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Most people have seen these products in the store, on TV commercials, or even at your local restaurant, but what is the buzz about? These “ultra processed imitations” go by common names like “fake meat”, “plant based meat”, “lab grown meat”, and even “clean meat” in various forms. No matter the name, as hunters and anglers, we should understand what is happening with this emerging industry.
Why? Because most of us hunt as a way to provide our families and friends with delicious, nutritious, and natural food directly from the wild. The concept of a readily available, “clean” and healthy meat (like) product is competing with our belief of the natural participation within the wild food system. I am not going to say that people who eat these products are wrong, but I want you to think about this from a larger viewpoint.
I am not trying the sell meatless burgers to meat eaters and I am not trying to convert vegans towards wild game (although that would be nice). I want those living in the middle to think about this article next time they pass a plant based meat in the grocery and pause before picking the package up. I also want you hunters and anglers to think about this article next time you are at a BBQ and someone puts a plant based burger next to your fresh ground venison patty. Hear out their perspective, but also stand by your own beliefs to engage in a healthy, food focused recruitment conversation.
From a recruitment and retention standpoint, the individual who is a conservation minded, active, and food curious person is one type of individual who we are looking to recruit into the world of hunting and fishing for food. The adult onset hunter, the former vegan, the yearning locavore, those people are in the “grey area” between the diehard wild food hunters and devote vegans. They are also the same type of person that can sway over to exploring meatless options that may satisfy their cravings for animal protein. This is your time to shine and use the venison diplomacy approach to get them in the tree stand or out on the boat this next season.
Here a four main points to help drive your conversation against plant based meats and bring wild food to the forefront where it should be. These points are based off of some research that, “90 percent of the customers purchasing them are meat-eaters who believe the products are more healthful and better for the environment,” which is not always accurate, especially when comparing to wild foods.
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We all love the flavor of our wild fish and game, but there are so many benefits that come from consuming wild meat. The University of Wyoming reminds us, “Wild game such as deer, antelope, elk, and moose are all excellent sources of protein, B-vitamins, and minerals (iron and zinc). They are relatively low in saturated fat and are considered lean sources of protein.” Those benefits even extend beyond a comparison to domestic meat, meaning you get more from wild game.
When thinking of meat substitutes, the idea of “plant based” marketing is often misleading because the food does not have the same health benefits as eating fresh vegetables and fruits. Yes, the plant based products are often comprised of soy, jackfruit, beans, or fungi, but the high amount of processing that are required to create a meat like product results in a food that is not much better than traditional domestic meat.
Discover Magazine clarifies, “Eating a highly processed, plant-based burger will have about the same saturated fat and protein content as a ground beef or turkey burger. But they’ll contain higher amounts of sodium and lower amounts of cholesterol. And because they’re highly processed, the plant-based alternatives lack the nutritional boost that their raw ingredients, like soybeans, can offer.”
In the end, we choose to hunt and fish for food because we like the meat better and consider it healthier in its most natural form. Health could be one of the main reasons that people are turning to vegetarian sausages instead of venison brats, but in every scenario we should easily know what we are eating and should limit consumption of processed foods.
When you look at the ingredients on the back of a box of plant based meat you will find a string of ingredients which may or may not be familiar to you. Each of these additives were included to make the product look, feel, taste, and smell like meat. The manufactures created an imposter in comparison to the juicy elk burger on my dinner plate. I can tell you that the elk burger contains salt, pepper, garlic powder, less than 20% added fat, and the main ingredient is, well, elk. The whole concept is very simple and trusting. I walked this elk burger through the natural process from field to processing to table with my own hands. I know the source of the ingredients and I trust in them.
If you threw a fake meat patty on my grill I would not have the same trust. In my mind, these things seem to be mass produced in the same manner as cheap chicken nuggets, containing a pink goo battered and fried on demand. I have so many questions about the ingredients. The more I dig the more I get concerned.
Food Print discusses ingredients in more detail. Some alternative meat manufactures use “leghemoglobin “heme” protein that is supposed to imitate the bloodiness of a good old-fashioned beef burger.” Some critics have cited concerns with the safety. Heme is genetically modified and there is a risk of “environmental contamination and the loss of control of the engineered organisms.”
There are also some transparency concerns. What is really inside the alternative meat and how is it made? Food Print tells us, “The company holds many patents for its products, which allows them to avoid disclosing exactly how the products are made. The food has gone to market with minimal oversight from the FDA, and that has a lot of people feeling nervous about the lack of transparency in a product that isn’t fully understood by the public.”
Another point of conservation is that many people do not fully understand the environmental effects of the alternative meats. “About 14.5 percent of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions comes from animal agriculture, thanks in part to the methane produced by ruminant animals such as cattle.” Research results like this has led many of the plant based meat manufactures to rally behind claims that their products are “making a positive impact on climate change”. This point is hard to argue when taking on hunting for food. Our meat is harvested from its own natural environment that has little alteration in comparison to larger agricultural operations.
A report from the University of Georgia backs this thought, “Hunting is good for the environment because the hunting community ensures that wildlife populations of game species are sustainable from one generation to the next. This requires that a diversity of natural habitats be kept intact, unpolluted, and undisturbed. Hunters support all these efforts.” We support them from a continuity stand point. Although we want to harvest animals for consumption, hunters also want the animals to present and healthy for the indefinite future.
One of the largest concerns with increased consumption and production of alternative meat sources is that larger scale agricultural, known as industrial farming, would need to grow to meet the demand. Dr. Mark Hyman told Reader’s Digest, “most of the environmental concerns around fake meat have to do with industrial farming—particularly the use of tillage, which destroys soil carbon. Thirty to 40 percent of all the atmosphere carbon comes from the destruction of soil, through tillage and agricultural chemicals, that leads to climate change.” The tillage and planting of soil is paramount to increased production of fake meats. What is a better comparison? Hunt and fish for your food.
You will not see me shopping for any fake or alternative meat in the near future. I prefer my meat to be wild and free at the point of shooting or catching. For everyone else, eat what makes you happy. I only ask that you think consciously about your decision. Think about your health, the health of others around you, and how your habits affect the environment for everyone else. It is okay to eat domestic meat, but reach out and get to know your local farmer. Build a relationship to learn how they raise their crops and animals. Also, don’t trust everything you read. Fact check until your decisions on what to eat make you feel good about your choice.
Looking at this problem of fake meat from a R3 standpoint, we can use this topic in our conversations to shed light on the truths of hunting and of fake meat. Let venison diplomacy speak for itself and have civil conversations with those who will listen. You may just meet your next hunting or fishing buddy.