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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Moving Beyond Sustainability to Thrivability

Let’s live lightly and joyfully on Earth so we can all thrive.

A few weeks ago, when I heard a Chumash man named Fred speak of moving beyond sustainability to thrivability, I thought, “Yes that is the path we should be on.”

At the time, I was standing in a circle of people holding hands outside of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden event center with the mouth-watering smell of breakfast cooking and the scent of smoldering sage wafting through the air. We had gathered for the summer session of the Chumash Kitchen to experience the culture and food of the Chumash people who have been living on the Central California Coast for thousands of years.

Although I am still a circle ceremony novice, this was my third Chumash Kitchen so I knew I should wear a sweater. If you are interested, you can read about the first two in the posts entitled Thanksgiving – We are All Connected and Adopt a Native Plant.

From the moment I heard Fred utter the word thrivability, I knew that I would be pondering the idea in the weeks ahead.

The Chumash Kitchen – July 2018

Perhaps it was serendipity that the summer Chumash Kitchen had been moved back from early June to late July because it gave me a much-needed respite from what I was researching and writing about at the time.

In June, I had been happily dispensing advice for couples wanting to minimize their belongings and live happily with less stuff and trying to convince everyone to put solar panels on their roof.

However, by the time the end of July rolled around, I was enmeshed in researching and writing a 4-part series about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and bioengineered food. This is a highly controversial subject and it seems like everyone is constantly shouting on paper and film while thrusting their conflicting science studies in each other’s faces.

The Chumash Kitchen was like an oasis.

Circle Ceremony

Shortly after we arrived, Violet, the Chumash woman who is the driving force behind the Chumash Kitchen, and Lindsey, the woman who makes it all happen at the Botanical Garden, called us outside to begin the day with a circle ceremony.

The group shuffled about a bit as we formed a rough circle and then spontaneously we all held hands with the people on either side of us. Violet smiled (she is always smiling) and voiced her approval. She introduced us to her family members and those who wished to speak did while an ancient and lovely abalone shell encrusted pipe (the source of the smoldering sage) was carefully carried around the circle.

Fred and Violet did a father-daughter tag team recounting of the story of how they had obtained the yucca flowers that would be part of our lunch.

Sourcing a yucca plant is not like picking elderberries or gathering acorns. The small creamy white flowers of the yucca plant are attached in clusters on stalks that can reach ten feet tall and the whole plant is encircled by thick spiky leaves.

Violet and Fred Delivering Yucca for Chumash Kitchen July 2018
Violet and Fred delivering the Yucca for the Chumash Kitchen, July 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Violet and Fred were searching literally for a late bloomer that would still have flowers at the end of July. They found one residing on a rocky perch difficult to reach. Undaunted, Fred climbed up and retrieved a length of yucca with the flowers intact. They drove to the Botanical Garden with the flowers in the cab of the pickup truck and the stalk sticking out the back window.

After the stories, a song, and a blessing, with cold hands and joyful hearts, we headed inside for a breakfast of quiche, sage potatoes, and Botanical Garden tea made with native plants from the Garden.

Stories and Prayer Ties

A short stroll took us to the children’s garden where we occupied benches in a shady spot while Violet and her family members shared stories about the history and culture of the area from their perspective as Chumash people and native Californians who have inhabited this land for centuries.

Michael talked with us about tobacco and prayer ties. Tobacco is a sacred plant for the Chumash people. Prayer ties are made by tying a pinch of tobacco into a knot at the center of a colored strip of cloth and hanging it somewhere as a prayer, wish, blessing, remembrance, or thank you. (If I got this wrong, then I apologize that was not listening carefully enough.)

Violet set us to work making prayer ties to decorate the children’s garden. It is not easy to make a knot in a piece of fabric without the tobacco falling out so thankfully small lengths of yarn were passed around to help the less handy people, like me. We were invited to make extra prayer ties to take home with us.

Yellow and Green Prayer Tied on Fence Around Ailing Toyon
I tied these prayer ties on the fence surrounding an ailing toyon in our yard. (The fence is to protect it from deer until it gets big enough to hold its own.)

After exploring and decorating the children’s garden, we reassembled for lunch, which Fred had been preparing with a group of hardworking volunteer cooks.

Chumashtash

Lunch was beautifully served and delicious.

Our main course was dubbed Chumashtash (a cousin of succotash) by Violet. Our version combined chayote squash, yucca root, sweet corn, cheese, and a sumptuous sauce of wilted yucca blossoms sautéed in garlic butter. This was accompanied by a rice dish made with yerba buena, cilantro, and lime and Slo’w’s special pozole recipe, a sort of spicy corn soup served with fresh cabbage and lime wedges.

The artfully arranged dessert of vanilla ice cream topped with a chia flour and blueberry crumble, elderberry syrup, and garnished with a yucca blossom looked almost too good to eat, but I soon found myself scraping the bowl and wishing for more.

Replete with lovingly prepared food and wonderful stories, we headed home.

Thrivability

The next Monday, I returned to the world of GMOs and bioengineered food, which seemed even more alien than it had the week before. Once I completed the last post in that series, I was free to contemplate moving beyond sustainability to thrivability and to write this post.

According to my Webster’s dictionary, the word sustain means “to keep in existence, keep up, maintain, or prolong.”

It was the United Nations, in 1987, which popularized the term sustainability by defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This is an indeed a worthy goal. If we want our children, everyone else’s children and future children to have a habitable planet to live on now and in the future, we need to think beyond our immediate needs and wants and act accordingly.

The problem is that no one wants to just exist or maintain. People want to be happy, enjoy life, and thrive.

Sustainability is an overused, misused, and uninspiring term that is more like a frame of reference for decision-making than a way to live. Due to the lack of a suitable alternative, I admit that I use the word sustainability more than I would like to (it is a category on my website). I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

Maybe thrivability is the idea we have been seeking.

Technically, the word thrivability does not exist. When I looked in my Webster’s and at online dictionaries, I could find thrive (to grow vigorously, flourish) but not thrivability. I did come across a couple of books and seminars with thrivability in the title and several companies with thrive in their name.

Actually, the lack of an “official” definition for thrivability is a good thing because we are free to come up with our own. Here is my take on a meaning for thrivability. Please feel free to share your own in the comment section.

Thrivability means living joyfully and in harmony with other people and the balance of nature, so that we can all flourish on Earth now and in the future.

Featured Image at Top: Children Holding Hands Running through a Meadow Silhouetted by the Sun – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ESB Professional

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