Together, Covid and the global climate emergency have unmasked several disturbing realities of the meat industry. Animal suffering, massive carbon footprints and human exploitation. Enter alternative protein, made from plants, fungi or even cells—a more sustainable source that directly addresses these longstanding ethical and climate concerns. After decades of research, it has finally become possible to give up meat without giving up meat. We’ve compiled some of our favourite plant-based alternatives to help you eat more consciously.
What the pandemic revealed about the food we eat
In recent years, habitat destruction—mainly deforestation—and industrialised agriculture have put more people in contact with highly stressed animal populations. While many of us are aware of animal abuse in the meat industry, human (worker) exploitation has been largely ignored in most plant-based protein debates. “The modern meatpacking industry runs on human workers repeating the same motion, over and over, regardless of how much their bodies tell them to stop,” Alvin Chang writes for Guardian, “I’ve seen a lot of people cut their arms, hands, and hurt their shoulders because they’re working too fast.”
When Covid hit America’s slaughterhouses, Black and brown workers were forced to continue working in these already-dangerous conditions. Early in the pandemic, Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep meat plants running to feed Americans. Within a month, 49 meatpacking workers died of Covid.
Ben Ehrenreich rightly clarifies: “The problem is not the wet markets of Wuhan or the high-end trade in exotic animals, but a system that sucks all of nature into globalised circuits of capital. In doing so it cannot help but summon up fresh plagues, as it heats the atmosphere and poisons the air and the oceans.”
With these injustices coming to light, the pandemic is providing a boost to the plant-based meat industry worldwide (the sector grew by 148 per cent in March 2020—right after the first Covid lockdowns began). It has revolutionised the way we eat and connect with the origins of our food. For countries like Singapore and Hong Kong that import most of their food, alternative protein has offered a more stable flow of raw materials, addressing the supply chain disruptions that were caused by the pandemic.
“Hong Kong has one of the highest meat consumption per capita in the world, there is not a moment to lose to advocate for a plant-based diet. This became the inspiration for Green Common, the one-stop shop where you can grab a plant-based meal, then shop for plant-based ingredients to cook or eat at home,” shared David Yeung, founder of Green Monday.
Let’s dig into our round-up of some of the coolest innovations that are here now.
THE SEASONED PLAYERS
IMAGE: via Quorn | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Pad Thai with Quorn meat pieces, garnished with roughly chopped coriander and spring onions
Quorn was launched in 1985 by Marlow Foods and the search for artificial protein sources in the 1960s was prompted by fears that food supplies for humans would be rapidly exceeded by global population growth. Quorn has built up a range of more than 100 products since then, including sausages, meat-free mince, fillets, crispy nuggets, pepperoni slices, wraps and more. Through their partnerships with communities (annual fundraising marathons, parenting websites for inspirations for mums and more), they are going beyond producing food and raising awareness about the benefits of reducing meat consumption.
IMAGE: via Gardein | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Spaghetti and meatless sauce in a white bowl with salad in the background.
Gardein has replaced traditional meat with a healthy (100g of protein per serving) vegan alternative. Tender and versatile, these meatless bites are perfect for stroganoff, veggie kebabs, tacos, stir fry, or a home-style stew. While Gardein offers the mainstream proteins such as meatballs, burgers and nuggets, they have also ventured into other not-so-common meatless products like soups and entrées: Sesame Teriyaki Meatless, Gardein Taquitos, Cauliflower Rice & Chick’ (recipes here) .They’re also part of #MeatlessMonday (one day without meat) and have recipes on the site for inspiration.
MADE A BIG SPLASH
IMAGE: via Impossible | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Impossible Spicy Sausage made from plants and red onion pizza sitting on a white plate.
Founded in 2011, Impossible Foods sells its meat-free burgers and sausages in grocery stores and also has partnerships with the likes of Burger King and Disney. Burger King, home of the Impossible Whopper, has even announced a new foray into vegetarian food: Impossible Nuggets. The trend of fast food going plant-based has been gaining traction for a few years now, and given its continued success, we can probably expect to see more of these and more brands following their example.
IMAGE: via Beyond | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A burger and some french fries sitting on a wooden table with Beyond Meat label on the top bun.
Beyond Meat makes pea-protein-based alternatives to burgers, ground beef, sausages and chicken nuggets. As plant-based meats have grown in profile over the last several years, there has been persistent criticism that these products are unhealthy. This is based on the fact that they tend to be processed, are largely composed of oil and have high sodium and saturated fat content. In response, Beyond debuted a new burger formulation that contains 35% less fat than their original. They also just signed a three-year global agreement with McDonald’s.
IMAGE: Omni | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a lemon slice, Omni fish and fries laid out on a tissue
Omni Meat was developed by Omni Foods, a food innovation company launched by its parent company, Green Monday. Green Monday is a social startup that was born out of Earth Day in Hong Kong, and was inspired by the Meatless Monday campaign. In the hopes of making plant-based dining more accessible, they rolled out a restaurant programme in Singapore—it currently has over 20 restaurants, including dishes by Beyond and OmniMeat in its menu.
Omni Meat is the first plant-based “meat” that bleeds and tastes like ground pork in Asia. In addition to their well-admired plant-based pork, they also sell OmniMeat Luncheons (the first in the world). Sando, Sushi, Udon Mikuni to name a few. Through a blend of plant protein from pea, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushroom and rice, Omnimeat offers high-quality complete vegan protein with all the essential amino acids that our body needs to function effectively.
NEW ON THE SCENE
IMAGE: via Love Handle | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Several dishes are pictured: Impossible meat with mushroom wrapped in puff pastry, Mee Sua with ginger soy chicken and a Tindle burger with cabbage and fluffy buns
Like Meat But Better. Love Handle opened Singapore’s first full plant-based butchery in late January. The vegan concept store sells a range of alternative meats, condiments, and plant-based dairy—and is the first of its kind in Asia. The meat counter sits at the end of a dine-in deli space. On the next floor, a vegan restaurant serves freshly prepared dishes that use the meats available to buy on the ground floor. Raw, marinated and prepared vegan meats are displayed and sold. They’ve also stocked recognised brands such as TiNDLE and Impossible.
IMAGE: Vegetarian Butcher | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Three crisp, rectangular pieces of Chicken Tikka Pie in a black plate and a handful of sliced red peppers in a separate bowl.
The Vegetarian Butcher, a Unilever-owned alternate-meat brand, launched in Singapore in Dec 2020. Their four main products (in Singapore) are Mince Charming, Chickened-Out Chunks, Little Peckers and Big Winners. In Singapore, they’ve also partnered with The Social Kitchen, a social enterprise that provides employment to disadvantaged individuals, and their plant-based menu features both Asian and Western dishes: NoChicken Truffle Alfredo pasta ($13), NoBeef Rendang shepherd’s pie ($12), NoChicken Nuggets in Thai sauce ($13) and more. You can also find their products at FairPrice Group, Cold Storage Singapore and RedMart.
IMAGE: via Happieee | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a wooden slab topped with plates of bowls of fish nuggets and drinks, and the image cuts off the hands dipping sauce.
Growthwell Foods, a leading manufacturer of plant-based alternatives for the Southeast Asian market, has launched HAPPIEE! Their motto is: Eat Good, Feel Good, and they’ve consciously made it accessible and affordable ($8.45/pack) so that more of us can integrate this into our lives.
IMAGE: via Meat Zero Facebook | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Noodles with Meat Zero bologna
In 2020, Thailand’s largest agribusiness company announced that it would be unveiling plant-based meat substitutes in the region owing to market research that shows that more than half of metropolitan consumers in the region want to limit their meat consumption, with 45% looking to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. They then unveiled “Meat Zero”, a new alternative meat brand that is now available as a ready-to-cook product as well as in the ready-to-eat menu at 7-Eleven and other outlets across Thailand, and they’re finally launching in Singapore too!
IMAGE: via The Straits Times | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: TiNDLE Katsu curry at Privé Asian Civilisations Museum
Made entirely from plant proteins, TiNDLE recreates everything one enjoys about chicken in a multitude of cuisines and dishes—taste, texture, and versatility. If you’re curious about TiNDLE’s nutritional profile, it carries an impressive 17g of protein per 100g, with zero GMO and zero antibiotics or hormones, and has been certified by the Health Promotion Board as a Healthier Choice option, containing less saturated fat and sodium than other plant-based alternatives.
While cell-cultured meat is by definition not plant-based (it’s grown from animal cells), it’s an innovative idea for reducing animal suffering and environmental harm. And it’s recently become a reality. In December 2020, Singapore became the first and only country to approve cell-cultured meat for consumer sale. Following that, US start-up Eat Just (known previously for its plant-based egg JUST Egg) launched its lab-grown chicken bites GOOD Meat in the city-state.
IMAGE: via The Spoon | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: one slice of the JUST Egg frittata on a thick wooden board, with two bottles of JUST Egg behind it, one lying down and the second upright.
JUST egg is a vegan egg replacement that is made by using plant-based proteins. The main ingredient is Mung bean, and it’s flavoured partly with onion, carrot, and turmeric, which helps give it that mixed egg-like glow. Once opened, the shelf-life of the bottle is four days, and you can make everything from a simple French toast or scrambled eggs to a roasted vegetable frittata (for that extra protein and fibre).
IMAGE: via Eat Just | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: GOOD Meat chicken breast and greens
Here’s the truth: we can’t keep up our meat consumption patterns forever. Using a third of our world to grow corn and soy for animals just doesn’t make sense. GOOD Meat, a division of Eat Just, makes meat without deforestation or slaughter. They painlessly extract cells from an egg/living organisms and then feed them into a clean, sterile environment, mirroring how an animal grows. Order the world’s first cultured chicken, exclusively on Foodpanda (only available in Singapore).
IMAGE: via green queen | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Four pieces of Shiok meat’s cell-based shrimp dumplings in a bamboo steamer on a white plate
Despite beef and lamb remaining the most carbon-hefty meats, wild lobster catches require fossil fuel-powered vessels that burn an estimated 10,000 litres of dirty fuel per catch. Singapore’s Shiok Meats (name inspired by Malay slang meaning “fantastic”) is the world’s first cell-based meat company that’s developing “clean meat” by experimenting with lab-grown shrimp, crab and lobster for dumplings and wantons.
IMAGE: via Oatside | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: on a black and white chequer table cloth, one carton of Oatside, iced coffee, cupcakes and granola.
Oatside, created by Benedict Lim, is Singapore’s first homegrown oat milk. Most people find the taste of oat milk too heavy or the texture too watery. But this one’s creamy enough for a rich mouthfeel while allowing the coffee/tea to shine through.
A delicious substitute for dairy, Oatside has introduced three oat milk variants: barista blend, chocolate and chocolate hazelnut, all made from Australian oats. They can be purchased on Redmart, Shopee and several cafes. Get ready to have your mind/tastebuds blown.
IMAGE: via Follow Your Heart | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Roasted garlic, chive and sour cream dip prepared from Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Sour Cream and Follow Your Heart Soy-Free Vegenaise shown on the top of the image. Served with potato chips, sliced cucumbers and sweet peppers that’re surrounding the dip.
These creamy products are made with full-fat coconut milk, cultured with 1 billion live, active probiotics. They are also free of dairy, soy, casein, gluten, lactose and preservatives. In 2021, they celebrated 50 years by announcing the release of their cheese crumbles: they are luxurious, creamy, and crumbly, just like the real thing.
IMAGE: via Perfect Day | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: two full paper cups of ice cream filled to the brim
This California-based alternative dairy startup just opened its Singapore-based research centre. Perfect Day’s animal-free proteins can be used to make alternatives for ice cream, cheese and yoghurt and more. By removing cows from the process, their dairy comes at only a fraction of the environmental footprint associated with traditional dairy farming, is cruelty-free and can support local food production, particularly in land-scarce cities like Singapore.
Singapore’s alternative startup Turtle Tree, founded by Fengru Lin and Max Rye, is one of the first companies in the world to make cell-based milk. According to the founders, plant-based milk alternatives like soy, oat, almond, cashew, coconut and rice milk are limited when it comes to the creation of products such as butter, cheese and yogurt.
Turtle Tree’s distinctive feature is how they’re able to produce quality milk that retains the functionality of dairy milk. They’ve also been researching extensively on developing cell-based human breast milk as an alternative to infant formula. In 2021, the company sent out samples of its products to customers in the dairy and infant industry, and is now working on settling its first commercial deals.
FEATURED IMAGE: via Impossible | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: several Impossible burgers, potato wedges, sliced onions, dips and vegetables are laid out on a wooden table.
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