When it comes to making food choices, I am pretty easy to please. I like meat dishes, seafood, vegetarian, and even the odd vegan sampling. Basically, aside from a slight digestive feud I have with gluten, I'll eat just amount anything. I make my selections based on what sounds good rather than any rules of do's and don'ts that I have set for myself.
So, when the world is talking about the introduction of new plant-based menu options popping up everywhere from Dominos to Disneyland, I can't help but want to take a closer look before jumping up and down about sustainable menu options with plant-based meat substitutions. Sure, sustainability is always in the best interest of the planet, and if we can live in a world where meat and meat-like nutrition are not being derived from animals then, great. But, I wonder about the sustainability of our own health as humans when shifting towards processed foods that are full of flavor enhancers and replacements all dressed up in the name of tasting like a real burger.
Some menu items are simple, straight forward salad and vegetable creations designed to be a tasty alternative to animal-based dishes. However, where the issue starts to get tricky is when plants begin their identity crisis and start to impersonate meat.
Now, I am not against it. This is not a meat-lovers monologue complaining just to leave things alone, but at the same time, you've got to wonder what is actually going into your food.
We all know that some of our favorite low-fat snacks are substituted with tons of sugar, and worse, many of our favorite low-sugar varieties are packed with replacement chemicals. So what exactly is it that can make Disney's new plant-based meat dumplings taste like really pork dumplings?
Recently, Australia has ramped up its plant-based offerings with the launch of an impossible-style patty now offered as an alternative in fast-food burger chains. My curiosity got the better of me, and looking into it; we discovered that that cruelty-free taste came at the cost of a whole lot of chemicals and preservatives, not to mention, in some cases, a higher fat and sugar content than the meat patty original.
In the U.S., the controversial ingredient of Heme is the root of much discussion when it comes to the meatless front-runners such as Impossible Burger. This genetically modified molecule is what makes your fake burger feel and behave more like real meat. Despite being an unfavorable topic for the company and one of the many additives often left out of the ingredients list (usually for being below the percentage required for disclosure), the experts at Impossible Burger believe that their product wouldn't be possible without it.
Sure, but, does that really answer the question of how this GMO, among others, will affect us long-term? It's easy to say that it now has FDA approval, but, thanks to a long line of products that go on our shelves before adequate testing, that doesn't instill all that much confidence. Many products that were once thought to be harmless are now causing havoc in our bodies. Cigarette, anyone?
If you are someone who needs to make their food choices based on more than preference, say allergy or diet restrictions, then the choice is easy, and I love that you have new options. But, for those of us trying to make the best decision for our appetite and our health, how do you know if your choices are the right ones?
The world's health experts tell us that plant-based products provide us with a healthier alternative; there is no disputing the importance of fruit and vegetables in our diets. But, on the other hand, we have spent the last 5 - 10 years being drilled with the idea that highly-processed foods are the worst for us. So, what happens with the plant-based faux meat alternatives are the most highly processed option on the menu? Which rule of healthy eating takes precedent?
Even though some of these products are not explicitly marketed as the healthier option, I can't help but feel that any company jumping on the plant-based bandwagon is banking on the popularity of the broader, health-positive concept to move their product.
Disney's new website addition Plant-Based Cuisine Options at Walt Disney World Resort does well to show off beautiful looking food with enticing tag lines, however, the only explanation offered for its ingredient list is what is not included:
Are you exploring a plant-based lifestyle, trying to eat less meat or simply seeking out new culinary adventures? Our plant-powered cuisine is made with plant foods like grains, nuts, vegetables and fruit—and no animal meat, dairy, eggs or honey. - Walt Disney World Website
Marketing videos have been released showing off the less confusing items like fancy salads and vegetable dishes, but where is the explanation about the genetically modified ingredients that have been Frankensteined into pretending they are meat?
I thought we might take this opportunity to crowd-source some opinions and knowledge on the subject. Do you trust the substitutions that are being put into your faux-meat inspired food? Are we really just substituting our natural food intake with a long list of chemicals, preservatives, and the dreaded food 'numbers' listed in the ingredients that have even less reason to be put in our bodies? When does this MacGuyver-style of food preparation go too far? And last but not least, how can I turn my morning apple into a slow-cooked rack of ribs with this toothpick and an onion?
Now don't all come at me at once if you see me ordering something off the new menu. As I mentioned, I love a good salad or vegetable-inspired dish any day of the week, however, it will usually be something with a simple substitution like Deni's Mushroom (Lobster-style) Salad at Coral Reef in Epcot, where they simply used mushrooms instead of lobster, not some chemistry concoction of a meat-tasting substance.