Fake Meat: From Fad to Flop

PerfumeFame is fleeting. Just a few years ago, fake meat was a hot item with great prospects for transforming the future of food. In 2019 in the New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote “Fake Meat Will Save Us.” Other experts suggested burgers were headed for extinction. No wonder the capitalization of Beyond Meat soared to $14 billion after its 2019 IPO. Now the company has lost 95 percent of its value. Fake meat has gone from fad to flop.

Nutrition Hype
Disappoints Again

The history of nutrition hype in America goes back quite far. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes have their origins with John Harvey Kellogg, a religious vegetarian, and his enterprising brother, William, at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. They developed those golden flakes of goodness to enhance the sanitarium’s health regimen of “hydrotherapy, phototherapy, thermotherapy, electrotherapy, mechanotherapy, dietetics, physical culture, cold-air cure, eugenics, and health training.” It was a medical center and grand hotel where wealthy Victorians, whether ill or worried but well, could learn all about wellness and “biologic living.”

Over time, breakfast cereals lost their aura of dietary righteousness and fell into sugary ill-repute. But a succession of other dietary fads came and went along the way. Low-fat foods were going to save us from ill health through the 80s and 90s. Cutting carbs and sugar then crowded out the low-fat messaging. Now the focus is on plant-based and minimally processed foods to save us from ourselves.

Fatal Flaws in Fake Meats

In the case of fake meats, the virtue of being plant-based seems to have been insufficient to overcome the vice of ultra-processed fakery. The Washington Post inventoried problems with fake meats recently: unappetizing, expensive, long ingredient lists, shame-based marketing, and misalignment with cultural preferences. In short, the fake meat fad became a flop simply because lots of people rejected it.

Not to worry. We can still shift our diets toward more plants, as we should, without leaning into fake, ultra-processed foods.

Click here and here for more on the rise and fall of fake meat.

Perfume, woodcut by M.C. Escher / WikiArt

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May 27, 2023