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Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Plant-based meat firms aren't just going after vegans and vegetarians anymore. They're betting that closely mimicking the taste of meat will let them chip away at the meat-eating market too.

Why it matters: Diets that include meat — especially beef — have a steep climate impact. If plant-based protein gains popularity, more and more people could reduce or even halt their meat consumption.

Giving up meat "is the single largest thing an individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint," says Glenn Hurowitz, who runs the environmental advocacy organization Mighty Earth.

  • A diet that includes beef has 10 times the climate impact of a plant-based diet, he says.
  • A diet that includes chicken has three times the impact of a plant-based one.
  • For turkey and pork, it's four to six times.
  • The plant-based meat companies that are pouring money into approximating the taste and texture of meat are going for "a total transformation of the protein sector," Hurowitz says.

I got a taste of the latest fake meat product to hit shelves, Impossible Foods' chicken nuggets.

  • They were crunchy on the outside and meaty on the inside, and I could barely notice the difference between them and real chicken nuggets — especially when doused in dipping sauces.
  • These nuggets have perks beyond the environmental benefits: 40% less saturated fat and 25% less sodium than standard chicken nuggets.

They will compete with meatless chicken nuggets from other brands, including Beyond Meat and Tyson Foods.

  • Plant-based meat companies have fine-tuned the taste of other products as well, including breakfast sausages and burgers.

But, but, but: Plant-based meat is still not as affordable as real meat.

  • "The average price for a meat alternative sold in a grocers’ meat department in the U.S. last year was $9.87/pound. The average price for beef? $4.82/pound. Chicken is even cheaper, at $2.33/pound," reports Vox's Kelsey Piper.

However: The cost gap seems likely to narrow.

  • Competition among plant-based meat companies "will continue to drive the price down," Hurowitz says.
  • Also, meat producers get government subsidies that drive their prices down. If political tides turn against the producers, those subsidies could disappear, he says.

What to watch: The plant-based meat companies still have a ways to go to crack open the meat-lovers market. It’s easy enough to replicate the taste and texture of processed meat, like a sausage or patty or nugget, but a lot harder to mimic the muscle of an animal, says Ricardo San Martin, research director of the alternative meat program at UC Berkeley.

  • The real challenge will be to come out with a convincing fake filet mignon or roast bird. For now, meatless Thanksgiving is still far away.

Go deeper

Oct 27, 2021 - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

Kids COVID vaccine endorsement, plus who's eligible for boosters

After what’s felt like a long, long wait, an FDA advisory panel yesterday voted to recommend the Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids ages 5-11. Plus: understanding who is eligible for a COVID booster, and who has access to one.

  • Also, what the Sudanese coup says about democracy worldwide.
  • And, meatless meals make it into public school lunches.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.