Can Tasty Vegetable-Based Meals Save The Planet?

When will food producers stop dabbling and cheating, and actually produce some proper vegan food?

I was looking at the shelves of my local supermarket at the ‘vegan’ foods on offer. One, not atypical example, was a protein bar, priced at £1.30 each ($1.80 or €1.55), offering 10g of protein. It was covered in a wrapper printed in garish colours, announcing its vegan status. The protein, of course, turned out to be peanuts, making the bar about six times the price of simply buying some peanuts. So what does one get for this enormously expensive way of buying peanuts? It turns out that what one gets is a lot of sugar and – of course – the non-recyclable plastic wrapper.

What nonsense.

In a different part of the store, the cool cabinets, there are now many different types of imitation meat products on offer. I have tried quite a few out of curiosity (and because we have a number of clients in the food industry that are producing vegetarian or vegan foods, and are launching many more, so it is good research). The imitation meat does not taste like real meat – it is not even close. So why bother? Who is it for? Meat eaters will not want it, because they would rather have the meat, while true vegans don’t want meat in the first place, they associate it with ecological and moral hazard. My niece for example, who is vegan, enjoys the taste of vegetable-based meals – she has no interest in pretending to be a meat eater, which she finds offensive.

In a few cases, these products are genuine attempts to reach the ‘flexitarians’, people who eat meat but would like to cut down a bit for ecological and/or health reasons. Sadly, most of these new ‘vegan’ products are just a scam, in others they are a bit of window-dressing.

If you will forgive me digressing for a moment: I remember being taken to a vegetarian restaurant years ago by a veggie friend and discovering the nut-roast Wellington they served. It was fantastic. It was not pretending to be beef, it was a delightful, vegetarian alternative to a meat-based meal. I went back time and again until, sadly, the restaurant closed.

The question that keeps coming to me is this: why don’t food producers actually start making properly tasty, vegetable-based foods? Why do we, as consumers, have to put up with poor -pretend-meat-alternatives or absurdly expensive (non-recyclable) repackaging of basic ingredients?

There are, of course, huge strides being made in the production of new vegetable proteins, vegan binders (to make meals that remain vegetarian when they could be vegan otherwise into truly vegan meals) and we, here at IDB, are proud to help enable that by offering access to the world’s research in these topics.

But I still think there is a fundamental shift that needs to occur in the thinking of the food manufacturers: the best way to gain vegan (and ecological) credentials is to make really tasty, vegetable-based meals at a sensible price. Why not try doing that?

Access the best scientific & engineering minds in academia.

Learn how to bridge the corporate-academia gap and build long-term relationships that cut costs, accelerate R&D, and bring products to market faster.