Every grocery store goer has no doubt noticed the ever-expanding cold cases of plant-based products over the last several years. The bland, dry veggie burgers of years past are gone. Faux meat options have evolved to the likes of brats, breakfast sausages, and chicken nuggets. People are trading their conventional dairy products for oat and nut milk, as well as dairy-free ice creams, cheeses, and yogurts.
While meat and dairy sales have remained strong, it’s clear that plant-based products are no longer a niche market. These products and their accompanying lifestyles are not just a passing fad. So what is driving this massive shift? Why are more people than ever opting for these animal-free alternatives? This article will explore why plant-based products are gaining popularity and why these products might be right for you, too.
1. They’re Cruelty-Free
U.S. society as a whole tends to stay fairly disconnected from its food. However, most people are at least somewhat aware of the animal cruelty issues inherent in factory farming. While this large-scale agriculture is a necessary evil for some, many others have started to wonder if there isn’t a better way. Enter the new wave of plant-based meat alternatives.
These products are often made from pea protein, which is high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. They are meant to closely emulate the texture and taste of real meat. Unlike more traditional substitutes like tofu or seitan, these new products appeal to meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike. A strict vegan or vegetarian lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But recent trends like Meatless Mondays have made the idea of decreasing meat consumption far more accessible.
2. There Are More Options Than Ever
Plant-based proteins are nothing new. Humans have been using tofu, tempeh, seitan, and legumes to bulk up vegetarian dishes for hundreds and even thousands of years. The difference today is the sheer variety of products as well as their widespread availability. Both restaurant menus and grocery aisles alike are filled with new plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.
Veggie burgers and soy protein crumbles are just the tip of the iceberg for this market, now bursting with innovation. Hot dogs, brats, meatballs, chicken tenders, Italian sausage, and pulled pork are just some of the products available sans animal meat. Big hitters in the meat alternative market like Beyond and Impossible have secured deals with some of the largest fast-food chains. You can currently find Impossible meat at Burger King and Q’doba. Beyond has recently signed a deal with McDonald’s and Taco Bell. The meat alternatives’ time has certainly arrived.
3. They’re Better for the Environment
It’s no longer any secret how detrimental factory farming has been to the environment. Large-scale agriculture and food production in general has caused significant damage due to catastrophic levels of greenhouse emissions. However, the impact of livestock farming has been far more significant than that of fruit and vegetable production. Livestock, and especially beef, require huge amounts of land and water. In fact, the majority of the land used to grow crops worldwide is for feeding livestock, not humans.
It’s not fair or accurate to place the burden of reducing carbon footprints solely on individuals. However, personal dietary choices do not come without consequences. Annual greenhouse emissions could be cut by 1% if people reduced their consumption of meat by only 25%, according to one study. By nearly every metric, meatless meat is significantly better for the environment. With the widespread acceptance of these products, there is potential for real and global change.
4. They’re Healthier
Plant-based diets are great for your health. These diets tend to be full of fiber, good fats, and lots of vitamins and minerals. But what about getting adequate protein? Sure, it’s perfectly possible to get all your protein requirements without plant-based meat alternatives. But these products definitely make for a more robust and tastier diet.
There are lots of benefits to eating less meat even if you’re not ready for a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Red meat, especially, has been linked to increased risks of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. There is also strong evidence that processed meats like ham, cold cuts, and bacon lead to various bowel cancers. Going meatless just once or twice a week is enough to decrease these risks. Or try adopting a “flexitarian” diet, which still allows you to enjoy eating meat on occasion.
5. They Actually Taste Good!
If plant-based products couldn’t compete with their animal-based alternatives on taste, there would be no reason compelling enough to make the switch. Luckily, almond and soy milk can be just as satisfying in your bowl of cereal or morning coffee. Oat ice cream is still creamy and delicious. Food scientists have been working tirelessly to imitate the textures, smells, and flavor profiles of burgers, brats, and chicken nuggets. And the consensus seems to be that they have succeeded.
If you are a regular meat eater, you may be slightly less impressed with these meat alternatives. However, a recent study found that 52% of people opting for plant-based proteins did so because they preferred the taste. This outranked health, animal rights, and environmental concerns. This is only the beginning for plant-based meat alternatives, and there are sure to be more advancements and improvements to come.
Plant-based products are here to stay. As people turn toward better health and desire greater environmental sustainability, the demand for these alternatives will continue to grow. Food manufacturers and restaurants have proven willing to supply and support these products. As the meat alternative market continues to expand and innovate, it continues to improve on already impressive product lines. If you’re still not sure what the hype is about, visit your favorite drive-through and find out for yourself today.