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Fake Meat Fight: Can the Plant-Based Movement Get Past the ‘Processed Food’ Debate?


Bruce Friedrich: It may not be health food, but these foods can help mitigate some of meat’s most serious environmental impacts and reduce antibiotic resistance, two big emergencies.

JENNY SPLITTER:Though sales of plant-based foods grew by 11.3% in 2019, a growing chorus of critics say these foods are too processed for their liking, vegan junk food with a plant-based health halo. That rejection has to sting just a little if you’re Beyond Meat.

Unlike Impossible Foods, which gets its beefy taste from genetically engineered yeast, Beyond embraced the non-GMO label as a way to straddle the nature-tech divide. The move failed to win over critics, but the critics may have missed the mark too, lost in their obsession over processed food. Can the plant-based movement get past this debate? And, if they do, what’s on the other side?..

The opponents include the food writer Mark Bittman, whose online magazine, Heated, has published strong critiques of these plant-based convenience foods. Brian Niccol, CEO of Chipotle, also says the GMO-free chain won’t be carrying Beyond meat, because of the “processing,” of course. Whole Foods Co-CEO John Mackey has now criticized these new plant-based foods as highly processed too, a somewhat ironic development given the pivotal role Whole Foods played in Beyond’s early retail success…

Beyond’s CEO, Brown, says even though he calls Mark Bittman a friend, the argument about processing misses the point. “It’s not about processed or not processed,” he says. “That’s a false distinction. It’s about which process do you want.” Processing can make food more convenient, can make it last longer or can make it enticingly unhealthy with added fat, sugar and salt.

“When people think about processed food, they think, was something bad added and was something good taken away.” That’s not the kind of processing at work here, argues Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute (GFI). “These plant-based products have fiber and complex carbohydrates.” They also have fat and calories, of course, roughly similar to a beef burger, for better or for worse…

It may not be health food, says GFI’s Friedrich, but these foods can help mitigate some of meat’s most serious environmental impacts. Swapping a Beyond burger for beef can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while eating Beyond sausage instead of pork could help reduce antibiotic resistance — two problems Friedrich describes as “global house on fire” emergencies… “Talk about making the perfect the enemy of the good,” Friedrich says of the ‘processed food’ criticisms. “It’s a remarkable thing to me that anybody would say, here’s this thing that could save the world, but it’s not perfect”.’  SOURCE…