Veggie burgers and “not dogs” have been a staple of the tie-dyed chic since the days of Woodstock. But the fringe-wearing fringe is rapidly becoming the mainstream.
MarketsandMarkets Research Reports has announced that global sales of meat substitutes increased 42 percent since 2010 to an estimated $4 billion annually. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are popping up all over South Florida, following the nationwide trend toward healthier eating.
Mainstream supermarkets such as Publix and Winn-Dixie, fast-food restaurants like Taco Bell and Subway, and many fine-dining establishments now find that they must cater to vegans and vegetarians to remain competitive. Even the carnivore’s paradise, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, now offers a vegetarian entrée.
For the second time, the South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s Burger Bash will include a vegan contestant. In 2017, it will be Ryan Bauhaus of Atlas Meat-Free Deli.
The festival’s founder and director, Lee Schrager, recognizes the need to stay on top of food trends, stating, “There’s a large, growing community of people following the vegan lifestyle... The vegan option is probably going to be fairly popular.”
Bauhaus opened Atlas Meat-Free Deli in 2014. Located at the Yellow Green Farmer’s Market in Hollywood, the deli offers a variety of vegan meats and cheeses including ground beef, sausages, smoked pastrami, chicken cutlets, hard block mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and gourmet soft cheeses.
An emerging group of consumers labeled “flexitarians” make up the 38 percent of Americans who eat meatless meals at least once per week, and Bauhaus says they have tremendous buying power.
“A lot of millennials are eating less meat,” says Bauhaus. “Not necessarily becoming full vegans, but just eating less meat and making a conscious switch, whether it’s for their own health, animals, or the environment.”
But for some, the big question is simply, “Why?”
The U.S. has witnessed a steady decline in red meat consumption since the 1970s, with 2014 being the lowest on record. Startups like California's Impossible Foods are emerging to compete with plant-based giants like Gardein, Beyond Meat, Tofurky, and Field Roast.
Impossible Foods recently released its first product, plant-based ground beef complete with imitation animal fat and fake blood. While burgers that bleed may sound repulsive to many vegans, for meat-eaters, it is just what the doctor ordered — literally.
Meat and dairy consumption has been linked to the top two causes of death in American adults: heart disease and cancer. Harvard Health Publications cites the key culprits of diet-related heart disease to be animal-derived saturated fat, cholesterol, and L-carnitine. When digested, L-carnitine can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where arteries become blocked.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies meat as a carcinogen, meaning that it is known to cause cancer. The World Health Organization warns that processed meats increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
A plant-based diet may also help the 29 million Americans suffering from diabetes. The American Diabetes Association published a vegetarian cookbook and states on their website, “Research supports that following this type of diet can help prevent and manage diabetes.”
Hampton Creek, the inventors of the popular vegan mayonnaise substitute Just Mayo, will introduce 43 new plant-based products this year. One of the most anticipated is their Just Scramble, a vegan egg substitute that the company has spent $30 million to research and produce.
The vegan egg can be used same as a chicken egg — scrambled, in cakes, cookies, soufflés, or French toast — and the egg industry sees the writing on the wall.
With 43 percent fewer calories, zero cholesterol, 33 percent more protein, and the backing of entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, the buzz around Hampton Creek's eggless products has prompted the American Egg Board to wage an advertising campaign against it.
After a long investigation, the USDA determined that the American Egg Board demonstrated “several instances of inappropriate conduct” toward Hampton Creek. The study concluded that American Egg Board staff members, a board member, and the institution's former CEO had sent threatening emails and that the Egg Board did, in fact, target the brand's eggless mayonnaise, Just Mayo.
If companies don’t get on board with the future of plant-based protein, they may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Such was the case for Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat producers in the country, who in October 2016 purchased a 5 percent share in Beyond Meat, makers of plant-based meat alternatives.
Tyson Foods’ Executive Vice President of Strategy and New Ventures Monica McGurk said in a press release that Tyson is “enthusiastic about this investment, which gives us exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market.”
Whatever anyone’s reasons for choosing plant-based foods, it is good to know that tasty options abound and are getting better all the time — bloody burgers and all.
Wendy Rhodes is a freelance writer and award-winning author. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @WendyRhodesFL.