For decades, plant-based meat substitutes were a dismal pile: rubbery fake hot dogs, flavored tofu, and soy-based “meats” that absolutely won’t win over anyone.
But as the climate crisis has led to increased scrutiny of the ecological impact of meat and dairy products, plant-based meats that were once the red-headed stepchildren of the food industry have emerged – and nowhere is as sunny as the Bay Area. From Sonoma to Berkeley to Silicon Valley, producers large and small rely on plant-based meat and dairy products, and we eat them.
The new plant-based meats aren’t your mother’s veggie burgers, they’re works of culinary art. At Prime Roots in Berkeley, co-founder and CEO Kim Le harnesses umami from the koji’s fibrous mycelium, the muscle roots of an ancient Japanese fungus used in products like soy sauce and miso, to produce bacon from the koji. plants and other alternative meats. Meanwhile, at Renegade Foods in Sonoma County, Old World techniques like fermenting and smoking give artisan Calabrian and Tuscan-style salamis and Spanish-style chorizo a flavor profile similar to that of the traditional charcuterie.
“We are a bunch of foodies [so] we’re really looking at it more from a culinary than a scientific perspective]”, says Renegade co-founder and CEO Iona Campbell.” Our products are made by chefs and I have spent over 10 years developing the recipes . “
And then there’s everyone’s daddy, Impossible Foods of Silicon Valley, who turned to the lab to find a plant-based alternative to iron-containing meat proteins that would give their burgers texture and taste. realistic “bloody”. After a successful initial release to select restaurants in 2016, the company’s patties and sausages have become staple at Burger King, White Castle, Starbucks, and Jamba Juice.
While plant-based meat and dairy products were once almost entirely consumed by those who outright rejected animal products, this explosion of plant-based culinary creativity is not brought about by vegans and vegetarians, but by those who regularly eat meat.
“A recent study showed that over 90% of people who buy alternative products are not vegans or vegetarians,” says Campbell, and overall, herbal retail sales have grown by over 27%. over the past year.
Part of this growth is due to the increased availability and visibility of plant-based meat and dairy products.
“We see that the younger generations just have a whole different mindset [about eating meat]Just a decade ago, alternative meats were almost entirely bought at the grocery store, hastily microwaved, and eaten behind closed doors (and sometimes in an Asian restaurant). Now they are consumed publicly in fast food outlets and gourmet restaurants, alike.
“Making our products available where consumers eat and buy already reduces the barrier to entry and gives consumers a good first impression,” says Keely Sulprizio, vice president of communications at Impossible Foods.
Some new converts to plant alternatives turn to them for health reasons. Others are looking for ways to reduce their ecological footprint. Prime Roots bacon, for example, uses 92 percent less water and 91 percent less soil than animal meats.
“If you replaced one kilogram of traditional bacon with one kilogram of Prime Roots bacon, you would eliminate 9 kilograms of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of driving 35 km in a passenger car,” explains Le.
“The most effective way for humanity to curb climate change is to use our food system as a tool to solve global climate problems,” says Sulprizio. Overall, the goal of the growing company is to switch the world to a plant-based diet and eliminate the need to use animals for food by 2035.
But while giving up animal meat and dairy products entirely can cut your carbon footprint in half, a 2019 UK study found that swapping red meat for plants just once a week has a measurable impact. on the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8.4% per year. . These are the consumers Prime Roots and Renegade Foods focus on, eaters who regularly “flex” their diets to include more plant-based alternatives if they have options that taste good.
“Our goal is not to convince people to become vegans or vegetarians. I’m not myself and I don’t think it’s realistic to ask anyone to become one,” Le says. “The biggest impact will come from a collective decision to eat less meat.”
The Bay Area has proven to be particularly receptive to new producers of alternative meat and dairy products, and this is not only due to a strong flow of innovation and numerous investment opportunities. “I see the Bay Area as a very food-oriented culture,” says Kalie Marder, co-founder and COO of Renegade. “We are interested in tasting and trying new things. ”
That’s why in October, the popular Greek fast food chain Souvla launched Black Sheep Foods plant-based “lamb” sandwiches and salads made from SF and why the vegan cheeses and butters of the Petaluma’s Miyoko Creamery can be found on the menus. wineries and restaurants throughout the Bay Area (including their October debut at local chain Pizza My Heart). That’s why we don’t just have a vegan butcher, The Butcher’s Son, but two entirely plant-based soul food restaurants, Souley Vegan and Vegan Mob, as well as more than a dozen other restaurants with purely plant-based menus. It’s the meat eaters, not the vegans, that keep them going.
“We believe wholeheartedly that you don’t have to be a vegan to make healthy and responsible choices for the planet,” says Le. “Prime Roots Meats are designed to empower and excite every type of eater, while celebrating the meat culture we all love. “