The world is facing some quite hefty challenges. Climate change, food and water shortages, inequality, and species extinction are just a few intractable issues that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) look to address. It’s rare to find something that can tackle several in one hit. It’s even rarer when it looks like a burger.
Agriculture and food have received increasing public attention in recent years as a potential driver of change, in particular because cutting down meat consumption has a number of positive benefits. It’s difficult to generalise but on the whole, vegetables and grains require less energy, space and water to produce, and generate less CO2 per kg produced when compared to meaty alternatives. For example, producing beef requires approximately 160 times more land than potatoes, wheat or rice and releases 11 times more greenhouse gases. Insects, which are slowly finding their way on to Western plates, have also been deemed a greener and healthier source of protein than traditional meat.
In a world where population is expected to hit between 9 and 10 billion by 2050, requiring a dramatic increase in food production, we need to start rethinking our (Western) diets, and reducing the strain we put on the global system. Weight-related health problems only add to that argument. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 billion people are overweight worldwide, of whom 500 million are obese. It’s not difficult to see that reducing the meat in Western diets has the potential to help the planet in more ways than one.
Companies out there have realised this too, and the Global Opportunity Explorer features some of the most extraordinary meat alternatives that offer new ways of becoming more sustainable consumers.
Impossible Foods have taken on the challenge of re-creating a gastronomic and cultural icon: the burger, without the meat. Following years of work, founder Professor Patrick Brown and his team have created a burger that looks, smells and even tastes like a beef burger, without any animal-based ingredients. The juicy secret is a soy-based protein called leghemoglobin, and rave reviews and impressive environmental stats make this burger one worth tucking in to.
Another company producing delicious meaty products without the environmental price tag is Beyond Meat. Working on the principle that people know what they like and like what they know, the company have reimagined the classic burger, and ‘chicken’ strips, using only plant-based proteins. Pea protein and beetroot extract help to give their ‘Beyond Burger’ more protein than a comparable meat-based burger, twice as much iron and 100% less cholesterol. Interestingly, the burgers can be found in the meat aisles of retail stores, which the company hopes to eventually rebrand the ‘protein section’.
Whilst these two companies have created twists on classic themes, Chirps Chips have gone one step further. Using insect protein, the company have created tortilla chips that are flying off the shelves (not literally) and a Chocolate Chirp Cookie Mix. 80% of the world are thought to consume insects as part of their diet, but North America and Europe have taken the longest to catch on to the sustainable and healthy benefits of eating bugs. Tasty snacks like Chirps Chips could be the key to changing perceptions and reducing environmental footprints.
In the aftermath of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, there’s a fair amount of concern and speculation over the future temperatures of our planet. But with companies like Chirps Chips, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat showing the potential for meat alternatives, maybe we can make our planet great again, one burger at a time.