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The best and worst vegetarian meat substitutes for the environment

In an effort to protect the environment, many of us have started making a tofu stir-fry on a regular basis and eating the popular Impossible Burger in place of a traditional beef burger patty.

You are on the right track if you do this. Environmental experts agree that eating any type of meat substitute is definitely better for the environment than meat.

“The biggest step that will dramatically reduce our environmental impact from the foods we eat and grow is to make sure we consume more plant protein in our diets,” Mark Driscoll, sustainability expert and founder of the consulting firm. Taste the future, told HuffPost. “Our food system contributes up to 34% of global human-made greenhouse gas emissions, uses 70% of all freshwater and has been the primary driver of the loss of 60% of our biodiversity over the years. of the past 40 years. The conversion of protein from forage crops to animal protein for human consumption is inherently inefficient in terms of resources.

That being said, there is a parcel meat substitutes on the market. There’s the tofu, which has been around for decades, the beans, which can be easily crushed and made into a burger patty, and the newer and more trendy Impossible and Beyond Meats. In other words, we have options. But when it comes to the environment, not all of these options are created equal.

We’ve had the most popular meat substitutes reviewed by sustainability experts. One thing to keep in mind as you go through the ratings: A “C” for a plant-based product is always better for the environment than the best factory-farmed animal meat, the researchers said. experts.

Beans: A

Lentils and black beans are commonly used as a base for veggie burgers. If you like the flavor, you’re in luck, because choosing beans as a source of protein is a great decision from an environmental standpoint.

“Using beans, lentils and other legumes in burgers is about as environmentally friendly as it gets”, Isaac Émery, founder and senior consultant at Informed Sustainability Consulting, said. “Pulses need a lot less fertilizer than other crops and don’t need to be processed.

Driscoll echoed this, saying the beans are “without a doubt the stars of the show. This is especially true if grown organically, ”he said. “With high levels of protein and fiber, they are legumes and therefore add nitrogen to soils and contribute to soil health. “

This raw jackfruit can turn into something that looks like pulled pork.

Jackfruit: B

A tropical fruit tree, jackfruit is relatively durable until pesticides and herbicides are used, according to Driscoll. “The trees do not require irrigation and it is a shade crop that can be combined with other crops to create a regenerative ecosystem,” he explained. “Trees grown in forestry systems mean that carbon is removed from the atmosphere, so there is some impact of emissions from transport. “

Seitan: B

Because seitan is derived from wheat, its sustainability depends on how it’s grown, Driscoll explained. “A lot of wheat is grown using a mixture of agrochemicals and pesticides. that can contaminate waterways and damage biodiversity and pollinating insects, ”he said.

Emery is a bigger fan of seitan, saying that the fact that farmers can grow winter wheat and spring wheat on the same field in a year makes it a good use of the land.

The best and worst vegetarian meat substitutes for the environment

Sliced ​​Japanese soy cheese cubes in silk tofu with chili ginger, chives and soy sauce.

Tofu: C

Tofu is made from soybeans, or soybeans. Demand for soybeans has been linked to deforestation, according to the World Nature Foundation, because it can generate greenhouse gas emissions without good practices. Soybean production tends to use a significant amount of water and pesticides, according to Driscoll, hence its not-so-stellar quality.

Tempeh: C

While not terrible for the environment, tempeh, a fermented soy-based meat substitute, is not very sustainable because the fertilizer it is grown in often contains pesticides. “Transportation also adds to the carbon footprint,” Driscoll said.

Impossible and beyond: C (and more)

As popular as they are, Impossible products rank low on the meat substitute list for sustainability. “They’re definitely better for the environment than beef,” Driscoll noted. “These products use much less water, soil and fossil fuel emissions than beef.”

That being said, soy is a key ingredient in Impossible products, in particular. “Unless soybeans are produced using organic systems, soybeans can use significant amounts of pesticides,” Driscoll said.

Note: Beyond Meat products, on the other hand, are made with pea protein instead of soy, which gives them a slightly higher rating.

One of the reasons people love these products so much is that they mimic the texture of animal meat, Emery pointed out. But getting that texture means more processing. “This means their environmental footprint is linked to the environmental footprint of energy, not just agriculture,” he said. “As our energy system becomes more environmentally friendly, so will these products. “

Of course, some of these plant-based meat substitutes are better than others. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that by giving up meat you are doing the environment a great service.


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