“I’d be a vegetarian, I just can’t go without my fish tacos man- those are my lifeblood,” –An Acquaintance’s Drunk Uncle at a barbeque.
“You know as a vegan we can’t drink that, they fine it with bone char,” -Much “better” vegan than myself at a friend’s gathering, as I pour myself a glass of wine.
“I feel like a jerk eating this in front of you,” – Guy who didn’t get a text back after the second date, upon digging into a brunch plate of sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs.
So often when we talk about what we choose to eat and why we choose to eat it, the conversation is centered on lack, ongoing without and abstaining from eating things people generally enjoy eating. When we talk about veganism and vegetarianism the conversation so often focuses on meat and dairy, as opposed to the wide variety of foods that people on plant-based diets actually choose to purchase, prepare and eat. I wonder how productive that is- focusing on what’s not eaten- in encouraging people to make changes and shift their diet toward one that is more plant-based, healthy, and sustainable. I mean we even call them dietary restrictions- how appealing is that to join in on?
There is an abundance of plant-based and sustainable options out there- a lot of which pretend to be your favorite animal products. It’s fantastic talking to people who have been vegan for forty years and started out as punk teenagers in the 80’s working to navigate what to eat in a world that had not yet invented protein bars or garden burgers. Talk about lack. They’ll tell you how much easier it is now- now that you can order more than salad out at dinner and buy vegan pizza, mac n’ cheese, and ice cream at major grocery stores.
As a species we know we need to shift what we eat so that we are eating more locally sourced plant-based meals, not only to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of climate but to adapt to the changes we are already experiencing. And I think that transition can be an exciting, creative challenge for us, one that ultimately brings us a bounty of new food options that we have never seen before. Sustenance that is healthier for our bodies and for our planet and that is delicious. Here are a few projects working toward that vision that I find particularly inspiring:
This Seattle based start-up has invested 2.6 billion dollars in developing molecular coffee- coffee made without coffee beans. Caffeinated, tasty, and has the potential to be produced locally!
As coffee is grown at the equator, it travels quite a long way on carbon-emitting planes, ships, and trucks to reach your grocery store. As we are continuously seeing, hotter and dryer summers growing coffee to completion is becoming challenging on designated farmland, forcing farmers to move their fields to higher and cooler elevations, cutting down forests as they go. 250,000 acres of forest are lost every year due to the expansion and relocation of coffee plantations. And our modest coffee habits are more intensive than we might think. If you drink 1.5 cups of coffee a day it takes 14 coffee trees to sustain your habit annually. Now multiply that by every person you know who drinks coffee regularly.
Producing bean-less coffee eliminates this unsustainable race for higher ground. Using lipids, proteins, and carbs of similar structure, like those from watermelon seeds, Atomo is producing coffee indistinguishable from the real deal. And being produced bean-less has other perks as well. Most of the bitterness we experience drinking coffee comes from the roasting process. No beans to roast, no bitter aftertaste! Incredible.
If you love cheeseburgers because they don’t taste like black beans or mashed up vegetables, the Impossible Burger is for you! Beyond Meat has been working and expanding for several years to bring consumers delicious, vegan options that look and taste like meat protein.
Seeking out the plant-based compounds equivalent to those found in animal meat, Beyond Meat has expanded beyond their famous Impossible Burger to produce a variety of incredible convincing products including Beyond Beef Ground Beef, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Their products contain 20 grams of protein per serving and are soy and gluten-free.
Industrial agriculture is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and abstaining from purchasing from these corporations is one of the single most impactful things individuals can do to make a meaningful difference and reduce their personal carbon footprint.
And creative new meat substitutes are coming out all the time. Just this past week, Kentucky Fried Chicken released the Beyond Meat Fried Chicken Bucket at a single location in Atlanta Georgia. It sold out in less than five hours! Let’s see more of that!
Follow Your Heart is another company that produces realistic substitutes for animal-based foods we love- specifically in the world of dairy. From vegan mayonnaise to sliced Gouda, to the Vegan Egg, which you can scramble, make into an omelet, or use as an egg substitute in baking. They add black salt to the egg to give it a more realistic taste.
To be clear, the world of vegan scrambled eggs is not perfect. When your eating tofu scrambles, egg substitutes your mouth knows they are eggs impersonators. But I think they are great because they open up the door to a world of vegan quiches, omelets, and baking without using applesauce to hold your brownies together. And it’s a great start! In five years it will no doubt be tastier and that what it’s all about- experimenting with new ideas, testing them out, and using what’s good to give more eating options that satisfy our stomachs and our emotional attachment to heaping platters of American breakfast food.