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The plant-based hype overlooks a key ingredient: plants

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word “plant-based”? Like most people, you imagine something that looks like a traditional burger but is made with plant protein. plant.

The term “plant-based” has become a common word. Used to describe both meals and foodstuffs, it is largely, if not entirely, plant-based, and the plant-based retail sector is currently valued at $7.4 billion.

A quick Google Trends search shows a clear tipping point. In 2016, Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat both debuted plant-based meat alternatives, with huge marketing dollars behind them, and searches for the term “plant-based” began to skyrocket. Boarding. As the plant-based market grew, mock meats made primarily of soy and pea proteins began appearing in backyard barbecues, bar menus, drive-throughs, and pop culture by musicians and sports stars. Similar plant-based “look-alikes” (products meant to mimic not just meat, but eggs and dairy) have also garnered attention. .

But what was left out? actual plant. Fruits and vegetables for starters. Whole grains and whole beans. Herbs, spices, vegetable oils.

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There are 250,000 to 300,000 edible plant species and 2,000 edible fungi species on earth. But the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that humans regularly consume only 4% of his daunting bounty. Rice, maize and wheat alone account for about two-thirds of the calories and protein you get from plants, according to the FAO. how boring is that?

In recent years, plant-based diets have become less about Silicon Valley and stock prices than about Salinas Valley and Salsify. It’s no surprise that the companies that make these products have shaped the global story, as they account for the majority of venture capital investment. His Ujwal Arkalgud, co-founder of his MotivBase, an AI-powered trend identification tool, said: On the other hand, the culture of “plant foods” is very different and closer to plants, but the actual value, experience and pleasure of consuming plant foods is rarely discussed. Instead of massively rethinking flavorful, healthy, equitable and sustainable food culture, the climate-smart food movement is permanently tied to a handful of processed plant products, and is itself a pigeon. There is a danger of being trapped in a burrow.

Through our work at the Food for Climate League, a research nonprofit, we changed the plant-based narrative to include an abundance of delicious botanicals and fungi, helping us understand what products to invest in, what ingredients and recipes. I learned how I can influence chefs and retailers. Choose to highlight and, ultimately, highlight meals that people regularly visit and enjoy.

Widespread acceptance of a “plant-based” diet has a positive impact on human and planetary health, while opening up a world of culinary experiences, from jackfruit barbecue sliders to baobab smoothies to adobo enoki mushrooms. there is a possibility. Crackers and chips include not just regular wheat and corn, but fonio, amaranth, millet, flax, and even sea vegetables for added nutrition and a new scale of flavor. Imagine tepary instead of the standard black turtle beans from the supermarket. Or maybe a student agricultural ambassador on a college campus, a whole grain evangelist on a corporate wellness board, and a young farmer of kelp, cowpea, peanuts, nopales, lentils and buckwheat have become his TikTok influencers around the world. Hmm.

A focus on whole plants improves access to nutritious foods, but many of these meat alternatives do not. Many eaters automatically perceive the term “plant-based” as a thumbs-up, due to the phenomenon of believing certain labeled foods to have health benefits. Up. However, the nutrition labeling of many highly processed plant-based products requires a Google search to decipher: methylcellulose, modified starch, soy protein concentrate. Researchers don’t yet know how much of these ingredients work in the body over time. It has been linked to many well-studied health benefits, including reduced risk of disease and obesity.

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A food culture that enhances the abundance of edible plants around the world strengthens the movement for food sovereignty and food justice by drawing attention to different food traditions and increases the representation of those who farm and cook them. It may also be amplified. More varieties of shelf-stable legumes and grains have the potential to become more affordable ingredients, while meats and cheeses serve as seasonings and plant-based food traditions. It will pave the way for respect. It also allows space to respect the symbiotic, and often culturally traditional, relationships between responsibly grown plants and animals and soil health.

Growing a global food culture that requires more whole plant diversity through agroecological farming practices such as crop rotation and intercropping (growing two or more crops in close proximity) is also a solution to climate change. may become. Agriculture accounts for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Meanwhile, Project Drawdown, an organization that lists dozens of solutions to reverse global warming, ranks plant-rich diets among the top three most effective. According to their metrics, the prevalence of diets that emphasize plant-based foods, for example, could have a much greater impact on climate than the prevalence of electric vehicles.

To get there, we have to change the popular narrative of “plant-based”. According to Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, their organization “alongside reducing food waste, a shift to a more plant-based diet will help address greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and food sectors.” But we need to have a broader conversation about the larger food system, and broader engagement, education and communication will be key. .”

People seem poised for a plant-forward future. The market size of legumes, mushrooms, broad beans and chickpeas is growing due to their availability, low cost and increasing adaptability to different cuisines. Venture capitalists may still be on the hunt for the next Impossible His Burger, but interest in plant-based products seems to be on the rise.

Lisa Feria, CEO of Stray Dog Capital, said: She has made more than 45 investments in the plant-based space — she told us. That approach “came with some sacrifices” when it comes to health and sustainability, she admitted. She focuses on investing in plant-based products that don’t have the downsides of processed ingredients or high sodium. The MyBacon product from MyForest Foods is made with five other ingredients: sugar, spices.

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You may have seen similar products. A new genre of “third wave” clean-label plant-based food, using ingredients you might actually have in your pantry, with a wider variety of flavors and ingredients. If Boca Burger represents the first wave of plant-based products and Impossible represents the second wave, companies like Crafty Counter, The Live Green Co and Akua kelp Burger can be counted among the new ranks.

“The U.S. food industry has always primarily created foods that maximize palatability over health and nutrition,” Aqua co-founder and CEO Courtney Boyd-Myers said in an email. I’m here. “So in an attempt to mimic meat, it’s no surprise that the largest food company in the plant-based industry has done the same.” and more food companies are rising to the occasion, creating nutritionally superior products.”

This could be a cultural inflection point, finally making the leap beyond mass-market meat imitators in sustainable diets, to more biodiverse and minimally processed meat. Food can be included. Companies like Impossible and Beyond have met people to make plant-based products approachable, demonstrating that plants can be delicious and filling. But without expanding the plant-based narrative and encouraging investment in agriculture and food production methods that meet global climate needs, this moment may pass and the food system may move on largely unchanged.

Eve Turow-Paul Founder and Executive Director of the Food for Climate League,Hunger: Avocado Toast, Instagram Influencers, Finding Connection and Meaning” (Ben Bella Books, 2020).

Sophie Egan Director of Strategy for the Food for Climate LeagueHow to Become a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet” (Workman, 2020).

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