Don't eat fake vegan meat, just have proper vegetables your granny would recognise instead – Stephen Jardine

A sweet potato burger can be absolutely delicious and far better than protein-based imitations of meat

Look back at old family photos and something is striking – hardly anyone is fat. Obesity rates have rocketed in this country and at least part of that is down to the prevalence of fat-laden, sugar-rich processed foods in our diet. Our grandparents cooked from scratch whilst we choose convenience. They say if you want to stay healthy, don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise.

The founders of Beyond Meat must have missed that advice. The company was launched in 2007 to try to switch us from meat to plant-based meat substitutes to help combat global warming. They promised to help us “eat what we love” but, from day one, the product missed the mark. It promised to taste like meat and instead it tasted mostly of disappointment.

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Now the Instagram influencer frenzy is over and the private equity vultures have moved on, reality is setting in and sales of Beyond Meat have slumped by a third. The company blames “high inflation, rising interest rates and ongoing concerns about the likelihood of a recession” but the reality is a bit more boring, the fake meat bubble has burst.

It started with the best of intentions but made the mistake of believing it could change the way we eat overnight. Meat production has implications for the environment but it is a natural product. In contrast Beyond Meat contains expeller-pressed canola oil, methycellulose, pea protein, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin and other ingredients too numerous to include in a 500-word column. The list of ingredients is often as long as it is baffling.

Consumers may have been tempted to try to do the right thing but the cost-of-living crisis has been a reality check on that. With Tesco selling two Beyond Burger patties for £4.30 alongside four Finest Steak Burgers for £4, customers have chosen real over fake.

Supplying vegan burgers to McDonalds, Beyond Meat may be one of the biggest players in the sector but it’s not the only one to feel the chill wind of reality. English vegan specialists Plant & Bean joined Meatless Farm in calling in the administrators recently due to poor sales. On top of that, Pret a Manger has closed nearly all their vegan, meat-free stores.

So now the fake meat gold rush is over, where do we go from here? The basic facts remain the same, we need to eat meat of a higher standard and less of it. But with its lacklustre taste and long list of ingredients, fake meat is not the answer. It may seem like an easier transition for those moving away from meat but instead of relying on scientists to help we should be looking to nature.

We should eat less meat, of higher quality, but avoid fake versions (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)We should eat less meat, of higher quality, but avoid fake versions (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
We should eat less meat, of higher quality, but avoid fake versions (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last week I had a sweet potato burger and it was absolutely delicious. I’d still choose a meat burger but as an alternative, it was far better than any pretend protein versions I’ve tried.

From vegetables to chickpeas to lentils, there is no shortage of meat substitutes in the natural world so we need to grow up and recognise that decisions have consequences. If we don’t eat meat, we have to eat something else that will be different and might just be delicious but should not be something created in a laboratory. No granny would want to see that.

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