John Locke Update / Research Brief

Meatless Meat: A Miracle of the Market

posted on in Fiscal Insight
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Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are the most notable entrants in the race to make a meat substitute that acts like meat but is made entirely from plants. They have tremendous capital behind their efforts to make meatless meats that appeal to meat lovers.

These new meat substitutes are not like the old tofu dogs, veggie burgers, or Tofurky roast. But then Tofurky has developed its own versions of chicken, ham, and burgers. Traditional meat companies are also getting involved. The New York Times writes, “Major food companies like Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have rolled out their own meat alternatives, filling supermarket shelves with plant-based burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets.”

The new products aim to look, feel, taste, and bleed like a beef burger. They have been profiled everywhere from The Today Show to Freakonomics, where you can find a fascinating discussion of how researchers tried to make heme.

Wait, heme? We’ll let the marketing folks from Impossible Foods explain:

Heme is what makes meat taste like meat. It’s an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal — most abundantly in animals — and something we’ve been eating and craving since the dawn of humanity.

This is not exactly the organic, locavore, GMO-free, real foods approach to plant-based eating. Meatless meats are made in labs, even if the plants are raised in pastures. Impossible Foods states plainly that it ferments “genetically engineered yeast” to create heme. Proteins in the burgers are isolated from the plants that produce them. Assuredly, meatless meats are not plants even if they are vegan before somebody slops on mayonnaise or cooks the burger on the same grill that cooks beef or chicken.

An Impossible Whopper is not healthier than a regular Whopper. It’s a gut bomb full of sodium and fat, though with less cholesterol, as can be seen in the nutrition comparison below.

Check back on our blog to see our verdict.

What does all this have to do with Thanksgiving? Throwing millions of dollars in venture capital funding to take food from the field and run it through a lab so it can seem like something the meat that is deemed environmentally unsustainable is about the most American approach to veganism I can imagine. Having the money, technology, and market incentives to make it possible is truly worth giving thanks, regardless of whether the bet is right or wrong, silly or profound. America today would be a lot different if Christopher Columbus were better at geography and worse at fundraising.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will take a minute to thank those great adventurers and innovators who have given us so many of the good things on or near your table, including those that began or have flourished here in North Carolina: Pepsi, Cheerwine, Texas Pete hot sauce, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Mt. Olive pickles, North Carolina-raised pork, poultry, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, and house recipes for pimento cheese and nanner puddin’. Not to mention the North Carolina-based grocery stores, banks, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and restaurants that add to the bounty.

As Senior Fellow, Joe examines fiscal and tax policy. He previously headed the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform initiative within the Office of State Budget and Management, which led to changes in automotive fleet management, natural and… ...

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