Poll: Americans More Likely to Choose Meat Alternatives

July 2, 2021

Lansing State Journal:

EAST LANSING — A subtle revolution is taking place in Foods For Living’s frozen food section.Meat alternatives are creeping in.

Plant-based meat has surged in popularity at the East Lansing grocery store over the last few years, frozen and dairy section manager Ben Green said.

“A lot are just coming online,” he said. “It’s almost like every other week I see something I didn’t know existed.”

The uptick in plant-based meat sales at Foods For Living is no anomaly. Americans, particularly younger ones, are embracing artificial meat. 

Roughly 41% of Americans said they were likely to buy foods that look and taste like meat but are produced artificially, according to the 2021 Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement poll. In 2018, only 33% of people said they were likely to buy it.

Pollsters have surveyed Americans twice a year since 2017 to learn about their understanding of and relationship to the food system. Previous surveys have shown older Americans are more conscious of food waste and lots of people put some stock in terms like “natural” or “clean,” which are relatively meaningless on food labels.”

These are big issues that impact us, in terms of what we eat and how we make choices in the market and what we think is acceptable and healthy and nutritious for our families,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the biannual poll. “We’re not really very aware of where our food comes from and how it was produced and finds its way to our plate.”

The survey’s latest round honed in on respondents’ understanding of the relationship between food and climate change — or lack of understanding, in some cases. Fewer than half of people surveyed realized eating more plant-based foods reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, plant-based foods are getting meatier, as companies craft ingredients that mimic the texture, taste and appearance of the real thing.

Green has a front-row seat to the veggie burger glow-up from his post at Foods For Living.

Years ago, a vegetarian burger was a simple concoction of plants like beans, soy, potatoes and cauliflower smooshed together into a patty. They might grill like a burger, but there’s no masking the bean.

Those veggie burgers are still around, but now are joined by a new version made of plant-based “meat” that resembles the beef it’s designed to replace. 

“Those really are a product of lab innovation,” Green said. “It’s crazy how much goes into these, where you put one on the grill and it bleeds like a burger. It smells like a burger.”

But be careful what you call it, cautioned Ernie Birchmeier, Michigan Farm Bureau livestock and dairy specialist. He said it’s a misnomer to label food as “plant-based meat,” arguing meat comes from animals only. The term “plant-based protein” would be fine, he said. 

“Isn’t it great that we have choices and we have food diversity in this country?” he said. “But let’s market those products based on their own merits rather than try to utilize someone else’s label, if you will, to [boost] your product.”

Michigan’s agriculture sector is not threatened by plant-based burgers, he said. Two of the state’s major commodity crops, corn and soybeans, are used in many meat alternatives.

“I don’t believe we’ll see much disruption,” Birchmeier said. “We’ve seen different food movements over the years and they’re gradual.”

Cell-cultured meats are less familiar — they’re not yet on the market in the U.S. or most countries.Also known as lab-grown meat, slaughter-free meat or synthetic meat, the productis grown using cells from a real animal.

“It’s really interesting,” Kirshenbaum said. “There’s seafood companies doing this, beef companies, chicken, pork. They’re all in the works.”

Lab-grown meat could assuage concerns for people who have ethical objections to eating meat and would cut down on the amount of land required to raise livestock.

The 2019 poll found 35% of Americans are likely to buy it when they can. 

“Meat isn’t going anywhere,” Kirshenbaum said. “There are more and more options available as a substitute from different places for people looking for it.”

For now, plants posing as meat is a primary option.

And it’s pretty good, Green said.

Green, a vegetarian himself, has tried lots of the plant-based meat alternatives sold at Foods for Living. Anyone new to the products might be surprised at the first bite.

“Anybody who is a meat eater who has never dipped their toes into the world of simulated meat would be surprised, pleasantly so,” he said. “We have a lot of meat eaters here [at the store] who will often choose to go with a plant-based option just because it satisfies them and they find it delicious.”

6 Responses to “Poll: Americans More Likely to Choose Meat Alternatives”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Fewer than half of people surveyed realized eating more plant-based foods reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Just how does anyone come to that conclusion, when crop ag produces about 50% more GHG emissions than the entire livestock industry, of which human food products are but a minority output of the industry?!?

    So sayeth the EPA, for heaven’s sake:

    2rcn9ms

    There has become a quasi-religious sensibility to these false narratives – they have become dogma easily distributed even as they remain false prophesy. How many thousands of consumers hop into their giant SUV’s to motor on down to Whole Foods to stock up on Impossible burgers, all the while thinking to themselves they are actually saints for helping the planet out in this most important Crusade?

    And you are constantly perpetuating this narrative, Peter. How about some fair balance? How about some articles from actual agrarian scientists to tell the other half of the story? The UNFAO alone has plenty of scientists to choose from who will be happy to put some proper perspective on the issue.

    • Frank Price Says:

      The line you quote is true — too few are aware that plant ‘meat’ does create fewer GHGs, esp. methane.

      It takes roughly10 units of plant biomass to grow one unit of animal biomass. Using those 10 units of plant biomass to produce ‘meat’ will certainly cut GHGs.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Before I go:

        (1) It does matter the CO2e per gram protein or calorie individual foods emit.

        (2) Some percentage of Ag power consumption can be reduced by using cleaner energy.

        I am not a vegetarian.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      OK, checking out UN FAC from http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
      By the numbers: GHG emissions by livestock

      Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. This figure is in line FAO’s previous assessment, Livestock’s Long Shadow, published in 2006, although it is based on a much more detailed analysis and improved data sets. The two figures cannot be accurately compared, as reference periods and sources differ.
      Cattle (raised for both beef and milk, as well as for inedible outputs like manure and draft power) are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions.
      In terms of activities, feed production and processing (this includes land use change) and enteric fermentation from ruminants are the two main sources of emissions, representing 45 and 39 percent of total emissions, respectively. Manure storage and processing represent 10 percent. The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products.
      Cutting across all activities and all species, the consumption of fossil fuel along supply chains accounts for about 20 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions.
      On a commodity-basis, beef and cattle milk are responsible for the most emissions, respectively, contributing 41 percent and 20 percent of the sector’s overall GHG outputs. (This figure excludes emissions from cow manure and cattle used as draught power).
      They are followed by pig meat, (9 percent of emissions), buffalo milk and meat (8 percent), chicken meat and eggs (8 percent), and small ruminant milk and meat (6 percent). The remaining emissions are sourced to other poultry species and non-edible products.
      Emission intensities (i.e. emissions per unit of product) vary from commodity to commodity. They are highest for beef (almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced), followed by meat and milk from small ruminants (165 and 112kg CO2-eq.kg respectively). Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lower global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg.) (At the sub-global level, within each commodity type there is very high variability in emission intensitys, as a result of the different practices and inputs to production used around the world.
      Enteric emissions and feed production (including manure deposition on pasture) dominate emissions from ruminant production. In pig supply chains, the bulk of emissions are related to the feed supply and manure storage in processing, while feed supply represents the bulk of emissions in poultry production, followed by energy consumption.
      About 44 percent of livestock emissions are in the form of methane (CH4). The remaining part is almost equally shared between Nitrous Oxide (N2O, 29 percent) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2, 27 percent). This means that livestock supply chains emit:
      Gt CO2-eq of CO2 per annum, or 5 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (IPCC, 2007)
      3.1 Gt CO2-eq of CH4 per annum, or 44 percent of anthropogenic CH4 emissions (IPCC, 2007)
      2 Gt CO2-eq of N2O per annum, or 53 percent of anthropogenic N2O emissions (IPCC, 2007)

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Here’s a UN FAO “infographic” on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ag, Forestry and Other Land Use, which includes the line

      “Livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed nearly two-thirds of the total.”

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      That’s as far as I want to rummage in the UN fao.org papers and articles tonight. (Are you including the 785m tonnes CO2e to power machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels?)

      It would save a lot of time and effort if you gave a link to a UN FAO (or any) paper or report that showed the livestock industry numbers you mention.

      I have no problem learning that livestock produces negligible CO2e. Clean up the rest of the industry (overgrazing, abuse, antibiotic use, etc.) and we’re good to go.


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