Today, it’s impossible to both adhere to veganism and enjoy a hamburger. But soon that may change. New food startups are engineering plant-based meat that looks, feels and tastes like the real thing, we may not have to feel like we’re giving up on anything. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods promise to let Americans enjoy their burgers and tacos while adhering to a world-saving plant-based diet.
True believers are betting big on fake meat. Beyond Burger is making its IPO today and some analysts believe the company could raise as much as $241 million in the offering despite net losses of $30.4 million in 2017 and $29.9 million last year. And if one activist has her way, the new generation of fake meat might be coming to a McDonald’s near you.
While a myriad of factors are prompting millennials to eschew meat, from a growing awareness of the cruelty inherent in factory farming to a widespread wariness of the global corporate interests behind the meat industry, the biggest drivers are concern for personal and environmental health.
A plant-based diet lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases laying waste to American health. And meat doesn’t merely fill our emergency rooms; it also heats up the planet. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production accounts for 14.5 to 18% of all human-made greenhouse emissions.
But while people are conscious of meat’s harm, many nonetheless find it daunting to forgo meat altogether. Going meat and dairy free is simply too inconvenient. But what if you could get your vegan fix at every suburban drive-thru in America?
New York Times bestselling author and healthy living advocate Kathy Freston is urging McDonald’s to offer vegan fare at their thousands of locations in the U.S. McDonald’s offers a McVegan sandwich in Scandinavian countries and on the international menu of their Chicago headquarters. Freston started a Change.com petition asking McDonald’s to expand the sandwich nationwide and has collected nearly 200,000 signatures.
“I started the petition because I think the executives do not understand the changing tastes and desires of Americans, and I wanted to show them just how ready we are for something protein-centric and plant-based,” she said.
Some fast food industry titans have responded to mounting public pressure. A&W has offered Beyond Burger meat at fast food chains across Canada since 2018. This week, Burger King announced they will offer an Impossible Whopper from Impossible Foods nationwide by year’s end. White Castle and Qdoba are also working with Impossible to develop meatless menu options and Del Taco will roll out Beyond Meat crumbles to all 580 of its nation-wide locations.
Freston recognizes that says major food brands can’t radically remake their menus overnight. But she stresses that over time, they’ll benefit from adding meatless meals to their menus.
“I think some global restaurants are slow to incorporate plant-based foods because it takes a minute to retool the equipment and source foods differently,” she said. “But the systems are meant to be tweaked and upgraded, and if they want to keep up, businesses will have to figure it out.”