Whether you’re a newly arrived student or a seasoned campus resident, you can’t fail to notice that WUR is an ardent proponent of the ‘protein transition’ from the consumption of animal proteins to more plant-based proteins. My own opinion on the value, necessity and implication of this transition aside, I am highly amused by two consequences of the rise of meat substitutes in particular.
One of these consequences has to do with another hot issue in nutritional science: whether Ultra Processed Foods (UPF) are dangerous. That question has led to a movement of people who promote the consumption of unprocessed products. I think if you made a Venn diagram of pro-protein transition people and pro-unprocessed products people, the two would largely overlap.
What do you call the factory product that’s got to look like meat? Is plant-based dairy still dairy?
But meat substitutes stick in the throats of this group like a – hopefully plant-based – bone, because unlike meat, most meat substitutes consist of a whole list of manufactured ingredients and definitely belong to the category of Ultra Processed Foods. So should you advise people to eat unprocessed, single-ingredient products like beef or a highly processed but plant-based vegan schnitzel? It’s a hellish dilemma.
And then there’s this: what do you call the factory product with endless ingredients that’s got to look like meat, which has fallen out of favour. Is plant-based dairy still dairy? Is vegan mince still mince? There’s another nice dilemma beneath the good intentions, because why would you want the substitute to go by the same name as the product that so disgusts you? The nomenclature is a stumbling block for many, including many vegetarians. So France recently petitioned the European Court to rule that no meat names could be given to fake meat. If that goes through, Albert Heijn’s vegan schnitzel will have to be called ‘mix of hydrated soya and wheat protein with cornflour, vinegar, methyl cellulose, potato fibre, salt, onion powder and garlic powder, coated with maize, sugar, salt and barley malt extract and deep-fried in sunflower and rapeseed oil’.
Let’s hope there’s a student starting this year in Consumer Sciences or Nutrition and Health who’s going to solve these devilish dilemmas. Good luck, first-years!
Guido Camps (39) is a vet and a researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.