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OPINION

What Happened to Plant-Based Meat?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Larry Crowe

When it went public three years ago, Beyond Meat was heralded as the next big thing, a company that would make real meat become history. But the last few months have seen the company put through a tenderizer.

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Beyond Meat’s stock price hit record lows, it had to lay off staff, McDonald's decided to discontinue the vegan McPlant burger, and rumors of bankruptcy have become commonplace. And, of course, there was that alleged nose-biting incident with the company’s since-suspended chief operating officer. 

But Beyond Meat is not alone. The entire synthetic meat industry is floundering. 

The plant-based company Motif announced massive layoffs. Kellogg’s announced plans to spin off MorningStar Farms, its plant-based brand, due to the tough conditions in the synthetic meat industry. And a top executive from Conagra, the parent company of the fake meat brand Gardien, warned that the plant-based sector is oversaturated with new brands, telling Food Navigator, “There’s no way the space supports 20 manufacturers making burger patties.”

Fake meat was supposed to be the future, but it’s looking much more like a fad. 

There are many reasons why imitation meat is failing, but one key reason is that consumers are not going to give up better-tasting real meat products for ultra-processed soy patties that are less nutritious.

Synthetic meat substitutes carry more sodium, sugar, and calories than real meat. They also include many artificial flavorings and fillers, such as methylcellulose.

According to a survey of more than 300 nutritionists by my organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom, 73 percent of nutritionists do not recommend plant-based meat substitutes because they are ultra-processed. Instead, 39 percent recommended sticking with real meat while 34 percent reported that whole vegetables would be better than ultra-processed patties. 

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Beyond the sketchy ingredients listed on the label, several studies have taken a deeper look at the quality of the protein inside plant-based imitation meat products. Two separate studies revealed that plant-based protein is not absorbed into the body as well as meat-based protein. 

The first study, conducted by the University of Auckland in New Zealand, compared red meat options to Beyond’s burger patty and found that the amino acid concentration after consuming the plant-based option was much lower. The second study, which was conducted by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, compared synthetic chicken to the real thing and revealed once again that the body better absorbs the protein peptides from the real thing.  

Perhaps this is why three out of four nutritionists in the survey stated that they would not recommend a vegan diet to a professional athlete. Moreover, 93 percent of nutritionists reported that they would not recommend a vegan diet to children – a result that calls into question New York City’s “plant-powered Friday” school lunches and California’s $700 million investment into plant-based school lunches. 

Proper protein is essential for growth and development. With school lunches being the only consistent meal for some children, taxpayers have to wonder why schools are prioritizing less nutritious options. 

As Dr. Casey Means stated in a recent podcast, plant-based meats are “processed garbage” and the "food scandal of our time.”

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Health aside, the biggest problem with fake meat is its taste and texture. KFC’s Beyond Meat nuggets were compared to “fried erasers” in one food review. And while that review was particularly harsh, all fake meat reviews have a common theme: It almost tastes as good as the real thing. 

“Almost” doesn’t cut it for most Americans. They may swap pizza for a salad when the nutritional benefits are clear and the calorie count can’t even compete, but they’re never going to choose a less satisfying taste in exchange for a less nutritious option. 

Beyond Meat may be the most public loser of the plant-based meat era, but it will not be the only one. The public’s lost its appetite. 

James Bowers is the managing director of the Center for Consumer Freedom. 

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