What’s Better for Your Health? Cultured or Plant-Based Meat?

Plant-based formulas have some advantages over their competition 

To ponder an upcoming question, let’s all stipulate that climate change is real and that the meat industry is environmentally unsustainableand is a huge contributor to pollution of all kinds, especially climate change

Let’s also stipulate that while most of the planet agrees that meat is delicious – and that it has nutritional value – meat is too problematic to continue long-term and that we should encourage moves towards finding replacements.

Do some web searches for Is meat bad for you? or Is meat bad for the environment? and gets hard not to agree that yes, meat really isn’t a good choice – on both counts. The question we’re asking is, therefore: Which replacement version is a better choice? A better choice for health? A better economic choice? A better choice for the planet? 

One candidate is so-called ‘cultured meat,’ which is grown in labs from cells. Cultured meat is becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread, with variations on the idea blossoming.

Plant-based meat was once something as simple as a bean-based veggie burger. Today, however, using AI technology and 3D printers, plant-based ‘new meat’ startups are printing 3D vegan steak. 

Teams of meat experts (including tasters and butchers) tested and tasted, and teams of computer wizards worked and reworked algorithms to make textures and tastes as meat-like as possible, and today 3D-printed meat is getting rave reviews.

3D printed meat has gotten the taste issue figured out –– courtesy of a mix of human and artificial intelligence which together has created formulas scoring sky-high for meatiness. (Note: the formulas and AI algorithms can and will be adjusted for superior quality, such as improvements to taste and texture or better nutrition). Finally, plant-based meat, including vegan meat made by 3D printers, is presently on track for moving towards scale in such a way that will drive down the price to consumers much faster than the cultured meat industry will be able to do.

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Yes, Wagyu beef can indeed be recreated using cultured cells, but the price of that cultured creation is utterly unaffordable to almost everyone. In Canada, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Centre for Culinary Innovation research assistant Mariana Lamas Bezerra summed up the situation in a BBC report saying, “… [cultured meat] production is so small, and right now it’s so expensive – we cannot make them on a large scale.”

There’s also some pushback from not only vegetarians and vegans but also from meat-eaters. These people find growing meat cells in a lab to be a bit Frankenstein-ish. A surprising 35% of meat eaters and a less surprising 55% of vegetarians say they have perceived feelings of ‘unnaturalness’ connected to cultured meat, Science Diet reported in 2022. –So much so that they say it’s “too disgusting” to even try.

Few people have these similar objections or concerns about vegan plant-based meat, which of course is made with 100% natural ingredients. The main issue for plant-based meat in the past has been ‘taste,’ as animal and plant proteins are very different.

Committed meat eaters – for the most part – have tried and rejected most veggie burgers, commonly made from chickpeas or beans, for example, as they lack that unique chewy texture of a meat patty. Plants cook differently than animal protein does. These differences were just some of the issues that have been studied for years by ‘new meat’ startups based primarily in Israel.

Their years of hard work have resulted in a production process that uses a 3D printer to create ‘alternative muscle’ or ‘alternative fat’ – both obviously plant-based. The printing process ends with a slice of alternative meat that’s an almost perfect replica of animal protein – a technology that represents a huge breakthrough. 

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Venture capitalists who know a champ when they see one are putting their money where their mouths are by both investing in start-ups – as well as buying up smaller manufacturers in a controversial consolidation bid. And among the reasons investors are picking a side is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how cultured meat could be financially viable in the short-to-medium term.

But a second reason – and highly troublesome at that – is that even though cultured meat might not be from an animal that has been killed, meat created in a lab with meat cells is still animal meat – and animal meat comes with health risks. Science is making discoveries at a fast pace, most of which clearly indicate we would be better off eating far fewer – or no – animal products. 

Cultured meat may simply have too much baggage attached to it to become the “meat of the future.” It’s unlikely the technology will go away, but plant-based meat makers are the stronger bet on who’s going to create the future. Plant-based 3D printed meat is already here and has more-than-positive reviews. It’s backed by meat lovers and celebrity chefs, is easy to improve on, comes with no cholesterol, has no ‘Frankenstein’ effect, and is made out of only natural ingredients. It’s looking like we can call this one for candidate Plant-Based.