It’s estimated that over 375 million people in the world are vegetarians. That number is increasing every year, particularly in countries like Israel where eight-nine percent of the population is reported to be vegetarian or India with a global high of 42 percent who have gone veggie.
Why are so many people transitioning to a meat-free diet? For many, it’s an issue of ethics. While most of us know about the concern for animal abuse and mistreatment, there’s another pressing catalyst for this lifestyle change: Our environment.
According to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, a staggering 51 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. In addition, the World Health Organization issued a statement in 2015 that classified processed meat as a Group 1 Carcinogen and red meat as a Group 2 Carcinogen – meaning there’s sufficient evidence pointing to meat consumption as a cause of cancer.
“I think the reason why alternative meat options have become so popular in recent years is because people are now more sensitive to the consequences of eating meat on an ethical and environmental level,” says Eugenia Alfine. A vegetarian herself, Eugenia is currently pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry from Potsdam University and previously received a Master’s in Food Science and Nutrition from Milan. “Consuming meat every day is not sustainable in the long-term as world population grows and is causing a lot of animal suffering,” she says. “These topics have also gained a lot of attention within the past couple of years.”
The Rise of Vegetarian Butchers
With the escalation of vegetarianism, there’s consequently an increase in the variety of meat-free product options in the market. These can be found in mainstream stores, as well as in specialty butcher shops. That’s right, butchers.
Vegetarian butchers have emerged worldwide, producing high-quality substitutes that mimic meat but contain absolutely no animal flesh. While mock meat has been around since the 1960s, the products available over these counters exceed spongy soy or gluten-based patties. This new generation of culinary engineers are deriving their proteins from a range of sources including chickpeas, wheat berries, wild rice, nuts and other produce.
“Vegetarian butchers have emerged worldwide, producing high-quality substitutes that mimic meat but contain absolutely no animal flesh.”
Based in the Netherlands, De Vegetarische Slager – better known as The Vegetarian Butcher in English – was the world’s first alternative butcher when they launched in 2010. Creator Jaap Korteweg founded the company with no knowledge of food technology, but rather with the simple idea that he could use machines to end the inconceivable amount of animal suffrage.
“To produce our chicken, we use a machine that fits into the living room of a normal house. That machine has an output of one million grams of vegan chicken meat a year,” Jaap explains in a 2014 Ted Talk. “To produce the same amount of real chicken, you would need a chicken shed as big as a soccer field, consisting of 100,000 chickens, replaced eight times a year. A big waste of energy, space and lives.”
The Vegetarian Butcher uses organic lupine, a protein rich flower, from Dutch soil to create their indistinguishable meat substitutes. Today, they distribute to restaurants and stores in 13 countries, recently expanding beyond Europe to places like Korea and Curaçao.
This type of production has sparked an upswing of unconventional meatless eateries. Jaap later created a plant-butcher chain in Spain called La Carnicera Vegatariana. In 2015, Sydney introduced a vegan fish and chip shop called Bliss & Chips. Earlier this year, the U.S. even welcomed its first vegan butcher with the opening of The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis. While this may have been the first vegan establishment, there have been a slew of exclusively vegetarian shops throughout the U.S. and Canada – including Monks Meats in Brooklyn and YamChops in Toronto.
Finding Meat-Free Products
For those ready to dive into a plant-based diet, alternative meat options are plentiful and readily available in many grocery stores. To find them, simply check out your local supermarket and keep an eye out for the BIO or organic section, as meat-free products are likely to be nearby. Health food stores, such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, often have a robust selection of vegetarian/vegan products and even offer delivery options that bring everything you need to your doorstep.
“When I first became vegetarian in 2011, the offer of meat-free alternatives was disappointing,” says Eugenia. “There was only one brand with three or four products that I could find in the main supermarkets. It was much better in the few small organic shops – they had a better variety of seitan, tofu and tempeh – but usually the products were quite expensive and big BIO/Organic retailers still didn’t exist. In the past two years, however, things have gotten much better.”
If you’re hesitant about going entirely meat-free, there are ways to ease into the process. For instance, try switching out a couple of your meals per week first. The Herbivorous Butcher offers a vegan starter kit to help kick start your journey, or you can take a pledge through PETA where you commit to 30 days of veganism. Even if you’re unsure about committing to 30 straight days, you’ll still receive a newsletter from PETA with tips on places to eat out, recipes, animal-friendly snacks and more.
“Becoming vegetarian/vegan is one of the easiest changes you can do in your lifestyle that can impact the world we live in,” says Eugenia. “Even just making the choice to reduce the amount of meat you consume, to once or twice a week for example, is a great start.”
Eugenia adds: “I think the shift towards meat-free diets is here to stay. Right now it’s mostly driven by young people and it’s also part of a growing trend. But if a trend can bring some positive changes, then so be it!”
Published in the Fall 2016 Issue. Read the rest of the issue for FREEhere.
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