Plant-based protein products gain popularity, spark controversy

JasmineButtler

There’s a new kind of “meat” popping up at grocery stores around the country. 

Plant-based meat companies like Beyond Burger, Impossible Foods and Gardein have utilized new food technology techniques to create a patty made with a mix of plant protein that looks, tastes and bleeds like real beef.

With major food companies like Burger King, KFC, Domino’s Pizza and Subway taking part in the new wave of plant-based dieting, many of their consumers are wondering if there is a true benefit in switching from traditional beef to a new way of meat consumption. IMG_6120

For sophomore Olivia Traxler, her journey with vegetarianism began in seventh grade. “I went vegetarian because I knew it was the healthier option,” Traxler said.

“I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but for the time that I was, I think it went really well,” Traxler said. “I think that people are hesitant to try to become vegan or vegetarian because they like the foods that they know, like meat.”

The question of whether or not plant-based meats hold more nutritional value than real beef has been debated and researched multiple times by different medical professionals and public health organizations. According to Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, research has found that diets that are high in red meat have been associated with many different health problems, including obesity, Type Two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Hu also stated that studies have shown that replacing red meat with nuts, legumes and other forms of plant protein is associated with lowered risks of these diseases.

 “Well, you’re not having as many preservatives in artificial and processed foods, and I lost some weight on it [the diet] too,” Traxler said.

However, John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and a vegan for more than 20 years, isn’t completely sold on the trend. “But some of these [plant-based meats] that are extremely popular right now…if you look at the ingredients, they are super, highly processed foods.” Even though a non-vegan or non-vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be an unhealthy one.

Traxler agrees that a vegetarian diet isn’t a positive or healthy experience all the time. “It has been shown to affect your mental health, and that’s why I stopped,” Traxler said. 

Another reason why many are switching to a plant-based diet is the environmental impact by reducing carbon emissions from factory farming. According to a study commissioned by Beyond Meat with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, “One plant-based burger generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, uses 45 percent less energy and 93 percent less impact on land use compared to a ¼ pound of U.S. beef.” 

Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer has introduced new legislation this past December called Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully, or Real MEAT Act. This law would require imitation meat companies to distinctly define the word “imitation” in their products’ label and include a statement stating that the product doesn’t contain real meat. 

Traxler agrees with this act because she believes that people should know what they’re actually buying. “As consumers, we have the right to know what’s going into out foods, what we’re eating and what we’re buying,” Traxler said.

Doing research and consulting a doctor before making any drastic diet changes is something that Traxler also recommends doing. “Just make sure that you know what you’re doing and that you’re well-informed and understand the pros and cons about it, and the effects it might have on you,” Traxler said.

There are various opinions about how effective plant-based meat and restrictive diets are, and there are various reasons why people decide to make the switch from real beef to plant protein.That choice is ultimately up to the consumer to make. 

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