The ‘Hedonistic Altruism’ of Plant-Based Meat

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Not everyone is so convinced that plant-based burgers are healthy. I mentioned Beyond burgers the other day and someone started talking about all the chemicals.

If you were to list out the chemical composition of organic Kobe beef it would be a superlong list of really long, complicated words that most of us couldn’t pronounce. All the amino acids, all the different lactic acids, all of the components that go into having a piece of muscle stay together in an animal’s body. We don’t have the luxury of just saying “plant-based beef.” So we have to list out our ingredients. But it’s not like there’s more ingredients in ours than there is in actual muscle if you break down the chemistry.

We have a very large, incumbent industry that knows this is a big issue for us. There was a full-page ad in The New York Times that took all the products in the category and listed all the gnarliest ingredients and said, “This is what’s in plant-based meat.” So it’s being ginned up. Competitive interests are creating a lot of attention around this issue.

Is the meat industry out to get you?

No. Tyson owned part of our company for a while. It’s a $1.4 trillion-dollar industry, and I think they’re doing pretty well right now. If you look at our sales this year, they’re good, but they’re very small compared to the meat industry. So I think there are pockets that are kind of antagonistic, but not as a whole.

How is Beyond Meat different from Impossible Foods?

It gets down to ingredient choices. I believe that everything you need to build a piece of meat perfectly from plants is already in nature, and you just have to look hard enough to find it. Impossible is taking a different approach. They’re genetically modifying ingredients. And we’re just not going to do that.

How do you reconcile all your fast-food partnerships with your emphasis on health?

I love those customers, and I think it’s about making incremental gains. If it’s being fried, obviously it’s fried. But if you look at the underlying characteristics of the product — the cholesterol levels, the saturated fat levels — are you getting a gain? And you are, in many cases. It’s progress.

Is it an uncomfortable alliance for you, though?

I cherish those relationships. I think there’s a changing of guard that’s occurring at a lot of these companies, and these are people that really want to serve healthier products and want to bring the consumer along. There’s a real genuine desire there to continue to improve the health profile of their menus. I think it’s sincere.

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