New Proteins: What's on the Menu?

Sep 13, 2023

The protein transition plays a big role within the food industry. There's no getting around it. In his new column, Maarten Cordenier gives his views on this transition. What's on the table?

In my family, there are two flexitarians and two vegetarians. That makes us quite typical. Here in the Netherlands, we're not indulging in meat every day of the week. It's a different story abroad. On a recent trip to Malaysia, I was briefing our colleagues. I hosted a Food Masterclass similar to the ones I run back home. I posed questions like 'Who still enjoys meat?' and 'Who's trying to cut back?'. While many of us in the West lean towards environmentally conscious food choices, in Malaysia, they haven't quite reached that tipping point. Over there, meat is seen as a symbol of affluence. Those who can afford it flaunt their status by buying meat. 

Affordability plays a role when we talk about reducing meat consumption, and so does culture. The average Dutchman is accustomed to a plate of meat, potatoes, and veggies. Eliminating meat is a challenge, but finding replacements seems more achievable. Lab-grown meat, which originates from animal tissue and is industrially replicated, is undergoing testing in Singapore. It's a smart move, given its lesser environmental impact. However, this doesn’t necessarily address concerns of animal welfare. Personally, I believe insects stand a better chance of finding their way into Western kitchens. I admit, the idea of munching on creepy-crawlies is a tough one to swallow for me, but they're protein-packed and have a gentler environmental footprint than livestock. 

What strikes me about the shift towards new protein sources? The leaps and bounds made by each generation. My kids aren't familiar with traditional beef tartare but relish the veggie version. And then there's the naming convention. We need protein to thrive. It's found in meat, though there are countless alternatives. It's quite odd how we tend to wrap protein-rich products in meaty terms. Veggie burgers or sausages? Such names set an expectation of a meaty taste when the objective is to enjoy protein with a smaller carbon footprint. 

We'll always need our protein fix; the only question is 'How?'.

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