Should You Eat Meatless Meat?

Sales of vegetarian “meat’ are on the rise, but probably not for the reason you think. Find out more.

Sales of meat substitutes are on the rise, along with the reasons people are buying them.

Fortune magazine reports that health-conscious and environmentally friendly consumers are fueling sales. Tastier products also are contributing to the higher sales figures.

Sales reached $553 million by 2013, an 8 percent increase from 2010, according to the London-based market research firm Mintel Group. And that’s despite the fact that only 7 percent of consumers identify themselves as vegetarians.

While relatively few people are vegetarians, 36 percent of consumers surveyed by Mintel Group had used meat alternatives. Plus, more people are changing their eating habits because of their changing environmental consciousness, Rachel Greenberger tells Fortune.

Greenberger, who is director of the Food Sol entrepreneurial food program at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, argues:

“Awareness of the plight of farm animals in our food system is sharply rising. … And people realize that our planet and our bodies cannot support an industry that breeds and slaughters 9 billion animals for food every year.”

In 2014, U.S. red meat production totaled 47.4 billion pounds, a 4 percent decrease from 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That figure includes beef, veal, pork, and lamb and mutton.

The meat industry is firing back against critics who say vegetarian alternatives are healthier.

The North American Meat Institute, a trade association, states on its website:

Scientific research affirms that meat and poultry are packed with essential and highly absorbable nutrients and can play a vital role in a healthy diet.

Meat and poultry, eaten in combination with other recommended foods, also can optimize the nutrition that people derive from their balanced diets.

Some vegetarians are also critical of the nutritional value of some meatless products.

Ryland Engelhart, a partner in two expanding vegan restaurants in California, tells Fortune that many such products are highly processed and include ingredients that have a similar texture to meat but lack nutritional benefits.

That doesn’t appear to be holding back the hunger for fake meat, however.

Such an appetite is already building, said Dan Gillotte, general manager of Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin, Texas, tells Fortune:

“People are tasting these products and are often very pleased and sometimes surprised how good they can be. … The sky is the limit for the future.”

Stacy Johnson

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