburgers every day so a tasty plant-based burger could seriously disrupt the animal meat industry and I think this is a good thing for the planet, people, and even the animals that we raise for food.

I do worry that these companies are using the current environmentally harmful and inhumane industrial food system to scale up their operations.

I want to learn more about the companies making plant-based meats in hopes of finding at least one that is making a delicious product and working to transform the food system. If and when I do, I will buy that product thus making a minuscule contribution to building a better food system. Imagine what we could accomplish if everyone did the same thing.

Homemade Beef Hamburger with Hand Cut French Fries

I will admit that if I am craving a hamburger I am either going to In-N-Out (there is one in our county about 30 miles away that we rarely go to) or more likely eating one of my spouse’s yummy juicy homemade beef hamburgers accompanied by hand-cut French fries.

Eating less meat and more plants is a journey. I am glad I tried the Impossible Burger because it sparked my interest in plant-based meats. During the taste tests, I discovered that plant-based meats can be tasty. My spouse and sons think so, too which means plant-based meat dishes will frequently find their way to our dinner table.

Now it is your turn. Consider ordering a plant-based meat burger at a restaurant (they are widely available) or making one yourself from plant-based meat you select at your grocery market.

Featured Image at Top: Vegetable peeler and meat cleaver – photo credit iStock/Studio_Serge_Aubert.

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Bulk Bin Buying – Bring Your Own Containers

You, too, can become a bulk bin fan.

What if you could easily reduce packaging waste while doing your grocery shopping? Buying from bulk bins and bringing your own containers is one way to do it. Once you try it, you may never go back to your old shopping habits again.

How many times have you walked by the bulk bin aisles in your favorite grocery market without a glance? Has it been hundreds of shopping trips? Buying from bulk bins was not part of my normal grocery shopping routine either, until about five years ago.

That is when my spouse and I joined the SLO Food Co-op because we wanted to buy organic food that was locally and regionally grown and produced. My spouse, our family’s main cook, was interested in the stuff in the bulk bins so I grudgingly went along with it.

Two things occurred that turned me into a bulk bin fan.

The first was that we could buy a lot of great things from the bulk bins. The second was that I realized we could hugely reduce the amount of throwaway packaging coming into our home if we brought our own reusable containers. I really liked that part.

Over the years, we have converted more and more of our food supplies to items from the bulk bins. I am certain we will continue to find more products to purchase either in bulk or from the bulk bins.

Chris Banuelos at SLO Natural Foods Co-op Checkout Counter

Chris Banuelos knows where everything is at the SLO Food Co-op and he always greets us with a smile.

Chris drew our name out of the hat for the bring-your-own-container contest. We were thrilled to win a $250 gift card. Guess what we bought with it?

Buying in Bulk versus Bulk Bin Buying

As far a grocery shopping goes the term bulk can have different meanings.

Buying in bulk usually refers to buying a large quantity of something such as a 25-pound bag of rice, a 3-pack of ketchup bottles, or a case of toilet paper rolls.

We buy some things in bulk like toilet paper, facial tissue, and coffee beans.

Bulk bin items include food, personal care, and household cleaning products that are dispensed, scooped, poured, grabbed, or pumped from a store supply container into a container you take home.

Some of the many items you can buy in the bulk bin aisles include flour, sugar, granola, olive oil, honey, nuts, balsamic vinegar, pasta, peanut butter, vanilla extract, rice, dried fruits, spices, coffee beans, tea, snacks, dried beans, and salt. Many stores offer personal care items such as shampoo and lotion as well as dish soap and laundry detergent.

How Does Buying from the Bulk Bins Work?

Buying from the bulk bins may be slightly different from what you are used to but it is simple.

Choose an item and fill up a bag or another container with the amount you want to buy. Write the bin number on a label and affix it to the bag or container.

Stores supply bags, containers, labels, twist ties, and pens for shoppers or you can bring your own containers from home.

Before you fill up a container for the first time, it needs to be weighed and marked with its tare (empty) weight. You can do this using a scale at the store or in some cases a store employee will do it for you. At the checkout counter, the tare weight is subtracted so you do not pay for the weight of the container.

Click here for a 1-minute video in which Alana Looser from the SLO Food Co-op demonstrates how to weigh and label a container.

Voilà you are ready for the bulk bin aisles.

Pros and Cons of Shopping in the Bulk Bin Aisles

Like many choices in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to shopping in the bulk bin aisles.

You are the person in the best position to determine what is important to you and what works for you and your family. I will give you some examples from my own experience and then you can decide if you want to give the bulk bins a try or not.

Generally, the pros and cons fall into four main categories: packaging, selection, cost, and quantity. A single item can have both advantages and disadvantages.

Packaging

For me, a minimalist trying to live happily with less stuff while trying to reduce waste of all types, less packaging is the main allure of bulk bins for me. However, shopping in the bulk bin aisles does not automatically reduce packaging.

You could easily cruise through the bulk bin aisles scooping dried cranberries and brown sugar into single-use plastic bags and wrapping them with throwaway twist ties, repeating the same process each time you shop. This is an improvement over many prepackaged items, but not much.

When you bring your own reusable containers, you are substantially reducing the amount of disposable packaging often associated with grocery shopping. If you are thinking “But I recycle.” please take a few minutes to read All Americans Should Visit a Landfill.

Selection

Sure, instead of 15 brands of macaroni shells to choose from you will only have one or two options. Chances are that for many items, the products on offer will satisfy your taste buds or product requirements.

As an example, for breakfast most mornings I eat almond butter on toasted multi-grain bread. In a search for one that did not contain palm oil, I had tried many brands. I found one that I liked but stirring it up required a substantial amount of arm strength and took at least five minutes.

Almond and Peanut Butter Machines, Olive Oil and Honey Dispensers at SLO Natural Foods Co-op
The machines on the left grind fresh nuts into almond butter and peanut butter and the dispensers on the right hold olive oil and honey at the SLO Food Co-op.

One day at the Co-op my spouse suggested I try the almond butter machine. I put my reusable jar underneath the machine and pressed the start button. Freshly ground organic almond butter oozed into the container. No stirring required, ever. I was an instant convert.

You can always choose to continue buying the prepackaged version that you like if you cannot find a suitable bulk bin alternative. That is what we do. As you will see my fondness for Kirkland salted cashews has contributed to our container stash.

Cost

I have not done an extensive cost analysis of bulk bin items versus their prepackaged counterparts. But, I do pay attention to prices and I think buying from the bulk bins is a good financial choice for our family. Even if I had done an in-depth study, it would not be pertinent for you and your family so I suggest you do your own comparisons.

The purchase price is not the only cost I consider when shopping.

The price you and I pay at the checkout counter does not reflect the cost associated with the environmental harm caused by growing, making, processing, packaging, transporting, storing, and disposing of the food and other products that we buy.

If the cost of environmental harm was factored in, something like a 12-pack of single-use plastic water bottles would cost a thousand dollars or more. We take our reusable water bottles everywhere and do not buy bottled water.

Quantity

One thing I really like about buying from the bulk bins is that you can purchase as much (within reason) or as little of an item as you want. If you do a lot of baking, you can stock up on flour, sugar, and salt. Or you can buy a teaspoon of a spice you need for a new recipe you want to try.

Earl Grey tea is my favorite but sometimes I want to try out other blends. At the Co-op’s bulk tea section, I can buy just enough loose tea to brew a few cups instead of buying a whole box of individual tea bags.

Bringing Your Own Containers

Bringing your own containers for bulk bin items is one way that you can reduce the amount of waste that gets generated so that you and your family can eat. This is a simple action that almost anyone can choose to do.

Stacked Filled Reusable Bulk Bin Containers with Funnel
This is our collection of reusable containers for shopping in the bulk bin aisles at the SLO Food Co-op. We use the funnel to refill the spice jars (not shown) that we reuse.

Rather than buying special containers to hold bulk bin items my spouse and I decided to redeploy containers that had previously held other foods.

For us, bringing reusable shopping and produce bags to the store was already part of our normal routine so transporting empty bulk bin item containers was not a big deal for us.

And it won’t be for you once you get the hang of it.

I hope you will consider giving buying from the bulk bins a try on your next grocery shopping trip. Bring a container from home and fill it up with an item of your choice. The next week try two items, then three, and so on. Before you know it, you will be a bulk bin fan, too.

Featured Image at Top: This is part of the pantry staples bulk bin section at the SLO Food Co-op.

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