Learning from the Canadians

The concept seems solid:

“If you think about the composition of meat, it’s actually five things,” Ethan Brown says: “Amino acids, lipids, trace minerals, vitamins and water. All of that is available to us outside the animal. What animals do is take a tremendous amount of plant material and a lot of water and use their digestive system to convert that to muscle that we then harvest as meat. What we’re doing is starting with the same inputs—plants and water—and using heating, cooling and pressure to produce meat directly from plants. If we’re capable of pulling those amino acids, lipids, trace minerals and vitamins directly from plants, we should be able to successfully transition the human race from using animals to harvest meat.”

I mean, if we convert the raw materials of iron, chromium, nickel, manganese, copper, and carbon to stainless steel, we ought to be able to convert plant materials to meat. And we do. “We” meaning companies like Beyond Meat, of which Ethan Brown is founder, and Impossible Foods and probably dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies that are or will jump on the non-animal “meat” bandwagon.

I extracted Brown’s quote at the top of this post from an article in Maclean’s, Canada’s national affairs and news magazine. Much of the other information I obtained on the topic of meat substitutes came from the same article, so what I am writing here may be unique to Canada…but probably not.

The market for non-animal “meat” products is growing exponentially. And the beef and dairy industries in Canada are taking notice and responding defensively, as typically happens. Rather than confronting disruptive change with acknowledgement and appreciation, business reacts in fear, which in turn generates attacks against the threat. In Canada, the Quebec Cattle Producers Federation launched a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, arguing that Beyond’s products should not include the word “meat.” “Meat” is defined, they say, as “carcass derived from an animal.” That’s a pretty weak argument, I think, inasmuch as the company suggests in its product names that its products are “beyond” that animal-based product.

The concept of converting naturally-occurring plant products into edible food that looks and tastes like meat fascinates me. While it’s intriguing, though, I am innately skeptical that the process of making those conversions is as gloriously good for the planet as some claim. How much energy/water/product is used in the process and how does it compare to naturally-occurring meat? And how much energy is actually saved (if any) by producing and transporting artificial meat compared to locally-raised grass-fed beef? Lots of questions. The questions notwithstanding, the topic intrigues me no end. And, having grilled and eaten a Beyond burger at home, I can attest to the fact that the substitute is damn near the real thing (though my wife disagrees with me).

I look forward to learning more as time goes by and as the “fake meat” industry grows. And, by the way, I also look forward to trying lab-grown meat that, unlike the substitutes, is the real deal, just not from a live animal. For now, though, I understand it’s out of my price range, at hundreds to thousands of dollars per pound.


I read something else in Maclean’s that grabbed my attention. Shannon Proudfoot, an Ottawa-based writer for the magazine, wrote a piece that appeared last October (2018). In it, she revealed the most “thunderous epiphanies” about truly mundane aspects of life that people shared with her. These epiphanies were embarrassing “aha!” moments when people realized they had misunderstood facets of life that made them feel stupid. But we’ve all been there. Some of my favorites:

  • Shannon finally realized that her mother, when she opened egg cartons in the grocery store and rolled each egg, was not counting eggs but was, instead, checking to ensure none were broken;
  • A guy “thought Arson was a guy.” The news would say “Arson is suspected.” And I was like, ‘Another one?!? They gotta catch this guy!’
  • A woman didn’t realize that Dr. Spock and Mr. Spock weren’t the same person until she was a grown woman. She was always baffled how a fictional Vulcan became the expert on raising real human babies;
  • Another woman thought the Wheel of Fortune host’s name was Patsy Jack until she was 19. Her roommate at the time informed her it’s actually Pat Sajak after she yelled at the TV screen “Yeah Patsy Jack!”
  • A man thought artichoke hearts were from an animal that he pictured as being similar to an armadillo. He thought it was disgusting that people would buy jars filled with animal parts.
  • Another man said, “I thought money laundering was physically washing the money and hanging it to dry to get cocaine residue off of it. A whole room of people silently stared at me after I announced this.”

I have my own such idiotic epiphany, though it was not so much an epiphany as a temporary failure of thought and logic. I was in a junior high school class when the teacher asked me to identify which word from a list was not real; which one was gibberish. I’m not sure what all the words were, but I think they may have included forearm, forehead, forenose, foreleg, and forefinger; the one I picked was “forehead,” because there’s no such thing as a forehead, right? Wrong. I realized soon after I made my pronouncement that I was mistaken. The rest of the class erupted in laughter and I turned beet-red at my faux pas.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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