On Shelves And In Trends, Where Does Fake Meat Fit In?

Does fake meat belong in the meat aisle? ( AP )

Imagine this: You go to your local grocery store, only to find the produce section stocked with Fruit Roll-Ups and Gushers. Would you do a double-take? Sure, these products mimic the taste of fruit and even have the word “fruit” on their boxes—but clearly these products don’t belong alongside apples, oranges, and strawberries.

Sound far-fetched? It’s already a reality for grocers who have to decide where to stock fake meat.

One of the biggest players in the fake meat market, Beyond Meat, is proudly promoting its product as the first plant-based “burger” sold in the meat aisle. But does fake meat belong with meat?

Grocery chains are now having second thoughts about stocking Beyond Meat alongside ground beef, pork chops, and chicken breasts. Instead, retailers are now placing fake meat in dedicated vegan sections.

There’s some logic to the move—after all, it’s not like consumers will be confused by finding Beyond Meat in the vegan aisle. But supermarkets would actually be better off putting the latest veggie burgers in the junk food aisle.

Consider there is a grand total of one ingredient in ground beef: beef. Compare this to the Beyond Burger, the ingredient list of which is 19 ingredients. (Its previous recipe contained even more.) One is refined coconut oil, which one Harvard professor called “pure poison.” Indeed, the American Heart Association recommends people avoid consuming coconut oil due to its high saturated fat content.

Coconut oil is not the only heart health risk that comes in these processed patties. In an age where processed food is everywhere, salt is arguably one of the most significant health risks—in fact, 9 out of 10 Americans eat more than double the recommended amount of salt. Excess sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

A single serving of lean ground beef contains about 50mg of sodium. Compare this to the two leading fake meat burgers. In a single serving, the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger contain 390mg of sodium and 370mg of sodium, respectively. That’s nearly eight times the amount of salt in healthy lean ground beef.

The slew of ingredients in fake meat can pose numerous health risks. One of the most commonly found ingredients in these offerings are soy protein isolates and concentrates. These are created by separating soy proteins from fats, which can involve a process where soybean flakes are bathed in hexane, a known human neurotoxin that is suspected of damaging reproductive health. Even though most hexane is removed through evaporation, small amounts inevitably remain. The European Union strictly regulates acceptable hexane residue amounts—but the FDA has no comparable regulation. Independent testing has found American food products containing more than five times the amount of hexane allowed under Europe’s safety threshold.

One of the most unappetizing fake meat ingredients, titanium dioxide, is found in a number of Tofurky’s “chick’n” strips. Titanium dioxide, or TiO2, is a whitening additive used in products including paint and sunscreen. Needless to say, you won’t find TiO2 in a chicken—but you will find it in fake meat. Research shows that ingesting small particles of TiO2 causes liver and brain toxicity in humans. Another study recommends that this chemical should be approached with “great care.”

Consumers are increasingly losing interest in processed foods. As a new report from the International Food Information Council reveals, “clean eating” is the single most widely cited diet in 2019. That means less processed foods and more whole foods. Diets like paleo—that eschew processed foods—are growing in popularity. Additionally, the turn towards clean eating is at odds with what fake meat companies are offering—a mishmash of chemicals designed to mimic the taste of meat.

Clean eating is popular not just among omnivores, but among vegans and vegetarians too. These latter groups avoid meat, but that doesn’t mean they have to settle for processed junk food. The rest of us shouldn't either.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Will Coggin, managing director of the Center for Consumer Freedom.