Macau Matters | Beyond Meat

Richard Whitfield

In the 1990’s I used to regularly visit a Buddhist restaurant in Wan Chai in Hong Kong with local friends where we feasted on dou fu based cha siu and other fake meats along with other vegetarian dishes. The look and flavors were largely indistinguishable from “real” cha siu, and even the textures and mouth feel were close. The vegetarian restaurant at the Buddhist monastery in Taipa is still a favorite of mine.
Unlike one of my sisters who has been a vegetarian for 30+ years (and whose dogs seem to survive quite happily on their vegetarian diets), I am a happy meat-eater but I am beginning to recognize the health and other benefits of having less meat in my diet. My sister is against slaughtering animals and being a medical doctor, she is aware of the significant health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Vegetable based meat and milk substitutes have been around for many years, but they were never particularly valuable and their health benefits were not widely recognized, unless you were lactose intolerant or had some other specific dietary needs, or ethical qualms. In recent times there has been a resurgence in interest in making “meats” from vegetables in factories instead of growing and slaughtering animals on farms. For example, since Beyond Meat went public in May 2019 its valuation has more than quintupled to over US$8.4 billion. Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other new technology-based food industry players are investing heavily and starting to achieve significant success.
This investment is being spurred by a range of environmental, ethical and health concerns. Raising animals for meat, eggs and milk are very resource intensive types of agriculture. It is estimated that growing/making/serving one kilogram of Beyond Burger generates 3.5kg of CO2, consumes 9.7l of water and occupies 2.7m2 of agricultural land. The corresponding figures for growing/making/serving one kilogram of beef are 99.5kg of CO2, 1,451l of water and 326m2 of agricultural land – clearly the environmental savings are huge! This implies potentially huge long-term cost savings as well.
Anybody who has seen (or smelt) a battery chicken farm, large scale pig farm or cattle feed lot, or who has visited any kind of slaughterhouse can appreciate the ethical concerns with raising and “harvesting” animals in modern agriculture. To call a spade a shovel it is cruel and disgusting.
Everybody is also very familiar with the global obesity, heart disease and diabetes epidemic which can be largely traced to increasing meat consumption and more sedentary lifestyles as populations develop and get richer. There are many other health benefits to be gained from reducing the proportion of meat in your diet and many younger people are starting to recognize this and are changing their eating habits to become “flexitarians” – a silly word, I know, but quite descriptive. For example, demand for meat substitutes has grown by 37% in North America and 30% in Western Europe in the last year. Also, plant based “milk” now accounts for 15% of retail milk sales in America and 8% of sales in Britain. A significant factor in these products gaining mainstream recognition and acceptance is placing them alongside their “real” competitors in the meat and dairy sections of supermarkets. Seeing them in fast food outlets is also important, which is why the new technology producers are so keen to work with Burger King, KFC and the like.
Interestingly, the research and development efforts to create vegetable-based alternatives to meat, milk and eggs that have the same taste and nutritional values has just begun and there is considerable room for improvement and cost reductions. By contrast, modern conventional animal husbandry is quite a mature industry with relatively little scope to improve.
The long-term trend and the considerable benefits are clear. I am sure that Beyond Meat and the like would be very interested in Macau’s disproportionately large retail food and beverage industry and huge tourist base and we should be contacting them to set up operations in the region. Alternatively, maybe we could nurture some new local competitors?

Categories Opinion