Fake Meat

Our daily lives are becoming much like our politics – extremely divisive with no middle ground.  Those were my first thoughts when I learned about Fake Meat becoming mainstream with various fast food chains jumping at the idea of offering a meat substitute on their menu.  These companies took the food world by storm this past summer. They wrinkled lots of feathers and gained a following from financial analysts who were looking for the next big investment idea.

I watched as both sides duked it out in public with slick ads and factsheets touting either the benefits of real beef and chicken or the benefits of these alternatives. As the dust has begun to settle, I thought I would offer my thoughts.

To start off, I think the rise of Fake Meat is more of a symptom of the current large-scale meat industry rather than a response to consumer demand.  I talk to customers every day and what is abundantly clear is that they desperately want to support family farms like ours.  By the same token, they despise what I will call Big Ag and Big Food.  They want to know that their food dollars are supporting local economies and families, not the corporate bottom line of a company based in a foreign country.  There have been many documentaries critical of Big Ag and Big Food. Ironically, the Fake Meat industry has the financial backing of the very same Big Ag companies consumers are rebelling against. 

I also think (and this is odd for a beef farmer to say) Canadians eat too much meat.  We live in a land of plenty and our largely middle-class society is able to buy as many calories as we desire.  What I do think we need to do as a Canadian society is focus on the quality of meat that we eat.  Questions like: Is this fish sourced in a sustainable fashion? Was the animal this beef came from treated in a humane and dignified way? Do these eggs come from a hen that wasn’t cramped in a small cage? The Fake Meat craze sought to address these issues by saying to consumers “Just skip meat all together. We can make it in a petri dish, and it will be the same” What jumped out at me was we have been down this road before.  Most who read this will remember the margarine craze of 20-30 years ago.  Margarine was marketed as healthier and cheaper than butter.  However, the reality was something far different.  It contained some of the fats most dangerous to our health.  I think when we look at Fake Meat in the rear-view mirror, we will see it the same way.

Fall 2019
Organic Angus cows and calves on pasture. Fall 2019

The environmental argument for fake meat is also significant.  However, there are also caveats that need to be considered there as well.  Much of the beef raised in Canada comes from the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Cattle, when rotationally grazed as I have written about before, are beneficial for the environment not harmful.  The natural state of millions of acres in Canada is prairie and it needs ruminants (buffalo or cattle) to be healthy.  Carbon is sequestered when cattle graze, biodiversity is enhanced, water cycles are improved etc.  When that same land is sprayed with pesticides and tilled to grow peas for a Fake Meat burger, the land actually moves backwards.  It is degraded.  If you don’t believe me, I would encourage you to take a trip out west and drive across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and compare the diversity in a native pasture versus that of a monoculture of peas, canola or wheat. 

View from the ATV as I move Angus cows to a new pasture.

Ontario and Canadian beef farmers have made great strides in the last decade in terms of the humane treatment of animals.  Some of us have also decided to work with nature rather than against her to offer grass-fed, organic and pesticide free beef.  As in other parts of society, we as consumers, need to sort through all the fake news out there and focus our diets on real food.  Our environment, our communities and our families will thank us for making the effort.

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