An independent assessment found they use 46% less energy, 99% less water, and 93% less land too.
Whenever we write about hyperrealistic plant-based bratwurst or bleeding veggie burgers, we usually hear from skeptics who argue that we should be eating less—not more—processed foods and industrialized products.
Indeed, even some pioneers in the plant-based alternatives movement believe that meat and dairy analogs should stay true to their plant-based nature.I understand this argument from a cultural and culinary standpoint -- and perhaps from a health standpoint too. After all, if we're replacing sodium- and fat-saturated processed meats with sodium- and fat-saturated pea protein instead, we should probably spend some time understanding what they do to our bodies. And is a 90% accurate replica of a hotdog really the best we can strive for in terms of gastronomic advancement?
In terms of environmental impact, however, the argument may be different. Because while there may be a certain back-to-the-land ethos and aesthetic within the green movement, there's a danger that romanticism can lead us to throw our plant-based babies out with the irrigation bathwater. (Sorry!) You see, given the climate precipice we find ourselves on, we need to cut emissions fast. And if plant-based processed foods have lower greenhouse gas emissions or water and land use consumption than animal-based meats—even unprocessed ones—then I for one hope the world gets turned onto them, and fast.
That's why it's relevant that Beyond Meats recently released an independently peer-reviewed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) created by Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan, and comparing the Beyond Burger to your average 1/4 pounder beef burger.
Among the findings of the report were the fact that the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef. And while pea proteins, canola oil and coconut oil all have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and land use, a not insignificant portion of the product's impact was simply down to packaging. (Switching to a recycled polypropylene tray would singlehandedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions 2%, and energy use 10% per burger.)
Of course, statistics can be manipulated. So lest anyone is wondering where Beyond Meat got the comparison stats for a cow-based burger, I think it's worth noting that it was from an existing LCA study commissioned by... wait for it... the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (Thoma et al., 2017).
Of course, a carrot and some lentils are probably still going to be better for your health. But if you're craving a burger and don't want to cook the planet, you might want to give Beyond Meat's products a try.