I’ve written a couple articles mentioning the suddenly trendy incursion of ‘alt meat’, which, for the uninitiated, is meat concocted from seeds. Several people have asked me after reading my jottings if I feel threatened by fake foods. Today I’ll address the question.
At face value, I’m not worried. Here’s why.
The two fake meat companies making so much fuss each whip together around twenty ingredients to construct their final compound, which, even in the ignoble processed foods aisle, lands them somewhere below Fruit Roll Ups in the adulterated food hierarchy. Laboratories formulate the grind. FDA just approved beet juice ‘blood’ for one of the companies. Extraordinary measures are taken to make fake beef exactly like real beef, and the cost of such dogged determination to replicate the original shows up on complex ingredient lists featuring a mandatory global supply chain and extensive lab hours to make the meal. If we stop here, alt. meat is rather revolting.
This isn’t too scary of an adversary.
Now, consider this: Several weeks ago I was in the office at our store and my proximity to the window caused me to overhear a conversation in which a young woman was enthusiastically engaged (I’m still not sure why she was there, but that’s just a side note). It wasn’t long before she turned her attention to our farm: ‘Oh, yeah, I’m in to this farm fresh stuff. That’s what you do here? Farm fresh? I’m a big supporter!’ Her dialog contained a vacuous undertone of someone with no prior experience who was desperately trying to fit in.
Immediately after proclaiming her commitment to all foods genuine and proximate – er, ‘farm fresh’ – the lass proudly stated she drinks soy milk. And that’s what scares me.
We’ve adopted a pervasive mentality that automatically associates replacement foods with health food, and health foods are robotically associated with ‘farm fresh’, so a surprisingly large number of ‘farm fresh’ devotees are instead advocates for replacement food, which will never grow fresh on the farm. What’s horrifying is that most people listening to the young lady on our porch this summer would have agreed with her beverage preference. Groupthink is inevitable in large crowds (e.g. the nation), and when the collective unawareness is fueled by advertising dollars nobody will stop to take a second look, regardless of whether the idea makes sense.
Which is precisely what’s happening with alt. meat. It’s not the fact someone can market food sharing a similar manufacturing process with sandwiches in toddlers’ plastic kitchen sets that’s alarming. It’s a bigger reality, a much larger idea, that people will accept it believing they’re making a step forward. Fake food is working its way into the diets of people across all echelons of society because nobody possesses a sufficient knowledge base to question it.
Look how Silicon Valley is capitalizing on the knowledge void:
On one hand, fake meat proponents are very arrogant. No shortage of vitriol against beef appears in their news releases, and the message is clear: We’re the future; if you’re with us, you’re suave and engaged, and if not, you’re a no-good hick cow farmer. My mental image of their target audience is a well groomed, credit-card prosperous young couple bustling about the city in a Tesla.
On the other, one of the most triumphant moments in alt. meat’s recent history is the adoption of fake meat in fast food restaurants. They’re singing from the rooftops, proclaiming victory over beef because White Castle and Burger King started selling [more] artificial sandwiches.
Now, wait a minute.
Drive thru service doesn’t carry a lot of weight in the wholesome food department, does it? I could be completely off base here, but vegetarian who’s rejoicing now that she can eat at Burger King isn’t concerned with what she’s eating in the first place. Yet, our aforementioned hypothetical urbane couple taking the city by storm probably spends hours poring over which hotspot has the healthiest juice bar. They’re total opposites. Somehow, alt. meat brought the two into a similar marketing circle and lit the fuse. How?
It’s simple: both consumer groups are removed from the land. Neither has a connection with how food is grown, or what it looks like raw, or when it is in season. In other words, anybody can feed them anything they want to, because no questions can be asked. Modern conveniences of living have reduced the population to a mass that needs fed by Company X or Company Y.
Companies X and Y don’t really care about the livestock - people, people, I meant people - they’re feeding. They’re seeking an angle to make money, and they’re using our own imaginations against us to do it. I’m concerned by the reality that unaware buyers are increasingly victim to a couple behemoths slugging it out over our heads, and whichever wins the round gets the food contract. Is that how we want to live?
Patrick Brown’s Impossible Foods is apparently worth $2 billion at the moment. That’s pretty exciting, especially for Patrick. Yet, at the end of the day, my family can raise a cow on our property and use it to sustain ourselves, as well as your family, and your neighbor’s family, and their neighbor’s family. We can do it in good times, and in bad times. That’s a reassuring anchor to our anticipated longevity.
Do that with a fake hamburger.