Growing into world without meat

| Yann Schreiber 20 May 2019

Slicing through juicy cuts of pork belly alongside rarer delicacies of ox brain and sheep intestine, young butchers at a Frankfurt trade hall cast suspicious eyes at the so-called fake meat products on display. Puzzlingly for them, the fake meat seems to be popular.

Says Paolo Desbois, an 18-year-old French butcher, referring disparagingly to synthetic burgers, sausages and nuggets at the IFFA meat industry convention: "It just can't be that we have to get into plastic!"

The concept that animals are meat and plants are not never used to be challenged. But plant-based protein products derived from sources like soy, peas or beans are increasingly popular.

But Desbois, second in a young butchers competition at the convention, feels they undermine "the essence of the profession."

Another budding elite butcher from Switzerland, Selina Niederberger, 20, agrees. "I'm for real meat," she declares.

Non-"real" meat products have been making headlines lately, backed by investors with an appetite for supplying plant-based burgers and sausages to the diet-conscious masses.

The celebrity-backed vegan burger start-up Beyond Meat, for example, made a sizzling Wall Street debut on May 3. It more than doubled its share price.

Backed by film star Leonardo DiCaprio and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, it and its rivals aim to make plant-based foods mainstream and capture a huge potential market.

Whether meat substitutes will be able to replicate the taste, color, smell and texture of a freshly chopped up slaughtered animal is debatable. But some young butchers suspect their growing popularity will inevitably have a transformative effect on their trade.

"It's just shifting with the world and working with it rather than against it," says British butcher Lennon Callister, 19.

Trade skills are "what sets butchers apart from supermarkets," he says, but consumers are starting to look at food differently.

Dutchman Josja Haagsma, who won the butchers competition, agrees that synthetic meats are changing opinions.

"It makes you think about how you can use meat and how you can change it, how you can use more vegetables," she says.

"Maybe the next generation" will be the ones pressed to apply their knives and creativity to the task, Haagsma adds.

Vegetables used to be considered a side dish, at best, for carnivore connoisseurs.

But in increasingly health-conscious societies, where authorities warn of the dangers of consuming too much red meat, plant-based products are widening in appeal.

Alongside ethical concerns over animals bred for the dinner table and greenies urging people to eat less meat to save the environment, the scope for more no-meat products is growing.

"It's very important that we think about it, that we consume less" but "good quality meat," says Haagsma. "You can use organic meat and homegrown cows - and not the cows from the big companies."

The growing numbers of people turning to plant-based meat alternatives include vegans, who shun all animal products, and flexitarians, who advocate moderate consumption of meat.

One sign of their expanding popularity? Silicon-Valley company Impossible has linked up with Burger King to offer a plant-based version of its signature Whopper.

Nestle and Unilever are also aiming to cement their presence in the sector.

The move by big conglomerates into the sector has made young butchers note that changes are on the way.

"There'll be less of this mass-produced stuff, which is also really, really bad for the climate," says 23-year-old German Raphael Buschmann.

However, while recognizing environment-conscious citizens are rethinking diets, Buschmann predicts a limit to the industry changes, such as vegetarian sausages not being added to his displays any time soon.

"They aren't sausages," he says. "That's just the way it is."


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