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Meat Some Alternatives

Author: the Inkslinger

I’m sure you saw summer’s big food story. The world’s first lab-grown burger was finally squeezed from its test tube and pan-fried for a palate test. So how does a $330,000 hamburger taste? Apparently not so hot. Still, petri patties could solve a lot of problems. But what if we all just ate a little less meat instead?

The artificial beef was made from cultured cow muscle cells subjected to a science-fiction recipe involving seaweed polymers and something called myotubes. But it was more than an exercise in idle carnivorous curiosity. With the world’s hunger for meat expected to climb 70% by 2050, [1] it was a first attempt to satisfy this anticipated appetite sustainably.

Because meat is cooking the planet. To get a quarter-pound hamburger you need roughly 53 gallons of water, 74 square-feet of land, and seven pounds of feed. [2] (Feed all the grain we feed to livestock in the U.S. to people instead, and 800 million of us would eat. [3]) That same burger also adds over six pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. [4] In fact, according to the United Nations, 18% of all global warming gases are released by livestock. [5]

To prevent this chili con carnage, we could eat fake meat. Or we could just eat less meat. That used to seem impossible to a meat-lover like me, but I’ve found that alternatives like these fill the meatless void quite nicely:

  • Tofu is almost a meatless cliché, but it’s both filling and satisfying. Buy extra firm, let it drain, marinate it in something yummy and pan fry or grill.
  • Tempeh is made from soybeans and other grains compressed and fermented. The result is a dense chewy texture and a rich nutty flavor that’s at home in all kinds of settings.
  • Textured vegetable protein comes flakes or chunks. Rehydrate it a little and use it in recipes instead of ground beef. It’ll absorb whatever flavors you add to it with ease.
  • Seitan is a wheat-based option. It does well as a chicken substitute. But you can bake, simmer, or fry it into almost anything.
  • Portobello mushrooms are big and beefy, especially when treated to a soy sauce-based marinade. Grill them for a smoky touch that’s delicious.
  • Beans come in all shapes and sizes. Mix and mash them to make veggie burgers and hearty pots of chili and stew.
  • Premade substitutes like Gardenburgers and Quorn will work in a pinch, but in my experience a DIY approach yields superior results. One exception is Gimme Lean, which when combined with breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg makes a killer meatball.

Swapping ingredients like these for meat even a meal or two a week can make a big environmental difference. And you really won’t miss that cheeseburger. The key lies in recipes and marinades that elevate taste and texture to satisfying meat-like levels. You can’t just toss tofu in the pan and expect applause ten minutes later. But with a clever cookbook, there’s little standing between you and a standing O.



About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America’s most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.