In place of ground beef, peas. Instead of dripping blood, beet juice. Rather than pulled pork, shredded jackfruit.
This is the new era of meatless meat. Freezer aisles are now stocked with vegan and other vegetarian options that use culinary ingenuity and a fair amount of science and innovation to actually taste like what they're mimicking. And even if you haven't tried one yet, the market forecasters say you soon will: The meat-substitute industry is projected to balloon to $6 billion within the next five years. Even poultry giant Tyson is onboard, investing $150 million in a venture-capital fund to target meat substitutes.
It's increasingly clear that eating less meat and poultry is one of the simplest, most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. University of Chicago researchers estimate that each meat-eating American contributes up to 1.6 tons more greenhouse gases per year — through food choice alone — compared with vegetarians. And unlike producing factory-farmed meats, making their substitutes doesn't promote antibiotic-resistant pathogens or require the slaughter of any animals.
The faux-meat trend has also been fueled by myriad studies linking regular consumption of red and processed meats to higher rates of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, even a decreased life expectancy. Substitutes allow you to skip carcinogenic ingredients and cholesterol-raising saturated fat from animals, and they're often less caloric, with a larger variety of nutrients and satiating fiber. In fact, new research from the University of Copenhagen found that men who ate a high-protein faux-pork patty in place of sausage ate substantially less at lunch, probably because the meat substitute was more filling.
Sure, the fakes aren't exact replicas of meat — but that's not the real point. "Nobody needs to be 100 percent vegan or vegetarian for health reasons," says New York City nutritionist Keri Gans. She tells clients to try meatless products not for a direct substitute for meat but for the new flavors and tastes they offer. Says Gans: "It's not about giving up something you love to eat — it's about finding something else you love." And maybe eating a little less of that other thing.