Most studies focus on emissions, “so they miss the fact that food causes almost all of our environmental issues,” said Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford who was the co-author of a 2018 journal article examining the impact of food production, from deforestation to retail. “Avoiding meat and dairy, for the large majority of people, including Americans, is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact, not just on greenhouse gas emissions, but on land use, biodiversity loss, water pollution, pesticide use, antibiotic use and a range of other issues,” he said. He has also outlined his findings in a YouTube video.
The transportation and processing of plant-based products like the Impossible Whooper do have an environmental impact, but it’s insignificant compared with the transportation and processing of meat, Mr. Poore said. “No other change in your lifestyle can have such a dramatically positive and crosscutting benefit.”
Why are we hearing so much about plant-based meat now?
Technology, taste and timing. Although meatless burgers, chicken nuggets and sausages have existed for years, they’ve largely been marketed toward vegetarians. This new plant-based meat is aimed at, well, meat eaters.
“It’s clear the American palate has been trained on a diet of animal foods,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade organization. “For the average person, it will be difficult to trade hamburgers for salad, and this next generation of companies is trying to reach the hard-core meat eaters.”
Paul Shapiro, chief executive of the Better Meat Company, which makes plant-based ingredients for companies to add to their poultry or meat, said it was the success of soy milk that pushed the plant-based meat movement into the mainstream.
“Plant-based milk has grown from 1 percent of the fluid dairy market to 13 percent in the United States, whether that be soy, almond or coconut,” he said. Plant-based meat, which is about 1 percent of the meat market now, is following the same pattern, he added.