Is Vegetarian Chicken a Good Alternative to Real Chicken?

By: Justin Chan

While local farmers in California are struggling to find slaughterhouses for their chickens, one New York Times writer has suggested abandoning the consumption of chicken altogether and instead opting for a plant-based alternative.

In an op-ed, Mark Bittman writes that the chickens' poor living conditions and the savage process of slaughtering them warrant a procedure that is more humane. Although one answer is to reduce or eliminate their consciousness, Bittman says the best method is to look for a meat substitute. In the Netherlands, for instance, a shop called The Vegetarian Butcher offers plant-based products that taste awfully similar to meat. The "chicken," in particular, Bittman notes, would have fooled him had he not known about it beforehand. He says his experience there made him reconsider the advantages of eating vegetarian meat and how it might reduce the environmental damage caused by raising chickens industrially.

The process of producing chickens, according to Bittman, is brutal and environmentally unsound. Approximately eight billion chickens are killed annually. Most are grown so quickly that they develop bone disease and live in chronic pain. Furthermore, the chickens are injected with antibiotics because they contain dangerous bacteria including staph, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria. Farmers are also increasingly finding it difficult to manage the manure, wastewater and post-slaughter leftovers that come with producing chickens; therefore, Bittman argues, producing vegetarian meat is a better alternative.

Bittman says that, nowadays, vegetarian meat is becoming more "sophisticated." Companies such as Quorn and Gardein offer mushroom-based and soy-based products that taste close to, if not better than, the chicken used in wraps, salads and sauces. In fact, one Maryland business, Savage River Farms, will release a new product that will not only taste like chicken but chews like it. The startup company will commercialize a soy-based chicken substitute developed by Fu-Hung Hsieh, a professor of biological engineering at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. While the cost of production will be cheaper than raising chickens, there will also be health benefits to eating the vegetarian meat. Consuming soy protein, in general, lowers blood cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Whether Bittman makes a convincing argument for vegetarian meat is debatable. Most people are accustomed to eating meat and may let their bias get in the way of trying a new type of food. Regardless, the growing popularity of plant-based foods reveals the startling impact that technology has on our daily consumption and even our health. Soy-based products are gaining momentum in developing countries and can tremendously alter the diet of the world's population.

Have you tried soy-based meat yet?

Photo: FotoosVanRobin

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