The Case For Fake Meat
By: Kathy Freston
Author, Health & Wellness Expert
One of the strongest indictments of the
meat industry I've ever seen is my good
friend Mark Bittman's TED talk, "on what's
wrong with what we eat."
In this talk, Mark discusses the benefits of
eating plants and the problems of eating
meat, including the extreme cruelty of
modern farming, the harm to human health of eating so much meat, and the
environmental nightmare that meat production causes.
In the talk, it's the environmental nightmare that seems to most capture Mark's
imagination: He begins the talk by comparing modern diets to the mushroom
cloud of a nuclear bomb.
Stating that modern meat production is "a holocaust of a different kind," Mark
discusses the fact that about one-fifth of all global warming gases come from
the meat industry, and then proceeds to detail other environmental problems
with meat production -- desertification, water use and pollution, loss of
biodiversity, and so on.
Throughout the talk, Mark makes it clear that "we don't need animal products
[for health]," and that plants should be supplanting animals in the human diet.
Mark has been beating the drum of responsible eating as well as anyone in the
three years since he delivered this TED talk, most recently with a
thought-provoking Opinionator blog that raises many of the same issues, but
with a brand new target that I find curious and a bit counter-productive.
To be clear: I am okay with the fact that Mark does not in the end -- now or in
his TED talk -- decide that the solution to the problem of the meat industry is to
advocate veganism; after all, he is honest about the tragic consequences of
meat consumption, and many who read his influential words will move in the
direction of conscious eating, and others will go farther, doing as he says,
which is even more than he (laudably) does.
Mark and I differ over the issue of meat alternatives; I like them, he doesn't. His
indictment of them appears to be based on the fact that they are processed,
which is true (there are, of course, many more processed foods with animal
products in them, but let's not go there).
But unlike the subjects of his usual culinary fusillades, high protein meat
alternatives are not packed with fat or simple carbohydrates, they are
environmentally exponentially superior to meat, and they don't support the
egregious cruelty to animals of the modern meat industry.
Honestly, it seems to me that his objection is more aesthetic; faux meat
offends Mark as a gastronome, not on any real ethical grounds (as far as I can
Here's why I'm unabashedly pro-faux, and why I promoted faux meat for
Oprah's 378 staffers who went vegan for a week: It's much better for human
health, exponentially better for our environment, and infinitely better for
Like Mark, I wish that we lived in a world where every family had the time,
know-how, means, and motivation to prepare healthful, from-scratch meals
brimming with organic vegetables, whole grains, and slow-cooked beans; and
I agree with Mark that encouraging movement in that direction is important.
There is no doubt that this is the ideal, and that we'd all be a lot better off if we
ate this way.
But we don't live in a perfect world. As Mark pointed out in his TED talk, the
vast majority of Americans are surviving on frozen pepperoni pizzas, buckets
of chicken, Big Gulps, chips, and chocolate bars.
The closest many kids may get to eating a vegetable on any given day may be
the French fries on their lunch tray.
That's why, when I led Oprah and her Harpo staffers through a 7-day vegan
challenge recently, my approach was to take their current lifestyle and eating
habits into account, and ease them into eating vegan by showing how easy it
is to swap out fattening, high-cholesterol animal products for vegan versions
of their traditional favorite foods.
The Oprah staffer, Jill, featured on the show didn't go from eating whole foods
from the farmer's market to packaged vegan convenience foods. Rather,
instead of buying a carton of cow's milk, she bought a carton of almond milk.
Instead of a bag of dairy cheese, she chose a bag of tasty Daiya vegan cheese
made from tapioca and other natural ingredients.
Instead of buying plastic-wrapped meat that was produced with antibiotics
and other drugs, she bought delicious (and drug-free) Gardein brand faux
meats, which are made from amaranth, quinoa, soy, and wheat.
Simply by choosing vegan versions of the staples she already used, Jill
effortlessly and dramatically reduced her family's intake of saturated fat,
completely eliminated cholesterol from their meals, and reduced their risk of
many of the nation's top killers.
In one week, Oprah's staffers lost 444 cumulative pounds, and many said they
planned to stick with eating vegan, because they had so much more energy
and simply felt great.
That's not surprising: According to the American Dietetic Association (link
above), vegetarians are less prone to heart disease, obesity, cancer, and
diabetes than meat-eaters.
She also made her family safer from the pathogens and toxins found in animal
flesh, including salmonella and campylobacter (in a Consumer Reports study,
two-thirds of grocery market chicken was found to be infected with one or
both of these dangerous bacteria) and arsenic, which is fed to chickens to
As I mentioned on the show, for me the big thing is cruelty to animals: The
average meat-eating American consumes about 35 farmed animals every
single year, and each of these animals is raised and killed in ways that would
warrant felony, cruelty charges were these protected animals, like dogs or
When we eat meat we are basically paying people to do things to animals that
none of us would engage in personally; just because we don't see it up close
doesn't mean we aren't culpable.
And as Mark so eloquently detailed in his TED talk, by dropping meat, eggs,
and dairy products, we eliminate the largest contributors to climate change
and other serious environmental problems from our family's lifestyle.
That's why Mark began his talk with the mushroom cloud comparison -- it
wasn't even the sodas and other processed food he was most assiduously
indicting; it was meat.
Showing people who are trying to move toward a plant-based diet that they
can still eat their favorite comfort foods is an important way to break down
barriers and resistance to a new way of eating. Once the mind opens, it
continues to expand.
For many people, starting out on transitional foods like vegan meats, cheeses,
and milks is a first, fantastic step, and they'll likely later incorporate more "real
foods" like unprocessed grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits into their diet.
Moving toward a way of eating that is kind to our bodies, the earth, and
animals is about progress, not perfection. It's about leaning into it by making
smarter everyday choices.
We may take different paths to get there, but in the end, any step away from a
meat-and-dairy-centric diet and toward a plant-based way of eating is a
tremendously positive (and delicious) step.
Not convinced? Watch Mark TED Talk
By: Kathy Freston
Article: The Case For Fake Meat
Huffington Post February 25, 2011.