How choosing a plant-based burger can help the planet

Could you ever see yourself swapping real meat for fake meat? Well pretty soon you could find yourself doing just that because it’s become a global trend.

Greggs launching a vegan Quorn sausage roll last year was just the beginning.

For me, this began in my childhood. My dad, a health freak, used to go in for “nut meat” which my mum did her best to dress up by grilling to make it more palatable for my sister and me. We hated it.

Fast forward to 2020 and all the big fast-food chains are experimenting with fake meat. Burger King’s meat-free Rebel Whopper is already on sale across Europe and the UK, and McDonald’s PLT (plant, lettuce and tomato) burger will follow.

Meatless burgers have recently gone on sale in Wetherspoon pubs. And Britain’s supermarkets already supply a menu of fake meats: vegan ham, plant-based meatballs, soya protein fish fillets, tofu chorizo and even seaweed bacon.

Meat substitutes aren’t new, they’ve been around for centuries. Veggie burgers have been with us for decades. But today’s meat substitutes are different because they’re so ­realistic. Vegans and “flexitarians” love them because they are worried about animal welfare, their health and the effects on the planet of meat eating, but still want the taste and texture of meat.

Mostly they’re made from plant proteins and fats, but another brand, Impossible, uses heme in its burgers – an iron carrier that transports oxygen round the body in the blood – and some plant roots.

Heme made from yeast makes the burger “remain pink in the middle as it cooks”, and gives the “yeasty, bloody, savoury flavour” of beef. In tests, half of customers couldn’t tell it apart from a beefburger. And if it’s bloody you want, authenticity is provided by a “bleeding” effect achieved with beetroot juice.

However, plant-based burgers aren’t necessarily natural and healthy alternatives. They are highly processed foods, like frankfurters and chicken nuggets, which have long been using soya protein as “meat extenders” and wheat fibres for texture.

And while eating a lot of meat can be bad for your health, plant-based burgers may not be much better for you as they can contain more salt than meat burgers.

But the environmental benefits are unarguable. According to a recent University of Michigan study, a plant-based burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse emissions, requires 46% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of traditional US beef.

It seems that the single best way to be kind to the planet is not to eat meat or at least to try to reduce your meat consumption by half.