You are what you eat

Ingredients and funding behind imitation meat

Cattle efficiently convert plant matter into natural protein. Much of this is grass, which can’t be consumed by humans.

Multi-national corporations and wealthy elite have pooled their money to create imitation meat, some that will even “bleed” fake blood. While bean burgers and Tofu products have been around for many years to cater to vegetarians, these latest lab creations are made from a long list of sometimes questionable and highly processed ingredients.

Scott Lively co-founder of Raise American isn’t a fan of the plant based meat products. “My issue is if you want a plant based diet, eat plants, why pretend that you are eating meat. Many are eating a trend not because it’s good. Some have like twenty-seven ingredients and they only disclose ten of them. It’s not plant based it’s science based.”

According to, Methyl-cellulose (used in Beyond Meat Beyond Burger) is generally recognized as safe when used in accordance with good manufacturing practice. It is synthetically produced and can be used as an emulsifier or emulsifier salt, flavor enhancer, and stabilizer or thickener in food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and other industries.

According to Sodium phosphate (an ingredient in 365 Everyday Value, Breaded Chickenless Nuggets) is an umbrella term that refers to multiple combinations of sodium (salt) and phosphate (an inorganic, salt-forming chemical). Food-grade sodium phosphate is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe for consumption in processed food. Another use is to prepare the human bowel prior to a colonoscopy. Some researchers have found sodium phosphate when used as a food additive, can impact health differently than naturally occurring phosphate. This is because it’s absorbed differently by the body. According to the abstract, high levels of phosphate may elevate mortality rates for the general public, as well as for those with kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Researchers linked high phosphate levels to accelerated aging and vascular damage. The researchers recommended that people eat foods with naturally occurring phosphates, rather than those with added sodium phosphate.

TBHQ, or tert-butylhydroquinone, another common ingredient in imitation meat is a commonly used preservative in processed foods, particularly those containing fats or oils. It is banned in some jurisdictions due to being linked to immune dysfunction, protection against fat-induced cell death, and to both carcinogenic and cancer-protective mechanisms within the body. While in other countries including the United States, TBHQ is deemed safe and used in thousands of processed foods. Microwave popcorn, chips, chicken nuggets, and even some kinds of butter contain TBHQ. It acts as a preservative to prevent oils in these products from oxidizing, and its fat anti-peroxidation effects also prevent oils from going rancid. In small amounts it is deemed safe but diets heavy in processed food may exceed safe amounts.

On a quest to eliminate the need for animal farming, Pat Brown founded Impossible Foods, seeking to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to meat and dairy, directly from plants. Previously Brown was a world renowned geneticist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. In Brown’s bio on he explains how he uses biochemistry to trick plants into producing the same protein as meat “all while tasting just as delicious.”

Ethan Brown the founder and chief executive of Beyond Meat contends there are several main benefits to consuming plant-based foods instead of animal meat. It leads to fewer greenhouse gas emissions, it consumes fewer natural resources and it is better for human health. But for Mr. Brown, there is a more personal motivator. He would rather not be responsible for the deaths of animals. (New York Times article The ‘Hedonistic Altruism’ of Plant-Based Meat by By David Gelles, Aug. 27, 2021).

Most of these newer products use chemically extracted protein isolates or concentrates from soy or peas, rather than the whole beans themselves and rely on artificial colors to improve eye appeal.

While the California-based Impossible Foods might have had a humble beginning they quickly became the fastest growing plant based meat company with over two billion dollars invested in it. Investors in many of the companies have links to large corporations and overseas companies especially with Chinese ties, such as Horizons Ventures, the private investment arm of Mr. Li Ka-shing, a leading investor in some of the world’s most innovative companies and disruptive technologies, including Facebook, Waze, Spotify, Impossible Foods, Improbable and Zoom.

Other investors in the companies include Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and Asana. And Biz Stone is an American entrepreneur and co-founder of Twitter. Beyond Meat is also backed by celebrity and athlete investors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Chastain, Snoop Dogg, Liza Koshy, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Hopkins.

Tyson was an early investor in Beyond Meat and sold its shares (estimated to be worth $79 million) in 2019 on the eve of the vegan brand’s IPO to focus on its own plant-based offerings. Those products include the Raised & Rooted brand which Tyson initially launched in 2019.

The formerly popular investments have seen a steady decline in value. Beyond Meat stocks have fallen 84 percent from its peak of $152.58 in July of 2019 to a mere $24.42 in June of 2022. Many investors have lost millions. Supply chain issues have been blamed on some of the failures but the consumer demand has not grown as predicted.

Some see more of a future for Lab-grown meat, cultured meat grown from cells in a bioreactor, nourished by plant-based ingredients. The product allegedly has the same nutritional content as traditional meat.

Sean O’Keefe Present Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA weighed in on some of the ingredients found in imitation meat products. “TBHQ is a synthetic antioxidant used to prevent oxidation, Polypropylene Glycol is a flavoring and absorbs moisture. Why is it there? Soy and pea proteins are not any healthier than beef, we need to be aware that these products are highly processed, high tech products with a lot of components in there. TBHQ is a synthetic antioxidant used to prevent oxidation, Polypropylene Glycol is a flavoring and absorbs moisture.”

O’Keefe feels that many individuals are insulated from where their food comes from and that we need to reconnect with our food sources. “I’m a food scientist and the simplest, closest to the farms is best, I personally don’t like the synthetic ingredients and I don’t feel that the imitation meat is sustainable. Natural is better for us and has been consumed for thousands of years. Nothing is more natural than an egg or a cow.”


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