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Veg Edge

Meat substitutes are becoming more advanced

Contrary to popular belief, our Fast Food Nation consumes an increasing array of menu items whose origins don't include a slaughterhouse. While factory-farmed burgers endure as a dietary mainstay, more fast food chains, both established and upstarts, are serving creative vegetarian and vegan fare for a growing population of conscious diners. In turn, the alternative protein category is expanding beyond typical tofu and seitan.

1Test-Tube Hamburger: Cultured meat may not eradicate heart disease, but its animal welfare and environmental benefits could be enough to convince many vegetarians to dig into a burger. Indeed, scientist Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University earlier this month revealed the world's first synthesized meat product—a (costly) invention that research suggests could reduce the need for land and water by as much as 90% and overall energy use by up to 70%. Biologically identical to beef, the pioneering test-tube burger has room for improvement according to taste testers, but with Sergey Brin funding the research, this innovation may have legs.

2Beyond Meat: Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown wants his brand to be sold at meat counters rather than produce or dairy sections where its plant-based brethren are usually stocked. While perhaps counterintuitive, the strategy actually makes sense in context of Brown's belief that “in 50 to 100 years, the supermarket meat counter will no longer have a relationship with animals.” His product offerings are currently limited to vegan approximations of poultry, including seasoned riffs on roasted, barbequed, and grilled preparations. Another recipient of Silicon Valley investment dollars, Beyond Meat is backed by Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

3Plenti: When whole foods advocate Mark Bittman visited The Vegetarian Butcher, an acclaimed animal product-free grocery in The Hague, he sampled a chicken substitute that convinced him of the efficacy and potential culinary appeal of fake meat. Plenti, the product that changed his tune, is a Dutch invention and recipient of a “Best Meat Alternative” award, as well as the first prize winner in an innovation competition sponsored by Holland's Ministry of Economic Affairs. A product derived equally from agriculture and science, Plenti is made by changing the texture of plant protein through a principle of synthetic monomer polymerization.