I have recently seen a paper on preferences and attitudes of Belgium consumers concerning meat blended with plant-based proteins. This made me think about the current “meat crisis” in Brazil. Although this is the world's largest exporter of beef, its average consumption in the country has dropped from 42.8kg to 26.5kg [in Portuguese] - the lowest level in decades [link in English]. This is related to the economic crisis of the last few years (and particularly to the COVID-19 crisis), to a surge in food prices (despite a reduction in exports [1]) and an increase in food insecurity. Households are replacing beef with chicken, eggspork, or products with lower levels of protein [2].

As a vegetarian, I have always found remarkably hard to explain to my relatives how I get my protein intake. Part of the problem is cultural: well, I'm from a region where the local cuisine is basically barbecue, and people often feel that a meal without animal products inherently lacks something. This sometimes results in bizarre situations, Which is curious, because I have heard anecdotes about people cooking with soy protein in the 80s and 90s, during the last inflation crisis, to replace meat.

Also, I have realized that part of the problem is the access of people to plant-based products, and also the way they are marketed - usually as fancy or expensive dietary supplements, instead of routine ingredients like flour. I can search for a bargain and buy 1kg isolated soy protein (90%) only for less than what most people pay for low quality beef products … There's no way to beat plant-based protein supplements, if you can buy your food online [3]. But if I go to a small grocery store, the best I get is soy extract (used for soy "milk"), priced as a luxury good. And the good old (not very tasty, I admit) cheap plant-burgers are being totally replaced by the delicious & expensive & very well-marketed "fake meat burgers" everywhere.

I see this as a possible market failure, caused by either sticky cultural habits, or lack information [4], etc. And, of course, a moral tragedy: people are starving, or consuming more fat, and / or eating more chicken / eggs / pork, so increasing animal suffering. But it's also a consequence of policy (animal protein sources are listed as essential products in legislation) and marketing decisions.

So my point: is there any way of changing it? Like teaching poor people how to find and use plant-based products? Or perhaps there is something like healthy products (unlike nuggets) mixing animal and plant-based protein, so "diluting" the externalities associated with factory farming and reaching a wider public?

 

[1] Beef (nominal) prices have increased about 166% in the last ten years. Yet, they have remained stable after China suspended Brazilian beef for alleged sanitary reasons; but as this measure was made void in December, we expect prices to surge again along this year.

One can contrast it with Argentina, which suspended its beef exports to keep internal prices low. Things went so crazy that recent videos of people butchering cows in the middle road after a truck accident went viral.

[2] Unlike what this piece of misinformation states:

"But, amid news of the negative health effects of meat consumption and the devastating effects of cattle ranching on the Amazon rainforest, eating habits are slowly changing in the meat-loving nation.

This change is reflected in the growing number of people swapping animal-based burgers for plant-based versions."

[3] I guess one of the distinctive traits of vegans / vegetarians is just this: we tend to pay attention to what we are eating.

[4] And, of course, evil factory farmers. Recently, they have reacted to a campaign from one of the major banks, which wanted to dissociate from ethical issues concerning animal farming, by having barbecues all around the country.

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A while back I looked into using lard and/or bacon in otherwise vegan cooking. The idea being that you could use a fairly small amount of animal product to great gastronomical effect. One way to think about this is to consider whether you would prefer:
A: Rice and lentils with a tablespoon of bacon
B: Rice with 0.25lb ground beef

I did the math on this, and it works out surprisingly poorly for lard. You're consuming 1/8th as much mass, which sounds good, except that by some measures, producing pig induces 4x as much suffering as producing beef per unit of mass. So it's a modest 2x gain, but nothing revolutionary.

On the other hand, the math works out really favorably for butter. Using that same linked analysis, if you can replace 100g beef with lentils fried in 10g butter, you're inducing ~150x less suffering.

One upshot of this is that almost all the harm averted by consuming vegan baked goods instead of conventional ones is from avoiding the eggs, rather than the butter. So I would really love to see a "veganish" bakeshop that uses butter but not eggs.
 

Minor data point: Linda McCartney hamburgers often mix soy protein and cow cheese.

It appears that some efforts that started off with a blended product ended up going with just a plant-based product (e.g., The Better Meat Co., Tyson Foods). Anecdotally, it appears that the approach might make the products less appealing to both meat eaters and meat reducers. Tyson Foods also included egg in its "plant-based" line and then dropped it due to backlash. See link. 

https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2020/12/07/From-made-with-plants-to-plant-based-Tyson-eliminates-eggs-from-Raised-Rooted-nuggets-drops-blended-burger

In the cellular agriculture space, Mission Barns seems to have a strategy that focuses on creating animal fat.

A guess at the idea: the taste of animal fat is a key missing component in plant based foods. So if you could produce animal fat at scale, you could go much farther with hybrid products.

Also, on paper, it seems possible that focusing on the single task of culturing fat could dodge a lot of the recent feasibility concerns of creating animal meat.

 

And the good old (not very tasty, I admit) cheap plant-burgers are being totally replaced by the delicious & expensive & very well-marketed "fake meat burgers" everywhere.

 

The last calculation I did indicated that the old plant-based burgers were lower price per mass, but actually higher price per calorie than the new ones. And the price for the new ones is falling rapidly.

...higher price per calorie than the new ones.

I didn't know that. On the one hand, that's great: it implies something like, if you're trying to feed your family, you'd be better off buying one fake-meat burger instead of six of  the old ones.

But actually calories are pretty cheap - if you're optimizing for that, you can just fry things in oil / fat, or buy more carbs, right? Maybe protein mass would be a better proxy for nutritional value in this case. That's the food insecurity issue I'm currently worried about.

Plus, I'm not sure if optimizing for ca... (read more)

I've seen a few blended products. Perdue has a line of blended nuggets and there is a burger chain in the DC area called elevation burger that markets "half the guilt" burgers with one vegan patty and one beef patty. Not sure if it's a great strategy but I imagine it could be helpful if it were marketed more directly toward meat eaters and less toward reluctant omnivores.