Giving Compass' Take:

• As more meatpacking plants become COVID-19 hot spots, the alternative meat market continues to grow as a viable option.

• What are the benefits of more individuals turning toward alternative meats? 

• Read more about plant-based foods. 

As with toilet paper and cleaning products, you probably didn’t fully appreciate meat until the coronavirus pandemic snatched it away. The distribution infrastructure that normally gets plenty of beef, pork, and chicken to American grocery stores has begun to buckle as meatpacking facilities become COVID-19 hot spots and shutter, leaving farmers with nowhere to send their animals. Those livestock are consequently growing too big to process, so farmers across the Midwest are having to gas or shoot tens of thousands of animals and throw them away, all while millions of Americans are going hungry.

The core problem behind this wastefulness is the convoluted way we consume protein. Farmers grow protein in the form of feed, which other farmers supply to their livestock; the animals convert that into new protein in the form of flesh, which is prepared in processing plants and sent to stores. That’s a whole lot of middlemen, and more links in the supply chain that can snap.

But in recent years, alternatives have emerged, promising to cut out those middlemen. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat skip the livestock entirely: Their factories convert plant material into a striking imitation of real meat. Other companies are experimenting with growing animal cells in a lab to make ground meat products like chorizo. University researchers are even experimenting with how to give that mushy meat structure to one day grow steaks in the lab. So given their simplified supply chains, might such alternative proteins rocket into widespread consumption during the pandemic, supplanting traditional meat?

Well, Nielsen reported that in the nine weeks ending on May 2, sales of alternative meat products in grocery stores went up 264 percent. But really, alternative meat options were well on their way before the pandemic hit.

One of the reasons fake meat makers can grow relatively quickly is because they can halt or ramp up production at their factories on demand. Farmers, on the other hand, have to wait for their animals to grow big enough to slaughter.

Read the full article about the rise of alternative meat by Matt Simon at Grist.