“The meat industry should be concerned about fake meat. Not because we’ll be out of a job, but because some of the biggest investors in the fake meat movement are [big agro] industry.”
Chatting About Impossible Foods & Sustainability w/ a Rancher & Butcher
If you’ve met Loren before, you know he’s a character. In fact, he’s part cowboy, part stand up comedian, part ecology super hero. He’s got so much passion and energy for his livelihood. And that goes beyond the hard work of raising some of the best grass-finished cattle in the country. Loren’s Stemple Creek Ranch is among a handful of a select few participating in the Marin Carbon Project, a study of regenerative, responsible grazing and how it can sequester rather than produce CO2, a major climate change gas.
Our 30-minute phone call last week was such a wealth of content I couldn’t’ capture it all in one blog post. So I’ve broken our talk up into a series of posts over the next month or so. This week’s blog is from a single question I asked Loren halfway through our conversation.
What do you think of the Impossible Burger and other “meat-less” meats?
“The truth is, there is (a lot of) beef out there that is bad for the environment,” says Loren. “Grain-fed beef transported halfway across the country has a big carbon footprint. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Grass-fed beef that is raised responsibly, finished on local forage, and processed and sold locally, actually reduces carbon footprint.”
Can I get an amen?!
“That said, I think, in general, the meat industry should be concerned about fake meat. Not because we’ll be out of a job, but because some of the biggest investors in the fake meat movement are [big agro] industry.”
Wait, why would agriculture companies that have made their livelihoods on making real food, venture into the fake food movement?
“Because the margins are extremely high.”
Loren’s comment honestly didn’t entirely sink in for me right away. At first it just sounded like small farmer sour grapes. You know, “the big guys always getting all the profits,” kind of thing. But soon enough, it started to become clearer.
“What Impossible Burger seems to have conveniently omitted is that their GMO soy-based product is still a net carbon emitter.“
“Get this. One Impossible Burger actually emits more carbon than a hamburger from White Oak Pastures. You call that a sustainable product?” – Say what?
He was quoting a study, co-sponsored by General Mills, that found White Oak Pastures Ranch—one of the grand dads of grass-fed beef—actually sequesters 3.5kg of CO2 for every pound of meat produced, thanks to their regenerative farming techniques. Compare that to the Impossible Burger, which produces 4kgs of CO2 per meatless pound, and you might scratch your head, why are they even trying to make this stuff?
The data seemed too ironic to be true, right. But the study checks outs. The pro-grazing non-profit, The Savory Institute, said it best:
“Interestingly, White Oak’s [environmental analysis] was conducted by Quantis, the very same third-party firm that conducted Impossible Burger’s latest [data] showing their product to be less environmentally destructive than conventional beef. What Impossible Burger seems to have conveniently omitted is that their GMO soy-based product is still a net carbon emitter in comparison to White Oak’s properly-managed livestock that create a net carbon sink.”
Then, I had one of those panicked black helicopter moments. Do you ever get those? You know, when you think microwave ovens are controlling your thoughts through the fillings in your teeth?
Well…bare with me.
What if “big agro” is feeling so threatened by the regenerative farming movement—and grass-fed beef specifically (sales of which are growing double digits vs. a paltry 3% for conventional, CAFO-raised beef) that these billionaires have invested in a soy-based smoke screen to keep Americans buying their highly subsidized GMO monocrops whether we want them or not?
Dr. Joseph Mercola, of Mercola.com, has a great article (well footnoted BTW) that illustrates a lot of the reasons we should be suspect of these fake meats: environmental, medical, social, etc. But one quote stuck with me:
“Contrary to the PR being churned out, the creation of fake meat products is not about feeding the world or eliminating animal suffering. It’s about dominating billionaires looking to put patents on the food system.”
In other words, the “meatless” meat movement might not be driven by the altruistic efforts of non-profits, activists, and eco-freaks no mater what Leonardo DiCaprio might tell you. In actuality, beefless burgers are at best a very strategic reaction to flattening food profits. They’re also likely a counter measure to environmentalist efforts to clean up soy and corn production. But most terrifying, they offer the potential for companies to patent and control future food access. Yikes!
While my head was swimming with cloak and dagger suggestions of Monsanto Megalomaniacs and X-Files level cover-ups, Loren brought me back to Earth.
“Look, just eat real whole foods and know where they come from.”
Without missing a beat, Loren continued;
“OK, remember margarine? That stuff was going to reverse heart attacks. It was better than butter. It was supposed to lower cholesterol. Then what happened? Now they’re saying stay away from the stuff. It’s worse than butter. Better yet, cook with animal fats again because they’re real food, not made in a lab.”
Loren paused for a few seconds for the first time in our conversation. I thought I’d lost the connection.
“For my food, when it comes down to it, I trust cows over chemists.”
I guess I can’t argue with that.