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Meatless Options Having Little Impact on Wyoming Beef Producers

in News/Food/Agriculture
2736

By Tim Mandese
Cowboy State Daily

Despite a growing trend toward meatless meal options, Wyoming’s beef producers are not seeing much of a decline in the demand for their product.

Plant-based meat substitutes are popping up in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. Burger King sells its Impossible Whopper, Qdoba has an Impossible fajita and burrito. Even Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a plant-based patty as a sausage substitute on its breakfast menu.

Although plant-based meat substitutes are more available than ever, their presence in the market has not dampened the demand for Wyoming beef, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“I think it’s gotten a huge amount of media attention because it’s something new,” Magagna said. “The media attention far exceeds what it’s gotten in the meat case and grocery stores or food establishments. At this point in time, the percentage of the market they’ve taken is so very small that we certainly haven’t felt an economic impact, but that could come if this continues to grow.”

WSGA figures show plant-based foods make up a little more than 1 percent of the beef market.

“The hype would lead you to believe it’s taking over the country and I dont see any evidence of that,” Magagna said.

The majority of current media attention is centered around meatless products from a company called Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 by Dr. Patrick O. Brown.

Impossible Foods did not respond to an emailed request for an interview. However, the company’s website said its mission is to end the use of animals to make food. The company’s goal is to make convincing meat, dairy, and fish from plants-based sources.

In 2016, Impossible Foods launched its first product, the Impossible Burger, a substitute meat patty. Today, it’s served in 15,000 restaurants world wide.

According to the company’s website, the patty used in Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is made of the following ingredients:
•Water

•Soy-protein concentrate
•Coconut oil

•Sunflower oil

•Natural flavors.

Impossible “meat” also contains 2% or less of:
•Potato protein
•Methylcellulose
•Yeast extract

•Cultured dextrose
•Food starch, modified

•Soy leghemoglobin (Heme)
•Salt
•Soy-protein isolate
•Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
•Zinc gluconate
•Thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
•Sodium ascorbate (vitamin C)
•Niacin
•Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6)
•Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

•Vitamin B12.

According to ImpossibleFoods.com, its patty is made mostly of soy protein derived from soybeans.

Another soy ingredient, and the one said to be responsible for the meat-like taste, is soy leghemoglobin.

“Soy leghemoglobin is short for legume hemoglobin — the hemoglobin found in soy, a leguminous plant” said the ImpossibleFoods.com website. “Leghemoglobin is a protein found in plants that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life. Heme is found in every living being — both plants and animals.”

Given the list of ingredients found in the meatless patties, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association is working with legislators to set labeling standards for plant-based products.

“Our big concern and our focus the last couple of years is on how these products are advertised,” Magagna said. “If they are advertised for what they are and it’s fair competition, it’s a free marketplace, as long as it doesn’t lead people to think they are eating real meat when they are eating plant-based products.

“We’ve worked on and are still working on legislation at the national level and we passed a bill here in Wyoming last year in our legislative session, that identifies how those products have to be labeled,” he added.

The introduction of a meat alternative has helped the beef industry better understand what it must do to compete in changing markets, Magagna said.

“There’s plenty of evidence out there that red meat is an important part and a healthy part of a balanced diet,” Magagna said “If it’s done anything, in one way it’s helped us, because it’s inspired us to better recognize the need to market our product and to focus on marketing the healthy attributes of our product”

Range Writing: Moving Away From Nature

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
Wyoming sheep dog
1550

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The New York Times opinion writer Timothy Egan has done it again, proclaiming in a “Fake Meat Will Save Us” piece that “At a moment when animal-based agriculture is near the top of planet-killing culprits, ditching meat for substitutes, faux or otherwise, is the most effective thing an individual can do to fight climate change….”

Not distinguishing between types of ag operations, Egan complains about animal agriculture, while conceding that the new meat alternatives that will save humankind “are highly processed Frankenfoods hatched in a lab.” But hey, at least industrial ag isn’t as bad as the current president, which Egan calls “the worst threat to the planet now.” Given his political agenda and tendency to exaggerate, it’s hard to take Egan seriously. But his column is a reflection of some troubling public policy questions.

When I read about global-scale food and agriculture policies, my mind most often goes to the people of rural Africa, and I question how that policy or advance in technology will help my friends in that landscape. Most often these policies and new technologies are advanced and touted by elitist white men inhabiting cities in industrialized countries.

These people know nothing of cattle and sheep production on the western range, of migratory livestock herds in Africa, or even that meat production occurs outside of feedlots, and that not all animal production is done on an industrial scale. That there are people all over the globe who live close to nature and know how to feed themselves doesn’t receive a thought.

When Egan writes that it takes 660 gallons of water to create a burger, I realize that a person who would advance such a notion has never looked at an African cow and how it is raised.

The current view that new food technology will be our salvation results in a drive that pushes the human population further away from nature and away from a reliance on the land to sustain our bodies. When it comes to food production, it’s a predictable cycle, with a predictable outcome. I’ve just finished reading a book that is an excellent study for those of us who tend sheep but would hold little interest from most of the general public called The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders, edited by Michel Meuret & Fred Provenza.

The book sketches the history of agriculture in southern France. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, sheep raising in southern France was not for wool or meat production, but for the production of sheep manure to maintain fertility in two-year cereal crop rotations.

Most flocks were wethers that were not slaughtered until they were four or five years old. Later agricultural modernization resulted in the view that rangelands were worthless, as producers turned to “new, high-performance animal genotypes, which require a standardized, nutrient-rich diet for meat or milk production.”

Scientists advised that productive herds be kept indoors or on forage crops where ration optimization could be calculated, based on feed value tables. As ag operations became specialized, they became concentrated on arable lands, and rangelands were abandoned or planted with trees.

What was lost in the process? Shepherding skills, and the knowledge of the natural world. Industrialized agriculture in France resulted in ag production growing by 250 percent from 1954 to 1992, and farm labor productivity increased tenfold, while the farm population declined to a quarter of its former size.

Within a few decades, southern France’s countryside had lost its diversity of meadows, forests and grasslands, and had become a closed and unmanaged landscape of dense brush and forest, with most human activity confined to the valley floors.

A variety of factors led to the next change, but at last the public and governments took notice of the degraded landscape, abandoned farms, loss of farmers, and noted the need to restore the land. The loss of biodiversity and increased fire hazards could be corrected through traditional livestock grazing.

Livestock could be used as an environmentally friendly way to restore the land, reduce the risk of wildfire, and provide healthy food. At last, the livestock were allowed to be turned back outdoors – and bewildered livestock producers were given financial incentives to do so.

Those former peasants who had herded sheep in the past were suddenly viewed as experts in valuable traditional knowledge, and schools sprang up to help spread this knowledge. The book details the 11 categories of shepherds and goatherders in France, and the various governmental support and structure for these positions. Grazing trusts provide financial support for capital expenditures, including the construction of handling facilities, while other funding may provide for supplies to be dropped on mountain pastures via helicopter.

Public policies, backed by financial support, has livestock producers focused not just on producing a quality meat product, but in providing for a variety of ecosystem functions. French farmers may receive $30-270 per acre annually to provide these ecosystem services.

Half of all the lamb consumed in France is imported, mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and sheep production in France receives support from European Union ag subsidies – which account for more than half of a producer’s net income.

The conservation of nature is a big deal in Europe, and animal agriculture is viewed a key component to maintain outstanding biodiversity. Perhaps the fake meat elitists need to spend some time actually harvesting food grown in nature, rather insist that the public eat something manufactured in a laboratory.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

An opportunivore, vegetarian and reformed omnivore walk into a veggie bar…

in Food and Beverage
1287

This is part two of the Impossible Burger food fight with our tasters first impressions and candid conversation on the ethics of lab-grown meat versus farm-raised meat. Find part one here.

But once the cameras quit rolling, our deep discussion into the merits of meat vs. vegetable patties began in earnest.

IKE: Do you think the Impossible Burger is a more ethical option than a traditional hamburger?

JEFF: Yes. Nothing died to make this burger.

IKE: A cow didn’t die, sure. But the farmlands needed to produce these ingredients are often acres of monoculture where wildlife species are suppressed. On a ranch, you have biodiversity. Wildlife is allowed if not encouraged to thrive.

JEFF: That may be so, but most the meat this country consumes aren’t the cows you see on the side of the road. They are cows that were raised in a box somewhere else.

IKE: Understood. I’m not crazy about the process of mass producing meat, but unfortunately my pocket book dictates that if I want to eat meat, I have to buy what’s cheap.

JOEL: There’s no question there’s a lot benefits to eating plant-based foods vs. industrially produced livestock. Unfortunately, it does come down to economics. There are a lot of people whose diets would suffer significantly without access to that cheap meat. 

IKE: I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask an entire populace to embrace an “ethical” diet at the risk of poverty. 

JEFF: I’m vegetarian, but I don’t believe everyone needs to be. As a nation, we do consume way too much meat, however.

IKE: So what’s the solution? 

JOEL: Like anything else in a capitalist market, you can’t expect the producers to bear all the weight, nor the government, nor the consumers. All change needs to be driven by all those sectors working in concert. Until consumers decide to eat less meat, until the producers respond to that decision, until the government devises a plan to incentivize healthy diets and production practices, it’s hard for me to claim one diet is more ethical than the others.

IKE: I’ll be honest, I like the Impossible Burger as a sandwich. I don’t see anything impossible about it as it fails to provide a believable substitute for meat, but I would be willing to replace a couple meat sandwiches a week with something like this. The problem is research. Every time science provides us a “healthy” alternative, research seems to prove the alternative is worse than what it replaced. Look at diet soda, sugar substitutes and margarine.

JOEL: I can’t believe it’s not butter.

JEFF: I can’t believe it’s not murder (before finishing the last bite of his Impossible Burger). For me, it’s about being more ethical. I don’t believe in killing animals, so I don’t eat them. While that may not mean my food is produced as ethically as possible, I believe it’s more ethical than meat.

JOEL: I think what the Impossible Burger symbolizes is more ethical, and that’s having more plant-based options for our nutrition.

IKE: If the problem with meat is the death of animals, do you see lab-grown meat as a viable and ethical option?

JEFF: Absolutely. I think it’s the future. 

JOEL: I’m down. Sure. Why not?

Food fight: ‘Impossible Burger’ taste panel debates meat vs. veggie burger

in Food and Beverage
Food fight: ‘Impossible Burger’ taste panel debates meat vs. veggie burger
1284

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If you’re going to pick a fight, it might as well be a food fight.

When Cowboy State Daily charged me with assembling a taste-testing panel for the Impossible Burger, I knew just the guys to get the dialogue rolling: Joel Funk, the Laramie Boomerang managing editor and former vegetarian; and Jeff Victor, a University of Wyoming grad student and fanatic disciple of vegetarianism.

Both Joel and Jeff know me to be an unrepentant meat eater, or “blood mouth” as Jeff would later say. So, under the guise of diversity, I was able to entice my friends to the table for a debate about ethical edibility. 

It didn’t hurt I offered to pick up the tab.

The impossible 

On April Fools’ Day, Burger King rolled out a game-changing announcement — a partnership with Impossible Foods to provide a vegetarian burger patty dubbed the Impossible Whopper.

I’m not sure if they chose the date so they could retract the statement depending on the public response, or because they thought offering a meatless hamburger was a good prank, but come April 2, the fast food franchise stood by their claim — sort of.

The Impossible Whopper is only available in select cities for the time being, and it comes as no surprise none of those cities are in Wyoming.

According to the Washington Post, however, the faux-burger did quite well in St. Louis, where it’s being tested at 59 locations — many of which sold out of the sandwich the first day.

Now, I’ve been called a lot of things, but patient isn’t one of them. Luckily, I didn’t need to look far for an opportunity to try out the Impossible.

Sweet Melissa Cafe in Laramie offers the original Impossible Burger, Impossible Foods’ precursor to the Impossible Whopper.

Food fight

Joel, Jeff and I kicked off the feast with the intended testing panel and for the most part, the Impossible Burger was a winner.

“I don’t think this could compete with a gourmet burger,” Jeff said. “To me it’s good. But, it makes me think of a trashy fast food burger, and I mean trashy in the best of ways. That’s actually what I like about it.”

Joel turned the Impossible Burger over in his hands almost as if he were judging it by weight alone.

“It’s got good substance,” he said. “It feels like a burger in my mouth. As far as veggie burgers go, it’s probably one of the better ones out there.”

My favorite kind of food is whatever is in front of me, so I dived in.

“I like it as a sandwich, but I don’t see anything ‘impossible’ about it,” I remarked. “It’s definitely got that mouth feel, but it’s lacking the flavor of meat. My tastebuds notice a definite absence.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for video with the tasters first impressions and ensuing conversation on the ethics of lab-grown meat versus farm-raised meat.

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