McDonald’s is famous for its meat products—millions of burgers, nuggets, and breakfast sandwiches are consumed every day across the United States and across the world. But, just like many Americans, the fast–food chain appears to be moving towards plant–based alternatives. In a surprising turn of events, the company announced just a few days ago that they would be testing a new plant–based burger dubbed the McPlant, co–developed with Beyond Meat, in select locations next year with plans to roll out plant–based chicken and breakfast sandwiches in the future.
With such a large company that has so deeply integrated itself into the American culture now making such a decisive step towards plant–based meats, along with other massive food chains like Burger King and Carl’s Jr., we can assume not only that this trend has become fairly well–established among Americans, but also that it’s here to stay. In fact, it appears to be working its way into another staple of American culture nearly on par with McDonald’s: Thanksgiving. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, two of the most well-known meat substitute producers in the industry, are both offering extensive options for a multi–course plant–based holiday meal this year, and plan to expand their respective product lines as consumers continue to snap up millions of dollars’ worth of meat substitutes each year.
This is likely because of the propaganda that’s flooded the internet over the past year or so with the health perks and environmental benefits of going meat–free, and the craze is truly reaching all generations—multitudes of vegetarian “what I eat in a day” TikToks populate the For You page and #veganfood posts abound on the Instagram Explore tab.
Although there’s plenty of exaggeration of the benefits of going meatless or simply swapping out some meats for plant–based products—as there is for any health fad—the longevity of this particular trend implies that there’s quite a bit of truth hidden in the embellishments. For example, it’s widely known that red meat can wreak havoc on one’s blood sugar and cholesterol levels, causing weight gain and general cardiovascular weakness—choosing meat substitutes instead certainly mitigates some of these effects. And in time, if more and more people start choosing plant–based products, which require less water and space to produce, over meat products, the positive effects on the environment will become more and more prominent.
The common arguments against plant–based meats are that they’re made from heavily processed, genetically modified soy rather than “real vegetables,” and that they don’t provide the same nutritional benefits like high protein and iron content. Beyond Meat Impossible Foods, and other meat substitute producers do their best to counter these claims, and are continuously modifying their products to ensure that they reach the same nutritional standards as their equivalent meat counterparts. In fact, Impossible Foods claims that their Impossible Burger, for one, contains the same amount of protein and iron as ground beef, with much less cholesterol.
But the main argument against swapping in plant–based meats isn’t so easily countered with data—and it’s that honestly, meat is just good. As a former vegetarian myself, I’ve tried every brand and type of meat substitute you could possibly conceive, and I can completely understand why the average person might be reluctant to ditch a golden, crispy, and tender piece of fried chicken in favor of a possibly soggy and almost certainly rubbery chunk of soy coated in questionable breadcrumbs.
That being said, the good thing about people hopping on the meat substitute bandwagon is that plant–based products don’t look much like their unappetizing stereotype anymore: they’re becoming ever more similar to real meat in flavor and texture across a wide variety of products, including beef, chicken, and even turkey. In fact, they’ve gotten so good that you might even want to consider breaking from tradition this year and giving some Thanksgiving turkey alternatives, like a Gardein Stuffed Savory Turk’y holiday roast, a shot. Make the switch with caution, though—side effects can include a strong urge to brag about your newfound passion for a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle and an unusually irritable family at your Thanksgiving table.