Life & Style

Meet new meat: The appeal of fake meat

For 30-year-old Shipra Grover, who lives in New York, increasing her protein intake was quite a challenge as she is vegetarian, and allergic to soy. She began experimenting with ‘mock’ meat two years ago and it has “been a favourite since”. In Minnesota, U.S., 29-year-old Mayuri Jain, who works in the medical insurance industry, never wanted to try non-vegetarian food and was increasingly getting frustrated by the limited vegetarian choices in her part of the world. Then, she came across mock duck vegan satay bowl (a ramen bowl with noodles, vegetables and mock duck) in an Asian restaurant, and “actually liked it”. The mock duck tasted “almost like tofu but a little saltier”. Since then, she’s become more experimental with her food choices, and recently, even started including non-vegetarian food in her diet. Then there is Gracelle Gerber, a South African communication management consultant living in India for the past seven years, who is “easing herself into being vegan". Mock meat is now a regular part of her dinner table, not just for herself, but even when she invites friends.

Alternate diet

The world over, India included, plant-based ‘mock’ meat is penetrating the food market. This taps into people shifting to vegetarian or vegan diets, for reasons ranging from the health implications of consuming processed meat — classified by the World Health Organization as “carcinogenic to humans” — to curbing animal cruelty and the environmental impact of maintaining livestock. The latter is an anxiety penetrating the millennial masses, living in a world where climate change and the negative human impact on the environment is a reality.

There is the other diet alternative, lab-grown meat, which is still being tested and for which a sustainable business model is yet to be worked out. But that, too, comes with its own burden. Last month, the U.K.-based Oxford Martin School said in a study that cultured meat production — which involves growing meat from animal cells — with high energy inputs, could spur global warming faster in the long-term than some types of cattle farming.

In India, where 70-80% of the population, as per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, are meat-eaters, a growing shift among a health-conscious middle class has spurred a number of start-ups that deal with mock meat. But what exactly is ‘mock meat’? Director of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in India, Poorva Joshipura, says it “resembles the taste and texture of meat but is made from plants, and so, when vegan, are PETA approved. It allows people who like the taste of meat to enjoy it without contributing to animal slaughter and suffering.” She personally believes that mock meats are far healthier since, like plant foods, they would be cholesterol-free. “Doctors who are up to date tell us meat is linked to heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and other serious health problems,” she says.

Plant-based mock meat players have come up with products that are similar, in taste and texture, to all sorts of meat — chicken, mutton, even fish. Take Udaipur-based Good Dot. Three years after getting registered, it claims to sell 12,000-15,000 units of its products every single day across the country. Co-founder Abhishek Sinha explains that the products are made from soy, wheat, pea or quinoa. Imparting the product the same flavour as meat is comparatively easier, he says, than achieving the same texture. The cost of mock meat is a little higher, though. For instance, a 200 gm packet of ready-to-cook achari tikka costs around ₹165, while the same quantity of chicken tikka is priced at ₹100-120. Eighty per cent of his customers are non-vegetarians, Sinha says, who want to reduce their meat consumption.

Not all good

It sounds good, but some doctors advise caution. Rekha Sharma, former chief dietician at AIIMS, New Delhi, and currently president of the Diabetes Foundation (India), says, “It is not equivalent to meat, which is first-class protein.” She warns against the consumption of more than 20 gm of soya per day, stating it can increase risks of breast cancer. Tapasya Mundhra, a Delhi-based nutritionist, also warns against too much tofu or soya. Besides, seitan, which is a flavoured wheat gluten used in mock meat production, is also difficult to digest, she points out.

Sinha insists his products can be eaten daily. “It’s not like processed meat where salting, curing and addition of preservatives takes place. The processing is primarily thermal-, mechanical- and pressure-based.” Yet, the products don’t specify the ratio or quantity of soya on the packets due to proprietary issues.

While long-term studies are still needed, Sharma believes “such (mock meat) products mostly cater to psychological aspects, not health”. The phenomenon of mock meat is catching up, but it is good to be aware of what is on your plate.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 8:55:51 PM |

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