Schmitt: Real meat is not going away

Columnist Dawson Schmitt argues plant-based meat is only a competitor to mean, not a replacement. 

Dawson Schmitt

Editor’s Note: This letter is a response to ‘Plant-based meat is not going away.’

Plant-based meats. We see them more and more often. This faux meat has made it to online, grocery stores and even fast-food venues. It seems like the alternative meat fad is becoming more than a trend. However, meat demand is often overlooked as it thrived during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among all the commotion for alternative meat, companies producing the products reported wider-than-expected losses due to consumers not buying as much vegan meat as expected. Beyond Meat reported a loss in the first quarter of 2021, its third straight quarter of wider-than-expected losses. It’s no wonder they are kicking out their new chicken tenders product as we near the second half of the year.

So, why does it seem like plant-based meats are becoming so popular? Despite coming short of sales goals, mainstream media continue to cover these companies positively. Nevertheless, our most “beloved” celebrities will prop up plant-based diets unconditionally; businessmen/women, actors and actresses and singers alike will compete against animal agriculture, albeit their diet choices are often drawn from construed conclusions.

The popularity of a plant-based diet is built around a lifestyle filled with misconceptions about animal agriculture, promoted by celebrities and influencers who have used their platforms for activism and telling consumers what they should eat. Many adopt this lifestyle based on misconceptions about animal agriculture. 

Joaquin Phoenix became a popular champion vegan after his acceptance speech for the 92nd Academy Awards for best actor after his lead role in “Joker” as he preached about strongly opposing “factory farming.” Often, celebrities are fact-checked when they begin to spread misconceptions about the industry. Despite the loud attacks and name-calling towards farmers and ranchers, it’s hard to ignore the resilience of consumer demand for real meat. 

The alternative meat business is becoming a billion-dollar industry, but animal agriculture is already there. Sure, plant-based alternatives become more popular and serve as an option for those who want to change up their diet or those who can no longer eat red meat. And yes, farmers will have to change, but farming has changed dramatically over the last few decades despite the stubbornness of older producers. Farmers and scientists are coming up with ways to make animal feeding more efficient. Farmers are also tapping into niche markets, where consumers have a variety of preferences within meat consumption.

Even as the popularity of alternative meat consumption increases, studies show that consumers still prefer a hamburger over plant-based meat. While we see a more remarkable switch from real meat to plant-based, consumers are more aware of where their food comes from, and they would much rather their food comes from, which helps them make informed decisions.

So, what happens when plant-based diets do become more popular? The simple answer is that farmers and ranchers will continue raising animals. Agriculture has adapted for centuries, and it will continue to adapt. Plant-based meat is merely a competitor, not a successor.