Ominous title, huh? Actually, I shortened it a bit. The full introduction, written for Outside Magazine, is “This is the Beginning of the End for the Beef Industry.” I can practically hear a full orchestra playing behind me: BUM-BUM-BUMMMMMMMMM.
It’s our new friend Fake Meat that spurred outdoor enthusiast and writer Rowan Jacobsen to put forth this prescient piece near the end of July. Jacobsen has seen the light, and the beam is pointed directly at Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and their anti-bovine offerings.
Writing with bravado, Rowan’s theme is that he knew fake meat was going to be a big deal the moment he first tried it, so now that it’s becoming an industry he can somehow participate in the popularity. Lesser eaters (those who eat beef) will finally catch up with his wisdom. Our collective “beef headache” will be chased away by sophisticated startups and lucrative IPOs.
His slant is a little ragged, as most slants are.
Of his collection of comments, the most outrageous is that “cows are optimized to be cows, not beef.”
Well, gee, last I checked a cow is beef. In fact, beef in a living cow is mobile, does not require refrigeration, duplicates itself annually, spreads fertilizer in its wake, and can exist on food humans cannot digest. Byproducts of beef — leather, bone, organs, etc. — all serve humanity a substantial purpose, too, save those humans who prefer the more humane and eco-friendly synthetic replacements that are made in factories around the world, then packed, shipped, and marketed to fulfill the consumer whims of an entitled and arrogant population that rejects what’s biologically available in a quest for something more trendy.
Expanding upon the “optimized food” logic, peas are optimized to be peas, and beets are optimized to be beets, and Impossible Foods’ vats of genetically engineered yeast-soy-heme ingredient are optimized to not exist at all. In fact, an outdoorsman like Rowan will never stroll through nature and stumble upon a naturally occurring Impossible Burger. Why? Somebody has to create the thing before serving it to the hungry hiker. Fake food, it seems, is not optimized to be food.
Speaking of serving the sandwiches, it’s worth noting that Outdoor Magazine’s sounding board for our “healthier” food future arrives to us through a drive-thru window. The basis of Rowan’s argument is fast food, arguably the lowest rung on the sustenance ladder. If everyone clamoring for plant based adulterations of everything is so concerned about avoiding low quality beef (as we all should be), why, then, have they been circling fast food joints like hollow-eyed vegan-vultures waiting for a “better” meal? Rowan has the answer: fresh, quality ingredient sourcing “just isn’t a significant factor.” So don’t even try. The drive-thru it is.
Don’t wave goodbye to beef yet, though.
Not as many people share the plant-based zeal as we’re led to believe, according to Alan Guebert in his Farm & Food File column. Burger King saw a surge in business after the release of their Impossible Whopper, but a lot of that sales surge included real Whoppers, not just the fake one. People are tasting a new novelty, not fulfilling Rowan’s prediction and converting their meal planning to exclusively include peas-disguised-as-beef. If fake meat sales continue rising at their current pace and obtain a benchmark of $6.3 billion in sales by 2023, that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the over $900 billion real meat sales worldwide, which are also increasing rapidly. Cowboys need not tremble in their boots.
I love Alan’s closing remark: “Indeed, most [people] want only one thing: healthy, nutritious, great-tasting food that’s not fake anything.” Amen, sir.
The conclusion of such a twisted masquerade of mangled ingredients and pompous opinionators takes place right back at home, where you’re comfortably reading this recording of my own opinion. Home is our real, visible, interactive, and familiar interface with the world in which we can strip away all of the hype to participate in good work.
Wendell Berry defines good work as that which is “necessary, enduringly valuable, pleasing to the worker” and, in my own words, undertaken by friends and neighbors instead of political leaders, distant nonprofits, and sophisticated start-up companies with impressive IPOs. What this means is that we can find true achievement when we drop out of the big-business vs. big-business discussion, in this case Big Beef vs. Fake Beef, along with every organization and all the propaganda that is blowing along in their wake, in order to better rely on small business.
We get to the particulars in small business. Names and places are addressed specifically in local commerce centers, a reality that enables trust to build and fact to be visibly checked. I don’t believe Rowan Jacobsen would’ve penned such a scathing review of beef if he ever had the opportunity to meet and spend time with a beef farmer. Nor would he be so keen to replace “disgusting” beef with any other filler if the life of the animal was plain before his eyes. The food-consumer disconnect glares ominously at us through his example.
For all the technology and funding we have at our fingertips, a concept as simple as proximate relationships is what will change the moment we’re living in. Such intimacy yields abundant food that is healthy, nutritious, great-tasting, and not in the least bit fake. How incredibly significant.
Sources: www.outsideonline.com/2399736/impossible-foods-beyond-meat-alt-meat; farmandfoodfile.com/2019/10/02/whipping-the-soy-boys-is-no-way-to-win-customers/; Berry, W. (2017). The Art of Loading Brush. Berkely, CA: Counterpoint Press.