Science - January 20, 2010

Fake meat still too fake

Vegetable-based meat substitutes are still not good enough to persuade meat eaters to abandon their pork chops or steaks. Fake meat is too far removed from the real thing, but it is unfamiliarity with such new products in particular that is preventing people from putting them in their shopping trolleys.

Annet Hoek, at Human Nutrition, received her doctorate for work on this subject on 12 January. She soon realized that it is very difficult to create a suitable substitute for meat. 'Meat is popular and its taste and texture are unique. It is a real challenge to come up with something that meat eaters will accept.'
That is why Hoek looked at which aspects are key in persuading meat eaters to change their ways. Currently fake meat is largely eaten by vegetarians. When explaining why they use substitute products, they often refer to the environment, animal welfare and health. The meat substitute products meet this group's requirements and fit in with their reasons for choosing fake meat. Such motives barely play any part at all for meat eaters. 'There is a mismatch between the quality of the current range of meat substitute products on the one hand and the wishes and demands of meat eaters on the other hand', says the PhD student. 'They get everything they want from meat so why should they make the switch?'
Fake meat sausage
The relatively unknown vegetable burger or tofu made from soya are nothing like meat in flavour and consequently most meat eaters will not have anything to do with them. According to Hoek, many meat substitutes make people feel less full as they contain less protein than meat. Hoek thinks it does not make sense to start a campaign to make meat eaters aware of sustainable food in the hope that next time they will leave the steaks on the shelf. She says it is better to meet the requirements of meat eaters. In her opinion the focus should be on making meat substitutes tastier and displaying them alongside the meat products in the supermarket rather than on separate shelves. She also thinks it would help if fake meat was just like real meat in terms of appearance and preparation method, as in a fake meat sausage.
Food culture
The biggest problem with the new generation of meat substitutes is that Dutch meat eaters are not keen on new products. They don't like what they don't know. Hoek diplomatically calls this conventional food choice 'our food culture'. Her research shows that it is this initial hurdle in particular that puts fake meat at a disadvantage. Once meat eaters have cleared that hurdle, they sometimes start to appreciate meat substitutes more; they become familiar with these products and get used to the taste. Even so, the PhD student says there is still a long way to go before fake meat is accepted. Consequently, she suggests staying closer to what meat eaters really want in order to achieve a reduction in meat consumption, for example by offering products containing both meat and vegetable proteins.

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