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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Learning to Ride an Electric Bike

Set realistic expectations.

One way you can reduce your transportation carbon footprint is to learn to ride an electric bike safely and then to make riding it part of your normal routine.

This story began with the previous post entitled Riding an Electric Bike is Good for You and the Planet. If you read that post, you will know why I decided to test ride an electric bike and what happened when I took a demo bike home. For readers picking up the story here, it will be useful for you to know that I bought an electric bike after crashing in my driveway during the home demo week.

I have owned my electric bike for a little over two months. In the hope of persuading you to try an electric bike yourself, I am sharing my real-life experiences during that time (some good and some not). If you are already an electric bike aficionado, please share your story in the comment section below.

Our Old Bikes Get a Second Life

When we purchased our electric bikes, I asked the store owner Wally if he knew of an organization that would accept our old bikes as a donation. He suggested the Cambria Bike Kitchen in the town where we live. I had seen the Cambria Bike Kitchen building but I did not know what was meant by a bike kitchen.

Via Facebook messages, I was connected with a volunteer named Larry. I texted him to make arrangements for my spouse and me to drop off the bikes and a bike rack that does not work with our new bikes.

Larry Kotowicz and Chad Rowe with Donation Bikes at Cambria Bike Kitchen - November 2019
Cambria Bike Kitchen volunteers (left to right) Larry Kotowicz and Chad Rowe with the bikes we donated.

While we were there I asked Larry to tell me about the Cambria Bike Kitchen. It is a nonprofit organization that offers space, tools, and expertise to people who want to repair their own bikes. For a small donation, they will repair your bike for you. Donated bikes get checked out and cleaned up before they are given to kids or adults in need and sometimes bikes are sold.

The Cambria Bike Kitchen provides adult-supervised trail rides for kids of various ages and abilities. This helps kids learn biking skills while enjoying being outside in our beautiful forest.

No, It Was Not Just Like Riding a Bike

Chances are you have heard someone say or said yourself “It is just like riding a bike.” meaning it is second nature or you will easily remember how to do it.

I beg to differ with the above statement at least as it relates to me and my electric bike.

Why would I have thought that after not having ridden a bike in many years, I would hop on an electric bike and instantly be a proficient rider? Most likely it was a combination of enthusiasm and wishful thinking. In hindsight, I realize that my expectations of myself were not realistic.

Compounding the problem was that while I was away for several weeks in October my spouse adapted to electric bike riding and was soon zipping around town running errands. I wanted to be able to do that, too.

My spouse gave me a refresher on bicycle regulations and hand signals and helped me learn how to operate the controls on my electric bike. I did do some practice riding around the bank parking lot at the end of our street and on some of the flatter streets in town. But the thing is we loaded the bikes onto our kayak trailer, now equipped with a removable bike rack, drove them to a spot to practice, and then rode the bikes. This was not exactly riding in the “real world.”

Yet, I declared myself ready for a trip to Soto’s True Earth Market about ¾ of a mile from our house.

A Harrowing Ride to the Grocery Market

The ride got off to a good start. I made it down our steep driveway and street without a mishap.

My spouse had warned me that the bike lane on Main Street would end about halfway between our house and Soto’s. Once you reach that point, you encounter cars parallel parked almost continuously along the curb.

As I neared the end of the bike lane, I signaled, checked for cars, and moved left into the middle of the road. You need to be careful not to ride too close to parked cars or you could get whacked when someone who is not looking opens their car door.

I was thankful to be riding an electric bike. Using the top pedal-assist level and a high gear I was riding about 18-20 miles an hour on this section of the road that is marked with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

Legally you can ride a bike in the middle of the road if you are going the same speed as the cars, there is no bike lane, or the bike lane is not safe. Apparently, some of the people driving cars behind us were unaware of the California Vehicle Code or were just impatient. One car illegally tailgated us and another one conducted an illegal and unsafe pass on the left. This stretch of road is less than ½ mile long so it was not as if we were backing up traffic. Geez, people.

Soto's True Earth Market Storefront
Entrance to Soto’s True Earth Market in Cambria, CA – photo Soto’s.

We parked our bikes on the sidewalk near the entrance to Soto’s making sure that pedestrians would not be impeded. After winding a lock around the pole of a street sign and through the bike frames we removed the keys locking the wheels. My spouse grabbed the saddlebags that we used to load up with our groceries.

On the way home, we did everything in reverse.

By the time we got to our street, I was already tired because for some reason I had felt compelled to ride as fast as I could so that I would not tick off the motorists behind me. I wobbled around the corner and then rode up the street and the driveway at a virtual snail’s pace using the top pedal-assist mode and lowest gear. I made it to the top of the driveway exhausted and out of breath.

Wow, I have walked on the sidewalk and driven in a car up and down Main Street hundreds of times, but I had no idea how dangerous it is for people riding a bike until one of those people was me.

A Crisis of Confidence

I figured if we persevered, followed the law, and were polite to everyone we encountered, eventually people in the community would get used to seeing us riding around town and would be okay with it.

That was before the second crash.

This one occurred at the bottom of the street. My spouse had made the signal light but I had to stop on a very steep curve. Instead of stopping I crashed into the curb and fell off. While I was sitting there making sure all my limbs were intact two people driving down the street stopped and asked if I needed assistance. This show of caring heartened me. Fortunately, I only had a bruised ankle and some scratches. I knew it was important for me to get back on the bike and finish the trip. And I did.

Unfortunately, the second crash shattered my confidence.

A few days later, we decided to ride to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve to take a walk. Poised at the top of the driveway, I could not move. I was too afraid to ride my bike down it.

A Way Forward

Sometimes the best course of action is to suck it up and power through your fear but sometimes it is best to step back and rethink what you are doing.

The electric bikes had been my idea. They represented one part of our quest to be able to get from point A to B without burning fossil fuels. And we had laid down a significant chunk of cash to buy and equip the bikes.

I pondered what to do.

The solution became apparent but not during an “ah-ha” moment. It was more like a “duh” moment. If I am committed to getting off fossil fuels, and I am, then I need to learn to ride the electric bike. However, it is okay for me to care for myself and to learn at my own pace.

So it is back to the basics for me.

I am learning how to ride a bike again and practicing operating my electric bike on my own terms. For now, I walk my bike down the driveway and the street and then ride it to wherever we are going, which does not include the market, yet. On the way back, I ride up the street and the driveway but I give myself permission to stop and walk my bike the rest of the way if I need to (this is not easy).

Linda Poppenheimer on Rock Bench at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA - November 2019
Happily, I have achieved one goal which was to ride my bike to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and then ride back home.

How long will it take for me to become a proficient and confident electric bike rider? It could take months, a year, or even longer.

Imagine Yourself on an Electric Bike

After reading the above story, I will understand if you are thinking that I do not make a very good electric bike advocate. But I think I do and this is why.

We all need to live more lightly on Earth and for many of us, that means we need to change the way we live. Some changes are easy and others are not. The important thing is to be committed to doing both.

For me things, like composting and cutting plastic bag waste, were easy. Learning to ride an electric bike has been hard but I am doing it.

Linda Poppenheimer at Mechanics Bank ATM in Cambria, CA - November 2019
Here I am depositing a check into the ATM at the Mechanics Bank in Cambria, CA. We stopped here on the way back from a ride to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

I imagine a world where bicyclists of all ages and abilities enjoy riding on safe bike pathways that go everywhere. In the meantime, if you are driving your car and see me pedaling along the street, thank you for sharing the road with me.

Featured Image at Top: Wooden cubes with letters rotating from saying DONT to DOIT – Photo credit iStock/Eoneren.

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