ENVIRONMENT: Is it possible for the Asian Pacific to mend its carnivorous appetite?

NICOLE ALAVERDIAN WRITES– As the world scrambles to adopt more environmentally friendly practices, there is one overlooked culprit of climate change: animal agriculture.

Despite a recent wave of vegetarian, vegan and plant-based food offerings in the Asian-Pacific, a study by the Food Service Consultants Society predicts that in Asia “the consumption of meat and dairy products are expected to rise 78% by 2050.” These numbers are worrisome, as intensive animal farming is the second largest contributor to climate change, following fossil fuels. It is also the leading cause of environmental problems such as deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.

What this suggests is that human meat eating habits are hard to change, especially when they are deeply embedded in ancient cultures. So, what now?

There is, possibly, a way to balance environmental concerns with the tastes of meat-craving bellies in the Asia Pacific: plant-based meat. Essentially, these “meat” products are engineered food made from plants that look, feel and taste exactly like, for example, a leg of chicken or lamb.

Although Asia is home to 40% of the world’s meat consumption, many plant-based meat companies, such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, have popped up, especially in Singapore and Hong Kong. These companies contend that their “meat” products are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The secret ingredient that creates the meat taste is heme—an iron-rich molecule found in all plants and animals, but which these companies make primarily from plants. The technique was engineered to solve the ever-growing threat of “humanity’s ever growing desire to eat animals.”

Products made with heme have been on the rise in the past couple of years, globally. Currently estimated at $4.6 billion, overall production is predicted to reach $6.4 billion by 2023. Asia is the fastest growing region for plant-based meat products because many of the world’s top billionaires, including Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing, are backing such initiatives.

In addition, these figures are slated to grow at a faster rate due “to an increased diet awareness, increasing health consciousness, booming food and beverages industries, growing economies and rapid urbanization.” Plant protein firms are expanding especially in China and Hong Kong. China has a long history of food safety problems, so consumers seem particularly open to novel foods. The region, then, is doing its part to transform the global food system into one that is more sustainable. If the popularity of meat alternatives continues to rise, we can hope their use will increase by 78% in 2050.

Unfortunately, simply advertising that meat substitutes are healthier, use less water, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and ravage less land is not enough. Carnivorous behavior has been a societal and cultural norm for centuries. Change will take time— but let’s hope that, as the plant friendly companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have demonstrated, global taste buds will adapt, and people will learn to savor new culinary offerings.

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