You might call it the three-ring circus of fake meat. Leaders of the largest plant-based protein makers have engaged in a PR war over who has the fakest of fake meats.
Dan Curtin, president of Lightlife Foods, cast the first stone when his company published an open letter to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“Enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMOs, unnecessary additives and fillers, and fake blood,” Curtin’s letter began. Ouch!
The ads launched Lightlife Foods’ “Clean Break” campaign that highlighted its new plant-based burger reformulated with just (just?) eleven ingredients. Curtin is promoting the “clean break” from “food tech companies” (his description of Beyond and Impossible) by using simpler ingredients.
Beyond and Impossible quickly hit back at Lightife’s campaign.
Let’s pause here to scratch our heads. These three new-age companies are squabbling over which fake burger is less processed, or… shall we say, less icky.
Lightlife Foods infographic
According to Lightlife Foods, there are “two kinds of plant-based proteins: The kind made by ‘food tech’ companies that use GMOs, hyper-processed ingredients, and unnecessary additives and fillers to attempt to mimic meat at any costs. And then there’s us: a real food company. We develop our plant-based protein in a kitchen, not a lab. Our ingredients are clean, recognizable, simple to pronounce, and processed as little as possible.”
Another pause is probably necessary here as you compose yourself…
Yes, Curtin knows that your beef is real food, and that you “develop” it in a pasture, not a lab, and that his description could describe beef, too: “clean, recognizable, simple to pronounce, and processed as little as possible.” But unlike Beyond and Impossible, Curtin is not after beef’s marketshare. He wants to steal some of the share the two fake meat pioneers Beyond and Impossible have already carved out.
In fact, we’re sure Curtin knows these things about beef because Lightlife is a subsidiary of Canadian meat company Maple Leaf Foods, a $3 billion meat packaging company with 12,000 employees. Hmmm. And, if you like a plot twist, PETA announced earlier this year it was buying stock in four large meat companies – including Maple Leaf – to push them to move in a plant-based direction and away from animal agriculture. Hmmmm, again!
But I digress.
Beyond Meat responded to Curtain’s criticism by saying its Beyond Burger has a similar set of ingredients as the Lightlife patty, with the same amount of protein (20g) and saturated fat (5g).
A Beyond Meat spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com, “If Lifelight were clear on our ingredients, they would see that our food is made from simple, plant-based ingredients. With no GMOs. No synthetic additives. No carcinogens. No hormones. No antibiotics. No cholesterol. Our foods are designed to have the same taste and texture as animal-based meat, giving more consumers more options that are better for them and the planet.”
A couple points to ponder here. Notice how the spokesman cleverly lumped “carcinogens” in with those nasty GMOs, hormones and antibiotics? So, will Beyond Meat’s new label include “carcinogen free?”
Second, while fake meat CEOs want you to believe their concoction is better for the planet not everyone agrees. For instance, UC Davis scientist Frank Mitloehner, known as @GHGGuru on Twitter, told the Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19): “agriculture and farmers are the solution, not the problem, and it is our duty to educate the masses with the truth about agricultural emissions.”
As for Impossible Foods, the company told FoodNavigator.com that Lightlife was wrong to judge a product on the number of ingredients it has and whether the average consumer can pronounce the names of the ingredients. Yep, Lightlife took a page out of Food Babe’s playbook when it said consumers should be wary of ingredients like soy leghemoglobin simply because they can’t pronounce it. That’s the stuff added to some plant-based burgers for flavor and color.
“The (Lightlife) campaign,” Impossible Foods’ spokesperson said, “leans on arguments typically made by the meat industry: Attack Impossible’s products not based on their quality, nutrition, wholesomeness or deliciousness, but based on the number of ingredients – a loony concept with zero relevance to health or product quality, intended to distract consumers from the obvious inferiority of their products.”
Maybe. Or maybe we can just stand back and enjoy as these fake meat hucksters slap each other silly.
Meanwhile, let’s remember that Whole Foods Market founder and CEO John Mackey is wary about the health benefits of plant-based burgers, significant because Mackey – a long-time vegetarian – is a champion of natural and organic foods.
"If you look at the ingredients, they are super-highly processed foods," Mackey told CNBC last year. "I don't think eating highly processed foods is healthy. I think people thrive on eating whole foods."
I'm A Drover: Science Advocate (Frank Mitloehner)