It is now widely understood that modern industrialised farming, and by extension, a carnivorous diet, is bad for the environment and often one’s health. In recent years people have become aware of not just the ethical and emotional arguments for reducing meat intake, but also the stress it puts on the planet, specifically in its unsustainable use of water and implications for ecosystem and soil degradation. The in-and-outs of these consequences are innumerable and would require reams of text to properly address, however, the UN nicely sums up the proximity of the catastrophe in its estimation that we have just 60 harvests left.
So what are our options? Many suggest a complete overhaul of modern farming systems, switching to a lower intensity, decentralised system and one that embraces the natural diets of many animals – i.e. grazing cattle and feeding pigs on scrap food, which both animals would be able to digest better than the currently preferred soya or corn. However, such a top-down change seems unlikely, and as is so often the case with these things, the consumer must take charge to see change. This is where the recently super-popularised diets of vegetarianism, veganism and flexitarianism come in.
The market has exploded in recent years to cater to these newly established segments, ones especially driven by millennial engagement. This has likely been helped by social media movements and awareness garnered by celebrity spokespeople, as well as a number of internationally acclaimed documentaries such as Food Inc. and Cowspiracy. Millennials have shown their interest in and commitment to healthier diets, and in five years they’ll have families and will be the target market.
This shift has prompted huge innovations in the food sector; US companies like Beyond Meat sell a plant-based burger in Whole Foods nationwide, and Impossible Foods have created a burger that sizzles, smells and even bleeds like real meat. In fact, Impossible Foods has been so successful that the critically acclaimed David Chang has introduced the ‘Impossible Burger’ to his menu at Momofuku Nishi.
— More Than Meat (@more_than_meat) January 13, 2017
With American’s consuming on average 50% more than their body weight in meat every year, and Britons only slightly lower at just over our body weight, there is clearly a lasting market for meat. These innovations in consumption provide a lasting alternative to industrial farming and could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 70%. However, for those who are most concerned with maintaining their high protein intake, there may be another entirely different alternative. Insects.
French company Jimini’s make a range of insect-based snacks, from fruity curry Grasshoppers to sesame and cumin mealworms, and the more conveniently packaged banana and dark chocolate cricket flour protein bars. As it turns out, these little insects are absolutely packed full of protein, fibre, iron and calcium and so provide a great alternative to the more adventurous individual looking to cut down their reliance on farmed animals. Although not suitable for vegetarians or vegans, insect-based foods have been praised for their minimised impact on the environment.
However, it is clear that not everyone will be willing to make this switch to a meat-free lifestyle, and this is where a number of leading labs in the USA are breaking some serious ground. Companies like Super Meat and Memphis Meats are producing real meat that is grown in lab conditions. It looks like, tastes like, smells like and really is real meat, just without the environmental consequences (and of course animal suffering).
These products offer a sustainable alternative to the meat-centric society of today. Such food innovations paint a picture of a modern meat-landscape that can feed our growing populations without jeopardising soil and water quality. Hopefully, this can do something to reduce the whopping 14% of greenhouse gas emissions that agriculture currently contributes.
Clearly, views are shifting, and people are increasingly open to alternatives, but which one will come out on top and what will the ‘foodscapes’ of the future look like?
The future of meat
Today the Sun reported an exclusive story revealing that all of Pizza Express’ chicken was halal. For those who are not aware, this means that the chicken is killed in line with strict Islamic law, allowing Muslim customers to eat it. For the vast majority of those reading, I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Ok, cool.’
The Sun then goes on to state, ‘But diners are not warned in advance the chicken they will be eating is halal. There is no mention of it on menus and staff only tell customers if they ask.’ Again for me, this totally misses the point – halal chicken tastes the same as non-halal and as such the killing method is irrelevant.
Regardless of general views of the credibility of the story what it does highlight is that Pizza Express may have actually missed the boat with PR coverage here, and in turn may be losing out on custom.
I was already aware that all the chicken used on Pizza Express’ pizzas was halal – something I found out after a Muslim friend suggested we eat there one evening – but I would bet the vast majority of the British public did not know this to be the case…until today.
We live in a world of political correctness where people are often nervous to make any comments regarding race or religion, but I think it’s fair to say that openly stating that your chicken is halal is not going to dissuade customers.
Pizza Express’ business model is reliant on repeat customer and I just can’t envisage someone turning their back on a Pollo Pesto due to how the chicken is prepared. ‘Sorry darling, but this is halal, we’d better leave…I hear Chicken Cottage does a varied menu…let’s try there.’
Multiculturalism is something to be proud of, to be celebrated, it baffles me that Pizza Express aren’t openly saying all their chicken is halal. If more people can enjoy their food it’s a good thing for both the customer and their bottom line – a textbook win-win.
As we move into a world where variety and compromise become increasingly important in terms of shopper needs (think vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.), why on earth would Pizza Express not celebrate a measure which opens up their offering to a wider and growing demographic of the UK population?
Ironically a story which was set to do them some damage could well do more than anything they’ve done proactively to raise awareness of their halal chicken. It’s strange how these things can work.
Let’s hope this is more than a flash in a woodstove oven and that the story will encourage more retailers to be on the front foot with regards to menu transparency in future.
Sun expose on Pizza Express’ halal chicken highlights a PR opportunity missed