You’d be forgiven for not even realising you may already be part of the growing worldwide nutrition trend known as ‘flexitarianism’. Most of us participate in it subconsciously already.As the versatile cousin of the vegetarian and pescatarian, the flexitarian is the foodie who is flexible with their food choices (hence the name), but also takes a considered approach to eating less meat. So, are flexitarians just vegetarians who take breaks so they can enjoy the best of both culinary worlds? And where does synthetic meat come into the equation?
Many are already familiar with movements such as ‘meat-free Monday’, yet may not have realised its connection with the rise of the flexitarianism. Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his family are some of the famous faces that consciously advocate for this stance, in the hopes of cutting the risks to cancer, heart disease and diabetes, while also benefiting the environment.
And while this ever-growing food agenda is noted as one of the key culinary trends to watch in 2017, it’s the rise of synthetic meats, made from stem cells and cultures in labs, which has also helped ignite a global conversation about the revised eating habits of our future. Scientists from around the globe are already hard at work on recreating meat that, to the naked eye, tastes like the real deal. A team of Dutch scientists in 2013 unveiled their lab-manufactured burger, while a US company served up the first-ever lab made meatball in 2016.
It’s hoped that, with time and further research, these manufactured meats will be instrumental in reducing the extreme levels of carbon dioxide this industry creates (labelled by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations as the worst offender of emissions, sending 300 kilograms into the atmosphere), as well alleviate the global water crisis, with 15,000 litres of water required to produce a mere one kilogram of meat. As to when we’ll see these synthetic meats in our local supermarkets, the cost of one burger ($330,000 for the Dutch experiment alone!) makes this prohibitive on a larger scale… for now.
Less ‘mad scientist’ type meat substitutes have been around for a while, of course. Companies, such as Impossible Foods in California, have developed a mixture of plant-derived proteins to make patties that appear to look like meat. Dutch company Beeter and Quorn branded products both have a considerable market share in imitation meat. But when it comes to taste, these substitutes won’t hold up against synthetic meat, because synthetic meat is real meat. Whether consumers will embrace it is another question, however.
What you can count on though is the flexitarian trend to continue to expand and flourish in mainstream society. For those no longer willing to be bound by the rigidity of veganism, or for those whom their diet demands the level of protein and iron only a big juicy steak can produce, yet want to do their part in protecting the environment, then flexitarianism may be the future.
Whether or not you choose to indulge in a man-made, lab-manufactured hamburger as a result of this diet choice, will depend on just how willing you are to have your beefcake and eat it, too.