News Treehugger Voices 'Beans Over Burgers' Campaign Calls for Simpler Solutions to Plant-Forward Eating Business in the alternative "meat" sector is booming already, so government investment may not be all that necessary. By Sami Grover Sami Grover Twitter Writer University of Hull University of Copenhagen Sami Grover is a writer and self-described “environmental do-gooder,” now advising community organizations. Learn about our editorial process Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast on July 26, 2021 LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a writer, fact checker, and conservationist with a certification in sustainability. Learn about our fact checking process on July 26, 2021 04:29PM EDT Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices When Treehugger senior writer Katherine Martinko wrote about the United Kingdom’s newly published National Food Strategy, she zeroed in on the recommendation that Britons will need to eat a lot less meat if they’re going to achieve significant emissions reductions. Specifically, she noted there is significant potential in the reformulation of prepared meals—which make up a full 50% of the meat that the U.K. eats. Yet while Martinko herself suggested replacing ground beef with lentils, there’s a broader assumption that any reduction would likely involve scaling up processed, plant-based meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat. And this is where some advocates for greener eating are urging caution. Specifically, the heirloom legume enthusiasts over at The Bold Bean Company—admittedly not an unbiased participant in this debate—have started a campaign that they are calling Beans Over Burgers. In an open letter to Henry Dimbleby, lead non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the campaign’s signatories are calling for the government to avoid investing in plant-based "meats," and instead to focus their energies on real, whole plant-based foods like—you guessed it—good old beans: We want to start by saying that The National Food Strategy is a hugely exciting report offering a monumental opportunity for our country. You have fully recognised where and how our food system is broken, and offered many innovative and inspiring recommendations which we hope the government will put into action. We are, however, disappointed by your support for manufactured meat alternatives and recommendation of £125 million investment in this already booming sector. Instead, we propose a greater emphasis on minimally processed wholefoods such as grains and pulses… In many ways, the group is echoing arguments made recently by Marion Nestle: Simply replacing high-sodium, ultra-processed meat products with high-sodium, ultra-processed plant-based products is missing a trick. They also go further, by spelling out specifically the significant environmental and economic benefits that could be had by helping the farming industry to diversify into lower impact crops. This extract from the open letter spells out the basic argument: Studies have shown that we have only 60 harvests left before our topsoil has completely degraded. One of the key ways to prevent this is through the planting of cover crops like legumes. A contributing factor to the degradation of soil is the use of nitrate-based fertilizers. The planting of legumes reduces the need for chemical fertilizers through their nature of being “nitrate-fixers”, pulling nitrogen from the air and replenishing the soil naturally. This is a major objective of the National Food Strategy and support for this market, rather than meat alternatives, would see huge benefits to our farming system. Now I confess, as someone who has eaten and enjoyed a fair few Impossible Burgers over the past few years, I did have some concerns about the perfect being the enemy of the good. After all, given the disastrous environmental impact of intensive, fast food-based meat production, weaning society off of those products should be a priority—and that may mean finding less environmentally harmful, plant-based alternatives that don’t require an immediate shift in consumer preferences. Yet the open letter also makes another, hard-to-refute argument: And that’s the fact that business in the alternative "meat" sector is booming already, so government investment may not be all that necessary. And here, I think, is where the Beans Over Burgers campaign feels most relevant. It’s not that plant-based meats can’t help reduce emissions. (They can.) And it’s not that they are arguing for an immediate and wholesale societal shift to brown rice and beans and a whole food-based, plant-forward diet. (Which sounds unlikely.) It’s just that they are pointing to where government investment and intervention would make the most sense. In much the same way that investments in e-bikes and walkable cities often make more sense than tax breaks for private car ownership, government action should probably be targeted to where the greatest benefits lie. Yet "bleeding veggie burgers" tend to grab more headlines than a simple, old can of beans. Good on the Bold Bean Company for trying to change that equation.