With climate change wreaking havoc once again, August saw California devastated by the worst wildfire in 18 years, with global heating creating the perfect conditions for this disaster. Unfortunate events like this highlight the important conversations that need to continue taking place around our impact on the planet and its inhabitants.
When it comes to sustainable ingredients, things can be murky. According to research by the International Food Information Council Foundation, one in ten adults aren’t confident that they know what a sustainable food label is.
Palm oil is a controversial ingredient in terms of environment and health, created from the fruit from the fruits of African palms. Palm oil is found in around half of all packaged products, a highly versatile commodity used widely from processed foods to cosmetics, soaps, and detergents as well as cooking oil, industrial lubrication, animal feeds, and fuel. For example, palm oil contributes to the texture and mouthfeel of things like biscuits—helping food become more enjoyable for you.
To those who champion the use of palm oil, it is instrumental in economic development and an efficient use of land that helps millions of farmers make a living. To those who oppose it, it is a leading cause of deforestation, habitat destruction, social unrest, and climate change. Here, we’ll take a look at the issues surrounding palm oil so you can decide whether you want to avoid it or not.
You’re probably wondering why we use palm oil at all when it is so controversial and there are so many other sources and variations. Palm oil yields around four to 10 times more oil per hectare than other sources, including oil from soybeans or coconut palms. Simply using other sources of vegetable oil would shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats and species. The amount of product created from each bit of land makes it efficient and profitable.
On the other hand, to grow palm trees, hectares of rainforests are burned, which destroys homes for indigenous populations, habitats for animals such as orangutans, and the already very fragile rainforest ecosystem. Oil palms now account for a combined area the size of Syria, the majority of which was previously covered with forest. Once palm trees that are being used to create palm oil grow too high, making it difficult to reach the fruit, they are cut down to grow new ones—in simpler terms, deforestation occurs. Both of these remove trees that are working to withdraw carbon dioxide from the air.
In tropical areas, palm oil accounts for around 5 per cent of tropical deforestation.
Millions of lives depend on palm oil, placing high economic value on it as a commodity. Producing palm oil equates to jobs, infrastructure, and tax revenue. According to Conservation, around 4.5 million people in Indonesia and Malaysia make a living from palm oil, and another 25 million people directly depend on its production financially. This means that palm oil plays a key role in reducing poverty, something that shouldn’t be considered lightly for third world countries who have less economic advantage than the UK.
Palm oil helps drive the gross domestic product (GDP) for these emerging economies. Similarly, fair trade products are used to ensure fair working rights for farmers for many commodities such as fair trade organic coffee—simply banning palm oil would put millions of jobs at risk. If you shop ethically and buy products that are fair trade, you probably care about considerations like this. Although yes, orangutans’ lives are important, so too are the ones of Indonesian and Malaysian people.
According to research published in Nature Communications, cutting down rainforests and replacing it with palm oil plantations releases 61 per cent of the carbon dioxide stored in the forest back into the atmosphere—it was reported that Indonesia was releasing as much greenhouse emissions by deforestation as some of the richest countries were doing by burning fossil fuels.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to humanity, and we should be working to reduce our impact on the planet. Many publications encourage shoppers to buy products that include sustainable palm oil as this ingredient is virtually impossible to avoid completely—FairPalm aims to help protect the environment while supporting smallholder growers. Fortunately, more companies are acknowledging this issue and working to source sustainable palm oil with respect for both the environment and local communities.
Plantations can be expanded into land that isn’t occupied by forests, for example cattle pastures, or planting palm trees among other trees and allowing them to grow naturally, removing the need to cut down millions of other trees to develop plantations.
While there are clear arguments for and against palm oil, what action will you take, if any at all?
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it is that our mainstream, mass-scale meat industry is bad for the planet. Huge swaths of land filled with cattle are not only taking up crucial space for agriculture, but our favourite animal to eat, the cow, namely beef when it’s on the shelf, is a huge emitter of CO2.
In response to the global call to reshape our meat-eating habits, the last few years have seen major players crop up in the alternative meat industry, and the biggest among them are competitors Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Yes, they both have very similar names, which can sometimes make things just a tad confusing. They were both founded in California, US, around the same time, with Impossible Foods founded in 2011 by Patrick O. Brown, and Beyond Meat founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown (no, the two founders are not related).
Now both the gigantic, heavily venture capital-funded and pumped companies are making a lot of noise around the world, but we’re here to clarify exactly what their story is all about, what their products have inside them, if they really are better for us and the environment, and what we should expect over the coming years from the booming alternative meat industry.
The ultimate question that everyone is asking at the moment is which company has the best meat products, and probably because we all love burgers so much, the Impossible Burger vs the Beyond Burger is all the hype.
While it’s impossible to answer that question, as it’s largely a matter of taste, there is some information about what each company stands for, what ingredients it uses and how it produces its alternative meat that can help you decide whether you are an Impossible Burger devotee or a Beyond Burger fan.
Looking online, it seems that most search queries are about which alternative meat, and burger, is healthier for you. So we decided to break it all down in the chart below and take a little deep dive into each of the meat’s ingredients.
As Impossible Foods state on their website, “Impossible Burger is made from proteins, flavours, fats, and binders, like almost every burger you’ve eaten in your life. The key difference? Our ingredients are derived from plants.”
The protein in Impossible Foods’ alternative meat products is made largely from soy and potatoes. The flavouring is made from Heme (also called haem), which is the molecule that makes meat taste the way it tastes and gives it that distinct flavour and smell. In order to make the meat as deliciously fatty and oily as meat often is, Impossible Foods use oils from coconut and sunflower. And finally, in order to bind the ingredients together in that juicy consistency that is nor too dense or fluffy, Impossible Foods use Methylcellulose and food starch.
Want the full ingredients list? You got it.
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamins and Minerals (Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12).
You bet it is. One of the missions of the founder of Impossible Foods is to create a world of alternative meat products that are second to none to real meat. Understanding full well that meat lovers will never compromise on their meat quality and experience, Patrick O. Brown engineered the perfect vegan, totally meat-free alternative meat.
Beyond Meat writes on its website, “Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat. We source these building blocks directly from plants, to create delicious, mouthwatering plant-based meat.”
Very much in the same light as Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat also uses similar components to create its alternative meat products: protein, flavouring, and fat, but unlike its competitor, Beyond Meat also includes carbohydrates and minerals to the mix.
For its protein, Beyond Meat uses a mixture of peas, mung beans, fava beans and brown rice. Its fat components are made out of cocoa butter, coconut oil, sunflower oil and canola oil. In order to recreate both the taste and also the nutritional value of meat, Beyond Meat adds minerals, including calcium, iron, salt and potassium chloride. Completely free from GMOs, the meat product’s flavouring comes from beetroot juice extract, apple extract and what it calls “natural flavours.”
To hold all of the ingredients together in a meat-like texture, Beyond Meat uses potato starch and Methylcellulose, which is a plant fibre derivative.
As a US-based and born company, North America is the current stronghold market of Impossible Foods. The company’s meat products, and specifically the Impossible Burger are sold across the US at food chains and restaurants, including Applebees, Red Robin, The Cheesecake Factory and Burger King.
Impossible Foods products are also sold throughout supermarkets and local food shops. While it did take a few years for the company to roll out across grocery shops, as of September 2019, it can be found at Gelson’s, a southern California grocery chain, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and Wegmans.
Unlike its competitor, Impossible Foods has not yet rolled out in Europe as it currently awaits approvals from the EU’s food safety authority to market its soy leghemoglobin (the Heme flavouring ingredient it uniquely manufactured), which is the iron-containing molecule made using genetic engineering yeast.
Beyond Meat is easily accessible today, with its raw alternative meat products, including mince mix, sausages and burgers selling on the shelves of supermarkets across Europe, the US and Asia. You can also find Beyond Meat at many restaurants and fast-food chains, including Wendy’s in the US, and Honest Burgers in the UK.
Giving it a massive competitive advantage over Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat is already selling its alternative meat products in Europe and has, on 10 June, announced it will be expanding its production to Europe amid a massive meat shortage due to COVID-19, with a Dutch plant due to be opened toward the end of 2020.
As Beyond Meat does not use any genetically modified ingredients but creates its flavours from the minerals and flavourings, it has beaten its competitor to the European market.