Vegetarianism is a way of life in India, something the meat-eating West is now trying to turn to. Mock meats are acknowledged and plant proteins have proven to be comparable substitutes to meat as many food start-ups and manufacturers have started to accept the importance of the plant-based food trend.
A hot commodity globally, meat alternatives brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have opened avenues for a larger market. Impossible Foods secured a $200-million funding in August 2020, raising the company’s total investment since 2011 to $1.5 billion. Beyond Meat has products available for purchase at dozens of major American fast-food chains and grocery stores. Since going public in May 2019, Beyond Meat has partnered with Subway, KFC, Del Taco, Dunkin’ and more. And its shareholders have seen massive returns.
However, the need to consume a healthy and immunity-boosting diet, especially during the pandemic, has made animal activists, vegans and health experts raise an alarm against killing of animals and so have the consumers and restaurants in adapting it as part of the diet plan.
Now to intensify the influx of demand in plant-based food an institutional incentive for meat alternatives has been introduced. The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), Delhi, an animal protection body that supports plant-based living with a growing emphasis on health and nutrition, has launched ‘the plant factor’, a food innovation challenge with `20 lakh to invite applications from Indian plant-based start-ups, entrepreneurs, businesses, restaurants, researchers, and students, who meet the criteria of non-animal ingredients such as mushrooms and mycoprotein; have taste, texture and nutritional profile and ready to market products.
Varda Mehrotra, executive director, FIAPO, says, “We are looking for alternatives which are targeted at the Indian consumer and meet the nutritional, taste and texture profile according to Indian palate. People recognise the need, ease of accessibility and great taste of plant-based nutrition. There is a collective interest in sustaining a more varied, versatile green diet like never before.”
Additionally, the FIAPO urged Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), an autonomous body established under the ministry of health and family welfare, to promote plant-based food as an immunity builder and to seek food hygiene and safety guidelines for meat shops and slaughterhouses during the pandemic. “Green food is vital to improve immunity for all age groups and should be promoted by the FSSAI. It is pertinent that slaughterhouses and meat shops should follow the rules notified by the FSSAI under food hygiene and safety guidelines for food businesses during the pandemic or should be banned to operate,” says Mehrotra.
On the other hand, the FSSAI has released guidelines under the ambit of Eat Right India (Eat Right during Covid-19) and food hygiene and safety guidelines for food businesses, and supports all kinds of diets and nowhere promotes plant-based diet over meat-based. “It is evident that immunity can be boosted with the help of minerals like iron, zinc, amino acids, etc, as well as plant sources like spices, condiments and herbs. This has no connection with promoting one type of diet over the other. The idea is to have a balanced diet which constitutes all kinds of nutrients. Any food item that is not hygienic can be harmful. It is important to handle food, hygiene, and sanitation practices properly. A wholesome diet regardless of plant or meat-based sources is important,” says a senior spokesperson of the FSSAI.
The nutrition trend
Plant-based diets have gone mainstream. From public figures like Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Gates to corporations like WeWorks, there is growing support to consume plant-based foods. American singer Beyoncé and rapper JayZ have adopted the vegan lifestyle and invested in vegan meal service, 22 Days Nutrition, alongside their personal trainer Marco Borges.
According to the World Health Organization, every year over 20 million people die as a result of malnutrition, and approximately one billion people suffer from chronic hunger. It takes an average of four pounds of grain and other plant protein to produce just one-half pound of beef. As many as 80% of starving children live in countries that actually have food surpluses; this is because the extra grains produced are fed to livestock instead of people.
Doctors and activists have also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promote a plant-based diet. The doctors’ call has been supported by animal welfare groups People For Animals (PFA), Ahimsa Trust and Mercy For Animals (MFA) pointing out that a significant amount of research by global bodies such as EAT Lancet, World Economic Forum, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, among others, have concluded that increased production and consumption of animal-based foods is detrimental to public health and the environment. “It is time that the Eat Right Campaign initiated by the FSSAI highlights and promotes consumption of plant-based diet for public health, food security and sustainability. Virulent disease outbreaks, including the current global pandemic have been traced to meat markets and production facilities time and again. The current intensive production practices of egg and meat production gravely impact public health,” says animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, trustee, People For Animals.
The letter also demanded to develop and promote plant-based diet with incentives, subsidies, and public distribution schemes to ensure that malpractices in animal farming such as overcrowding and administration of non-therapeutic antibiotics are not encouraged.
In support of start-ups that promote plant-based diet with monetary aid, Priyanka Rohatgi, chief nutritionist and dietician, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bengaluru, also feels, “The government can give subsidy on such foods and products, enhance the public distribution system for them and include it in the nutrition programmes run under various campaigns and NGOs or mid-day meal programmes.”
Impact on nature
Meat is the devil in more ways than one, as it not only clogs your arteries, but the ecosystem as well. As per reports, meat and dairy, particularly from cows, have an outsize impact, with livestock accounting for around 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. That’s roughly the same amount as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined in the world today.
A recent study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says on an average, it takes about three pounds of grain to raise one pound of meat. Mindful of the carbon emissions that come from raising animals, a plant-based diet is fast becoming a staple of consumers’ diet.
Indian researchers are trying to grow fat cells, cartilage cells and bone cells in conjunction with muscle protein at IIT Guwahati, which has developed lab-grown meat to find alternatives to traditional animal-based protein. Meaty substitutes, also called mock meat, like soy can be used in tikkas and burgers, and are suitable for vegans as well.
Contamination of meat supplies with harmful bacteria, microorganisms, carcinogens, or bacterial strains such as salmonella, clostridium, escherichia, streptomyces, pseudomonas can spoil meat. Also, when meat is grilled, barbecued, or smoked at high temperatures, it releases fat that drips onto cooking surfaces. This can affect health producing toxic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic in nature. Minimising smoke and wiping away drippings can reduce PAH formation by up to 89%.
“Meat and meat-based products have to be handled hygienically but with commercial animal farming on the rise, animal products are loaded with antibiotics, hormones, and a host of other toxins which can make meat non-consummable. Also processed meats carry another threat. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an intergovernmental agency forming part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations, in France, had cautioned in 2015 that the consumption of processed meat was classified as ‘carcinogenic to humans’. This carcinogenicity is likely to be generated during processing methods such as curing and smoking, or when meat is heated at high temperatures. While all meats may not be contaminated, here the risk is higher,” explains Babina NM, chief medical officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute, a modern naturopathy hospital in Bengaluru.
Zorawar Kalra, MD and founder of Massive Restaurants, feels many have given up meat for health and ethical reasons, but the vegetarian diet is going to grow bigger in the future. “India is a little behind the curve globally on the change from non-vegetarian to vegetarian, as we anyway eat so much vegetarian. Moreover, anyone who has never eaten meat doesn’t really feel the need to eat mock meats. So, adaptation to soy protein and plant proteins is going to be bigger abroad than in India, but vegetarianism will continue to grow larger here. It’s almost become a buzzword.”
SAVING THE PLANET
– Plant-based diets have all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fibre and phytonutrients. Those who eat a plant-based diet tend to have lower rates of obesity, cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes than those who eat meat
– Sustainable eating habits can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming, which are all factors in global warming and environmental degradation
– The Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, UK, suggests how a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to eight million lives by 2050. It can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings
– Soybean-based meat of Japanese food firm Marukome generated sales 96% above its target for the month of May
– Fuji Oil Holdings, a major plant-based manufacturer in Japan, has reported huge demand in their soy-based vegan product line
– California-based Before the Butcher start-up has plant-based burgers, grounds and chunks, and savoury soy-based burgers
– California-based Beyond Meat products are made with non-GMO, gluten-free pea protein
– Michigan-based MorningStar Farms, a division of Kellogg’s, produces dairy-and egg-free patties, wings and nuggets
– Canada-based Gardein has fishless fish, mini crabless cakes, gluten-free products and meatless meatballs
– Seattle-based Field Roast offers vegan sausages, deli slices, roasts, burgers and even a meatloaf
– Veggie Champ by Delhi-based frozen food brand Ahimsa has alternatives to fish, mutton, chicken and has vegan hot dogs, salami, Nawabi kebab, etc
– Udaipur-based GoodDot makes meat alternatives out of soy, wheat and pea protein
– Chennai-based Vegeta Gold provides alternatives to fish, mutton and chicken
– Delhi-based Vezlay offers bipartite food community products like shaami kebab, soy seekh kebab, etc
– GoodDO, an off-shoot of vegan brand GoodDot, has derived its name from the goat Gooddo who was rescued by the founder from being slaughtered for meat