Dear EarthTalk: I recently became vegetarian for ethical reasons, but I am missing the taste of meat. Are there any tasty veggie options out there that can satisfy my desire for steak and chicken? -- Missy Jenkins, Pittsburgh, Pa.
There are more choices than ever for vegetarians with latent carnivorous instincts. One young company, Beyond Meat, has millions of dollars in funding from high-tech heavyweights, and has made a big splash in recent months with the launch of its first two meat alternative products, Beef-Free Crumbles and Chicken-Free Strips. Each of its products looks and tastes like the meat it is emulating while offering the same protein content -- but without any saturated or trans fats or cholesterol, let alone gluten or genetically modified organisms. In taste tests, most consumers can't tell which dishes contain actual beef or chicken versus Beyond Meat's self-proclaimed "perfect substitutes."
The company reported that it takes 4/10 of a pound of soy and pea plants to make a pound of their Chicken-Free Strips, versus 3 pounds of grain-based feed to get a pound's worth of meat from an actual chicken. That all translates into many fewer pesticides and carbon emissions and much less water used in the process. Beyond Meat's investors include the leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams' Obvious Corporation, and even Bill Gates, who has expressed his hope that the company's products can play a role in switching more people in developing countries over to plant-based proteins.
Of course, there are many other meat alternatives out there, too, available in the freezer aisle of Whole Foods. Another classic option is any number of meatless products from the Kellogg's-owned Morningstar Farms, which are widely available in mainstream grocery stores from coast-to-coast and which account for some 60 percent of the meat alternatives market in the U.S.
With meat production expected to double by 2050 as the world's human population tops 9 billion, there has never been a better time to start curbing our enthusiasm for meat.