White Sow with Piglets

Healthy Green Alternatives to Animal Products?

Healthy, green – plant-based – alternatives to food products from animals are generating quite a buzz right now. Restaurants are riding a wave of interest in this concept. With the planet burning and flooding everywhere we turn, wouldn’t it be nice if dining at HipCityVeg could help turn things around?

New Forms of Food Multiplying

No question about it. Consumer interest is prompting many new forms of food. Fake dairy products got the ball rolling. Plant-based burgers have a strong foothold now. But there’s much more to come. Faux fish made from plant protein is already on the shelf. Pseudo shrimp from seaweed sells swiftly. The folks who brought you fake mayo are now in the business of selling fake eggs made from plants.

In an absolute triumph of irony, you can now even order fake chicken nuggets at Fatburger. Remember when the fakeness of chicken nuggets was supposed to be a big problem? Now it’s a selling feature.

Mary McGovern is CEO New Wave Foods, which makes the fake shrimp from seaweed. She sees a very broad embrace of these new plant-based foods:

“This is not for vegans only – that would be too tiny of a market.

“I’ve been in the food industry for 30 years, and I’ve not seen anything like the tectonic change we’re seeing in the market now,”

Green, Yes; Healthy, Up for Debate

People can debate how much effect will be the result of moving toward more plant-based diets, but the agreement is pretty strong that it will be a positive effect. One study says a shift away from red meat will cut carbon emissions by three percent. Another study says cutting meat consumption in half could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 30 percent. It’s complicated and the sustainability issues go beyond carbon emissions. For the good of the planet, though, it’s clear enough that we’re probably producing and consuming too much meat.

However, it’s not at all clear that all these green alternatives to meat and seafood will promote better dietary health. Yes, you can make a case for health benefits from eating a more plant-based diet. But that doesn’t mean a diet of plant-based, ultra-processed foods. Writing in Global Food Security, Kremlin Wickramasinghe and colleagues from the WHO explain:

“A ‘health halo’ surrounds plant-based UPFs, although they may be high in negative nutrients such as saturated fat, sugar and salt. Clearly, issues concerning the nutritional content, frequency of consumption of plant and dairy substitutes, and other kinds of plant-based UPF need to be better understood to develop a knowledge base on which to build strong, effective policy to guide industry and consumers.”

We’re big fans of shifting diets toward whole and minimally processed foods from plants. Ultra-processed alternatives to animal products are a separate matter, though. Caution would be wise as entrepreneurs flood us with hype and hope we will buy into a health halo.

Click here for more on this trend to plant-based processed foods. For more on the implications for dietary health, click here and here. For further examination of sustainability effects, click here.

White Sow with Piglets, painting by Niko Pirosmani / WikiArt

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September 9, 2021

4 Responses to “Healthy Green Alternatives to Animal Products?”

  1. September 09, 2021 at 6:44 am, Al Lewis said:

    Thank you — gonna share this with my wife, who is a vegetarian but eats these vegetarian frozen entrees ultraprocessed so they taste like meat.

    • September 09, 2021 at 7:03 am, Ted said:

      Bona fortuna, Al!

  2. September 09, 2021 at 2:37 pm, Allen Browne said:

    There is green and there is green:
    1) from your garden to the table
    2) from someone else’s garden to being processed, to being packaged, to being transported, to the table.

    Good post, Ted.


  3. September 09, 2021 at 3:56 pm, Mary-Jo said:

    Somewhere around the late 90’s, early 2000’s, after I had lived in Europe for more than 15 years,I remember feeling nauseous whenever I would return stateside for a few weeks and see HUGE portions of food served in restaurants — ‘specials’ such as 36 oz. ‘cowboy steak platters’, buckets of fried chicken, quadruple size cheeseburgers, 20 oz. soft drinks, etc. It wasn’t like that in the 50’s to the 80’s. It seemed like America was ‘showing off’ how ‘successful’ it had become. Yet, I would also marvel, was even secretly proud, at how big ice cream cones and sundaes were compared to the measly 1 small scoop we would get in Italy, in Holland. Deep down I knew there would be a reckoning to help get things back in perspective.. But, never did I dream that would include this explosion of UP meat/protein-substitutes which also make me nauseous. I DO like the ingenuity and flexibility some of the better quality products give for OCCASIONAL consumption, but we are fooling ourselves if we think regular dietary intake of ‘plant-based’ UPFs is health-promoting. Research needed to convince me otherwise.