The Shifting Food Industry
The world faces one of its gravest problems in factory farming due to its massive impact on the environment, animal welfare, and human health. Previous solutions and strategies have called for dietary restrictions. However, it is unlikely that the majority of people will be satisfied with the sudden replacement of chicken, beef, pork, and seafood with vegetables and tofu. Therefore, instead of changing consumer behavior, the focus is shifting to producing food that replicates the taste and texture of animal products in a humane and sustainable way.
For the past decade, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy have become increasingly popular. New SPINS retail sales data released July 16, 2019 shows that grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 31% in the past two years to reach $4.5 billion. Comparatively, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 4% over the past two years. More recently, lab-grown (cultivated) meat and fermented animal products have been gaining traction as well. In 2018, JUST Inc. used cellular agriculture to extract animal cells from a single feather and engineered them into chicken nuggets. Perfect Day makes commercialized ice cream with real milk proteins without the use of an animal through a fermentation process. The Global Food Institute, a U.S based nonprofit that serves as a think tank for the field of humane and sustainable food, has built a database on the companies relevant to the clean meat industry which include lab-grown, plant-based, and fermented meat & dairy. The data reveals that there has been a 1,033% increase in startups related to this industry since 2000. HappyCow’s database, a worldwide guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, showed a 713% increase in vegan restaurant openings within the past decade.
Alternative Meat & Dairy Companies and Vegan Restaurants by Region
Although the alternative meat & dairy industry has been exponentially expanding, there is a clear disparity in where these companies and restaurants are located. Using The Global Food Institute’s company database, I created a geographical map of where these companies are located. I also aggregated HappyCow’s data to visualize how many vegan restaurants are available per 10,000,000 population in 2019. Although North America and Europe only hold 14% of the world’s population, 89% of the alternative meat & dairy companies and 60% of vegan restaurants are located there. By contrast, Asia and Africa hold 77% of the world’s population, but only 7% of those companies and 28% of vegan restaurants are located there.
Why We Need Ethnic Variety of Foods
Food is a way to preseve culture and becomes part of people’s identity. It is ingrained within religion, emotions, upbringing, traditions, celebrations, and customs. My Korean family would not switch to plant-based or lab-grown meat if it does not include seolleongtang (설렁탕), kimchi-jjigae (김치 찌개), and odeng (오뎅). On New Years, they will eat ddukgook (떡국), with anchovy broth and shredded beef, because it is tradition. Although they might try a Beyond Burger, my friends won’t stop cooking samgyupsal (삼겹살구이), bulgogi (불고기), and galbi (갈비) at their BBQ parties. If leaders in this space want to see the food industry truly change, the alternative meat & dairy movement needs to mobilize in all regions and ethnic groups.