How Fake Meat Could Save the Planet

Realistic alternative meats and dairy products could herald the end of livestock farming — and change the way we make food

Kim Thomas
OneZero
Published in
8 min readMar 25, 2019

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Credit: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

WWhat we eat matters to the planet. Meat and dairy production are major contributors to climate change — a 2013 study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that livestock were responsible for more than 14 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and more recent research has found even higher numbers. Changing your diet can make a difference — a study published last year by the University of Oxford found that plant-based diets could reduce food’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 73 percent.

Despite the growing attention on the environmental impact of our diet, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that the number of Americans who identify as vegetarians has remained fixed at about 5 percent since 2012. Globally, per capita meat and seafood consumption has been increasing steadily, driven largely by growth in the developing world. More meat means more land that must be cleared to support more livestock, driving wild species to extinction. Moral suasion and appeals to the environment will only go so far — if we’re going to eat to save the planet, consumers will need plant-based options that fit into their current diets, not the other way around.

Swapping Impossible “meat” for a pound of ground beef would save seven pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, 90 gallons of water, and 290 square feet of land.

Enter the Impossible Burger. One of a number of new alternative foods that employ scientific techniques to make meat and dairy products that are indistinguishable from the real thing, the Impossible Burger tastes, smells, and even “bleeds” just like the real deal. Made using a mix of plant-based ingredients, the Impossible Burger combines wheat and coconut oil with a magic ingredient: heme, an iron-containing compound that gives meat its meaty taste.

The heme in a conventional burger comes from proteins found in blood and muscle called hemoglobin and myoglobin. The soybean plant makes an identical ingredient, though not in the kind of concentrated…

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Kim Thomas
OneZero

Freelance journalist since 1999. Specialises in education, health care and technology. Read my work at www.kimthomas.co.uk.