Is anger my meat?

Okay, okay, I have to admit that I thought  it was a good idea. I’m from the Prairies, eh? We ate a lot of meat; when I was a kid, plants and vegetables were garnishes: what you put on the plate to fill the spaces that meat didn’t occupy. My mother was adamant about the value of meat: it gave you iron for strength -or maybe it was healthy blood or something (she was vague about iron); protein for growth -it could have been for muscles, though -I could never pin her down on that either; and it also gave you all sorts of vitamins who’s names she could never remember when I asked her. So, when you  grow up with a religion like that, it’s hard to abandon it without the promise of a better God, don’t you think?

Of course, as the years accumulated in tandem with increasing ecological knowledge about the risk of cows flaunting their methane habits and the cruel and unnecessarily scary passage between vegetarian bloating on Scylla, and risking veganismus on Charybdis, there seemed nowhere safe for a meat-eater to turn. I mean, I know I should do more for the planet than attempting exculpation by planting a tree for every meat-heavy meal I consume, but somehow, I never get around to breaking sod. I lie whenever I’m asked.

Salvation, however, waited for the cumulative effects of a lifetime of meat to wreak its damage on my soul before offering redemption in the form of Fake Meat -or, in its more acceptable capitalist disguise, ‘plant-based meat’. It does not require a contract, nor following a 12-step program; it only hints at better health, and conveniently neglects to mention what we are supposed to do with all the cows. Still, it does offer an alternative to a life of tofu and lentils -and something vaguely reminiscent of chewing.

At first, I was suspicious. Cautious. I had a fake burger at A&W when I was driving through an off-the-grid town at the end of a dirt road somewhere. I had only intended to ask for directions when I saw the sign. Beyond Burger, it said in foot-high letters with smaller print beneath to extol its virtues and entice the wary to buy one -I even wrote it down in case anybody asked me about it later: served on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and “Uncle sauce”. A ¼ lb Beyond Burger patty contains 20g of plant protein, 25% of your daily iron intake, 5g of saturated fat, 0mg of cholesterol, and 22g of total fat. Nobody asked when I eventually made it home home, though; it was apparently old hat. Still, I felt cleansed; no cow had been sacrificed for my whim.

But the whole thing seemed too easy; in my experience redemption is not granted without a struggle. Meat without guilt is sort of like candy without cavities. Surely there were some down-sides -like massive energy expenditure, or maybe secret, unadvertised mixtures of hydrogenated thises and saturated fatty thats, unhealthy eggplant oils extracted illegally from stills hidden in the middle of mid-western cornfields, or (shudder) unused, unconsecrated biscuits left over from the alien ceremonies to which Dan Brown seemed privy.

I have to admit though, I was initially fooled; I honestly thought of it as consequentless meat -meat with no collateral damage. I persuaded myself that I was finally being healthy and that guilt was a thing of the past. I could have an extra piece of pie, a second glass of wine; I could unplug the elliptical in my basement, I could do my laundry every second week… It sounded too good, actually. Was it Carl Sagan who said ‘There’s one born every minute…? Uhmm, no wait -I think he said that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’… Almost the same thing though, eh?

Anyway, I decided -almost against my better judgment because I was finally enjoying guilt-free meals- to look into the matter of Fake Meat. It turns out that plant-based meats are often high in sodium, ultra-processed and not any healthier than the meat they imitate. In fact, ‘The Impossible Burger, for example, is an impressive meat-free mix of soy, potato proteins, coconut and sunflower oils. It even bleeds like the real thing. At the same time its calorie count and saturated fat levels mirror a McDonald’s quarter-pounder patty, and it has six times more sodium’.[i] Hmmm…

A study from the Singapore Institute for Food and Biotechnology Innovation modelled the outcome of replacing bacon, chicken, beef burgers and ice cream with animal-free versions. It found that ‘Diets that substituted animal products with the plant-based alternative were below the daily recommendations for vitamin B12, calcium, potassium, zinc and magnesium, and higher in sodium, sugar and saturated fat.’ And that ‘Even with added vitamins and minerals, these products are not nutritionally interchangeable.’[ii] Damn!

Apparently, animal stuff like meat and whatever, are complete proteins. They contain the  nine essential amino acids we need each day. Plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains often lack one or more of these amino acids and, so we have to pay extra for them from the drugstore. In other words, Fake Meats are, well, not necessarily all from plants. And their proteins are not necessarily identical to what you get from tearing into cooked muscle. I mean plant-based meat alternatives are missing many amino acids and derivatives, like creatine, taurine and anserine, and can apparently have an impact on our health and potentially brain function as well as muscle function.[iii] Like, who knew?

I have a feeling that it’s not all bad news, though; as with most things in Life, you have to walk the middle road -a little of this, a soupçon of that, and read how Goldilocks solved the porridge issue. Perhaps we should never commit ourselves only to one thing to the exclusion of the rest. Even my mother occasionally served me shredded wheat for breakfast, and peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch. She probably had no idea I was trading the apples in my lunchbox for chocolate bars from anybody stupid enough to think they were getting a better deal, though…


[i] https://theconversation.com/plant-based-doesnt-always-mean-healthy-173303

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid

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