For a long time, Americans were a meat ’n potatoes kind of crowd. But recently, we’ve been getting increasingly conscious of the health and environmental impacts of our eating habits. Growing numbers of diners are changing their diets in an attempt not only to watch their waistlines, but also to develop a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
The latest development in healthy, sustainable living is “Beyond Eggs,” an egg substitute made entirely from plant-based materials that hits the market in two weeks. And while some might be skeptical, the company’s ready to convince us that the product’s not only better for the environment, but also better for our bodies — and it supposedly doesn’t taste bad either.
What’s the Deal?
According to Hampton Creek Foods, the company that makes Beyond Eggs, the substitute is a healthier, more eco-friendly alternative to the eggs we currently swipe off the grocery store shelf. For one thing, the egg substitute doesn’t contain any animal products, eliminating some of the ethical concerns associated with raising hens in battery cages. The company website also notes that the process of producing chicken eggs wastes water and releases greenhouse gases; so Beyond Eggs are a more sustainable option. Plus they’re 18 percent cheaper than chicken eggs, which have been getting more and more expensive over the last few years.
As for what’s actually in the egg substitute, we’re talking plant-based materials such as sunflower lecithin, canola, peas, and natural gums from tree sap. No gluten or other allergens and no cholesterol. (For those at risk for heart disease, that might be a big bonus, although recent research suggests eggs aren't a health menace after all and might not have a negative impact on cholesterol levels.)
But the gray-green powder isn’t really designed to replace the essential ingredient in that spinach omelet; instead it’s intended for use in mayonnaise, dressings, and baked goods. If it sounds gross, we hear you, but supposedly the stuff is just as tasty as the real thing. The company also claims the substitute is just as nutritious as chicken eggs, though right now it's unclear whether Beyond Eggs provide the same high-quality protein.
Why It Matters
Hampton Creek Foods is hardly the first company to offer a plant-based alternative to animal products. Beyond Meat sells chicken-free strips that apparently look, taste, and feel like the real deal (though we haven’t tried the products ourselves). A more Frankenstein-y approach involves growing steak in test tubes, which scientists say is a much more environmentally sustainable alternative to raising whole animals Environmental impacts of cultured meat production. Tuomisto, H.L., de Mattos, M.J. University of Oxford , Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Oxon, UK. Environmental Science & Technology 2011 Jul 15;45(14):6117-23.. (Still, it’ll probably be a while before growing meat in test tubes becomes a mainstream practice.) And hello, bug burgers: A recent study suggests that insects are a more eco-friendly protein source than other animals.
One of the main reasons behind the rush to replace animal products is the fact that producing this food is taking a huge toll on our environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production contributes to global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and the loss of biodiversity. Experts say eating less meat is a key solution to many of these problems, as well as a way to increase the global food supply Global farm animal production and global warming: impacting and mitigating climate change. Koneswaran, G., Nierenberg, D. Humane Society of the United States, Farm Animal Welfare, Washington, DC. Environmental Heath Perspectives 2008 May;116(5):578-82. Reducing the environmental impact of dietary choice: perspectives from a behavioural and social change approach. Joyce, A., Dixon, S., Comfort, J., et al. EACH Social and Community Health, Ringwood, Australia. Journal of Environmental and Public Health 2012;2012:978672. Solutions for a cultivated planet. Foley, J.A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K.A., et al. Institute on the Environment (IonE), University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Nature 2011 Oct 12;478(7369):337-42. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. Pimentel, D., Pimentel, M. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):660S-663S..
That’s not so easy, of course, especially in the U.S., where we really like our hamburgers. Americans eat more meat (about 270 pounds per person every year) than almost any other nation. And don’t forget those scrambles: The average American eats 250 shell eggs annually.
The most practical strategy may be to gradually introduce plant-based meat alternatives into the American diet, until we’re happily swapping steak for seitan. It would also help to promote awareness of the negative health and environmental effects of eating too much meat and other animal products. That way we’ll at least be more open to trying something like an egg substitute — if not tomorrow, then at least eventually.
Have you tried any plant-based replacements for animal products? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.