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Support improved public access to plant-based foods

Vancouver “Local Food Action Plan” a chance to support better public access to plant-based food

The Vancouver Park Board is currently seeking public input through an online survey, closing January 28, on an updated “Local Food Action Plan”. The new 5-year plan will outline how the Park Board’s programming and services, which include community gardens; kitchens; food workshops; meal programs; farmers markets; concessions and restaurants, will contribute to a just and sustainable local food system.

This new plan comes at a crucial time, as society continues to deal with the COVID-19 public health pandemic and as concerns surrounding our food system continue to grow. COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated existing inequities within the food system. It has drawn attention to the dangerous and cruel nature of factory farms and the risks they pose as potential contributors to future pandemics; the exploitative conditions facing workers and animals on farms, in slaughterhouses and food processing plants; the connection between unsustainable, industrial food production and climate change; and the issue of food insecurity for historically underserved communities.

A growing body of research concludes that a significant shift in diets and food production toward fewer animal products and more plant-based foods is necessary. These changes are needed in order to meet our climate goals, tackle the biodiversity and factory farming crises, and to sustainably feed a growing population a healthy diet.

Food system experts are increasingly calling on all levels of government, including municipalities, to support these much-needed dietary and food system changes through food-related policies, practices and programming. The Park Board’s new Local Food Action Plan is a key opportunity for doing just that. Incorporating and prioritizing more plant-based foods, meals and education in Park Board services, such as meal programs, workshops, events and at concessions and restaurants, will help to support much-needed dietary and food system change. It will also improve public access to healthy, humane and sustainable food options.

If you’re a Vancouver resident, please consider participating in the Local Food Action Plan survey before the January 28th deadline. You’re welcome to use the recommendations we’ve listed below to guide responses about opportunities for the Park Board moving forward, but please be sure to fill out the survey in your own words and based on your own experiences.

VHS Recommendations: 
  • Animal welfare & a “just and sustainable food system” – A truly “just and sustainable local food system” will incorporate not only the protection of people, the planet and public health, but also our social responsibility for the protection of animal welfare. Therefore, a shift toward improving public access to healthy, humane, sustainable and equitable plant-based foods and diets must be reflected in the new Local Food Action Plan. 
  • The role of municipalities – Food system experts are calling on governments, including municipalities, to take action to support dietary and food system change that prioritizes a shift to plant-based in their plans and policies. 
  • Improving plant-based access & education – The Local Food Action plan is an opportunity to improve public access to plant-based foods and diets, as well as plant-based education, through Park Board services such as meal programs, fieldhouse workshops, events, farmers markets, concessions and restaurants.   
  • Expanding resources to under-served communities – The Local Food Action Plan should assess and address gaps in programs and services for under-served communities. This is another area where plant-based food access and education can also be enhanced.  
  • Emergency planning & preparedness – COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of ensuring food security programming is maintained during emergency situations and is adaptable so as to ensure communities are able to continue accessing resources.  
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Speak up for pigs

Ask Canada’s major grocery retailers to keep their promise to move away from cruel gestation stalls

Speak up for pigs

Canadians overwhelmingly oppose the common industry practice of confining pregnant pigs in what are known as “gestation stalls”. These individual stalls are so small that pigs are unable to even turn around or engage in any natural behaviours. Animal welfare scientists, veterinarians and other experts have described gestation stalls as one of the cruelest forms of animal confinement and the equivalent to living in an airline seat.

So it was welcome news when, in 2014, the Canadian pig farming industry committed in the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs to end the continuous use of gestation stalls and transition to open housing by 2024. Similarly, the Retail Council of Canada, which represents grocery retailers in Canada, committed to “sourcing pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices as defined in the updated Codes by the end of 2022”. 

The industry gave themselves 10 years to transition from gestation stalls to open housing. Now, they are pushing for that deadline to be extended until 2029, which will result in hundreds of thousands of pregnant pigs continuing to suffer in barren, cramped gestation stalls.

Now, Animal Justice has released a new undercover investigation from a pig farm in Ontario. The disturbing footage revealed workers castrating and docking the tails of piglets without the use of painkillers; workers aggressively hitting pigs with plastic boards and jabbing them with pens; and filmed discussions indicating that pregnant pigs had been deprived of water for several days.

In addition to the cruel mistreatment captured, the footage also showcases the every day suffering of mother pigs who are kept confined in cramped gestation stalls. Concerningly, written statements from both farm management at Paragon Farms and Ontario Pork, which represents the province’s pork producers, state that they found no serious concerns after inspecting the farm.

Photo: CTV/W5, “Farm Secrets”

What can I do?

  • The public can comment on the proposed amendments to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, including calling for the industry to uphold its original commitment to transition to open housing by 2024, in an online survey. The deadline for comments is November 19th. The comment period is now closed.
  • Use our email tool below to ask that the Retail Council of Canada and its grocery members honour their promise to move away from sourcing pork products from mother pigs kept in gestation stalls by 2022.

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Check out our new Go Veg Ads!

The following advertisements are part of VHS’s Go Veg program, which focuses on educating and empowering individuals in making the transition toward a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle.

Please help us share the “Go Veg” message by sharing the ads to your social media pages.

When you share, feel free to tag us on Facebook (@VancouverHumaneSociety), Instagram (@VancouverHumane) and Twitter (@VanHumane).

Visit our Go Veg homepage to learn more about the program!

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Plant-based benefits

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Plant-based diet – did you know?

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Improve your health with a plant-based diet

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COVID-19 exposes problems in Canada’s food system, groups call for change

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is joining other animal protection, environmental and food advocacy groups in calling on the federal government to direct any financial aid for Canada’s agriculture system toward transitioning to a safe, equitable and sustainable plant-based food system that improves food security, protects animal welfare, public health, worker safety and the environment on which we all depend.

The joint letter highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious problems with Canada’s food system and supply chains, particularly in the meat industry. Industrial livestock operations are a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation and are characterized by the confinement of large numbers of genetically-similar animals in unnatural and unhealthy environments. These conditions significantly compromise their welfare and could lead to the rise of new zoonotic diseases that threaten public health.

Meanwhile, the consolidation of the meat industry into the hands of a few multi-billion dollar corporations makes supply chains vulnerable to unexpected disruptions. For example, the pandemic has prompted some pig farmers in Canada to cull animals in response to reduced processing capacity at slaughterhouses, after they were forced to suspend or slow operations following COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. A large number of COVID-19 cases have been linked to slaughterhouses and employees have spoken out about the lack of protection for workers and the dangerous, fast-paced, and unhealthy environments. 

The joint letter encourages the federal Minister of Finance and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to dedicate any emergency funding for the agricultural sector, as well as any future funding, on phasing out industrial livestock operations and assisting farmers in transitioning toward a sustainable, ethical and equitable plant-based food system. COVID-19 is an unprecedented wake-up call and policy-makers must take action to ensure that we emerge from this crisis with a more resilient food system that is respectful of the inter-connectedness of human, environmental, and animal health.

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Ontario’s anti-animal protection legislation

“We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought”.

This statement was made by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) in its submission to the Ontario government in support of Bill 156 – a recently passed ‘ag-gag’ bill that effectively conceals animal cruelty, unsafe working conditions and environmental issues on farms, during transport and at slaughterhouses. Animal protection organizations, legal experts and the Canadian Association of Journalists have all raised serious concerns about this dangerous legislation.

Also concerning is the fact that the OFA, which represents more than 38,000 farm operations across Ontario, questions the sentience of animals. The organization offers no source for their claim. Meanwhile, a strong and growing body of research provides evidence of animal intelligence and sentience.

Chickens, for example, utilize reasoning to inform how they organize socially by watching other chickens interact. Research also suggests they are cognitively complex, with the ability to demonstrate self-control and self-assessment – capacities that suggest self-awareness.

Cows are also socially complex creatures who form strong bonds and experience a range of emotions. They express excitement and signs of pleasure when they figure out intellectual challenges, which suggests self-awareness and understanding of their own actions.

Pigs share some of the same cognitive abilities as other highly intelligent species, including dogs, chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins. They are capable of “emotional contagion”, which is a form of empathy for the emotional state of another.  

Experts suggest we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface in our understanding of farmed animal intelligence. Animal behaviour expert Dr. Marc Bekoff also explores this topic in a recent Psychology Today article, written in response to the OFA’s statements. Importantly though, as Dr. Bekoff notes, “intelligence is a slippery concept and should not be used to assess suffering..in addition, the way in which people treat or mistreat other animals and how they feel about it isn’t a matter of how smart they are. Rather, nonhumans are sentient beings, and it’s a matter of how they suffer, not if they suffer.”

But the reality of animal sentience creates ethical dilemmas for an industry that relies on raising and slaughtering more than 830 million land animals every year in Canada. It’s easier to pretend animals aren’t complex, feeling and thinking beings and it’s better for business if the public stays uninformed about the realities on farms, during transport and in slaughterhouses.

How you can help

Bill 156 is an incredibly dangerous step in the wrong direction and follows on the heels of similar ‘ag-gag’ legislation passed earlier this year in Alberta (Bill 27). The move by government and industry to hide the issues within the animal agriculture system, rather than address them directly, and to question the sentience of farmed animals should concern Canadians.

The effort to repeal and prevent further ‘ag-gag’ legislation is underway – join in by contacting Ontario’s Premier & Alberta’s Premier. In addition, we as individuals can also stand up for animals every time we sit down to eat. Learn more and take our Plant-Based Pledge today for free recipes.  

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Animal rescue standards of practice – have your say!

The Animal Welfare Network of British Columbia (AWANBC) is currently seeking public feedback on draft standards for rescues. Follow this link for more information and to submit comments – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9G8NSQ7

The AWANBC, of which the Vancouver Humane Society is a member, aims to enable animal welfare organizations to work together and to support strategies around specific projects and initiatives associated with companion animal welfare.

One such AWANBC project is focused on creating rescue standards of practice. To date, there are no criteria required for groups to be involved in animal welfare or rescue and there is no accountability for these organizations. Meanwhile, the number of animal rescues and shelters across the province continues to grow. While many have high standards of care, others may have practices that put animals and the public at risk.

Without standards of practice, any group can self-identify as a rescue and it can be difficult for the public to determine if a rescue group is reputable or not. AWANBC has identified this as a pressing animal welfare and public safety issue and has worked to develop Animal Rescue Standards of Practice.

Follow this link for more information on the standards and to submit comments – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9G8NSQ7

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B.C.’s Hunting & Trapping Regulations – Have Your Say!

Update:

Weapons for “big game” hunting: The province listened to our concerns and prohibited the use of any weapon other than a firearm or bow, citing concerns about a higher likelihood of animal suffering from the use of alternative weapons.

No Hunting/Shooting Zone along Sea to Sky Highway: The province added a new no hunting and no shooting zone along the Sea to Sky highway. This follows a tragic incident in 2017, when a hunter in the area fatally shot a dog that he mistook for a wolf (despite the area being closed to wolf hunting), prompting calls by the dog’s guardian and the public for a no shooting and no hunting zone along the route.

Use of Technology to Locate Wildlife: The province prohibited the use of infrared optics (or thermal imaging) and wireless trail cameras for the purpose of hunting, as well as sharing the location of wildlife from an aircraft to a hunter on the ground.

Pursuit-only Season for Cougars: The province banned the pursuit-only season for cougars, where previously hunters who had killed their limit of cougars were permitted to continue chasing and treeing the animals with their hounds for training and exercise opportunities. In some situations, this created significant stress for mother cougars and their young.

Thank you for your advocacy to make these changes happen!

Original post:

The provincial government is currently seeking public feedback on a long list of proposed hunting and trapping regulations. This is an opportunity to weigh in on wildlife conservation and welfare issues in your area and throughout the province.

Weapons for Big Game Hunting

There are currently no regulations in place preventing big game hunters from using alternative or primitive weapons such as slingshots, spears and airguns. Citing concerns surrounding a higher likelihood of unnecessary suffering, a proposed regulation seeks to prohibit the use of any weapon other than a firearm or bow.

No Hunting/Shooting Zone along Sea to Sky Highway

Another regulation proposes a new no hunting and no shooting zone along the Sea to Sky highway. Unlike many other highways in the province, the stretch of highway 99 between Squamish and Pemberton or the Callaghan Road near Whistler currently has no restrictions on hunting or shooting within 400m of the highway. The area is a popular spot for locals, hikers and tourists. Tragically, in 2017 a hunter in the area fatally shot a dog that he mistook for a wolf (despite the area being closed to wolf hunting), prompting calls by the dog’s owner and the public for a no shooting and no hunting zone along the route.

Use of Technology to Locate Wildlife 

Several proposals also seek to prohibit the use of technology to assist hunters, including banning infrared optics (or thermal imaging) which enable hunters to see the heat signature of animal that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye; wireless trail cameras that when triggered send images of wildlife to a remote device and provide a hunter with the location of wildlife; and the sharing of location of wildlife from an aircraft to a hunter on the ground. The rationale behind banning this type of equipment for hunting purposes is that the use of it fails to meet the principles of fair chase, giving hunters an unfair advantage over wildlife. VHS is concerned that the use of such technology for hunting is turning B.C.’s backcountry into a canned hunt scenario, where the ability for wildlife to avoid human detection is increasingly diminished.

Pursuit-only Season for Cougars

Another proposed regulation aims to ban the pursuit-only season for cougars in the Kootenay region, where existing regulations allow hunters who have killed their allotment of cougars to continue chasing and treeing the animals with their hounds. The rationale behind permitting a pursuit-only season was to allow houndsmen to train and exercise their dogs, but the cruel practice not only causes unnecessary stress to the animals, but can lead to injury for the cougar and the hounds, as well as the separation of mothers and kittens.

Numerous other regulations focused on motorized vehicle and firearm restrictions and changes to specific hunting seasons are also being proposed. For example, a proposal to end wolverine trapping in the Kootenays; implement a mule deer bow only season on Gulf, Denman and Hornby Islands; prohibit the use of precision-guided firearms and scopes on bows during bow-only seasons; and changes to black bear hunting seasons within the traditional territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation in the Great Bear Rainforest in order to support bear viewing tourism efforts by the Nation.

How to Submit Comments

For the full list of proposed regulations, click here. The public comment period ends January 19, 2020 at midnight. To participate through the government’s engagement website, you’ll need to register for a “Basic BCeID” account. Once you’ve created a BCeID, return to the main hunting/trapping regulation page and click login. Once you’ve logged in, it will return you to the main page and you can scroll through the list of proposals. On each proposal page, you’ll be able to scroll to the bottom and select “support”, “neutral” or “oppose”. You’ll also be able to leave a comment, if you’d like to elaborate on your position.

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Groups Call For Habitat Protection For Endangered BC Caribou

Photo: Alexandre Buisse

Vancouver Humane joins 21 other animal protection and environmental organizations, along with wildlife biologists, in calling on B.C. Premier John Horgan and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to protect the province’s endangered caribou herds.

The open letter highlights the groups’ concerns over the lack of habitat protection that the dwindling herds desperately need to avoid extinction. Key caribou habitat is being logged throughout the province, while mining, oil and gas operations, along with high-impact recreational activity (heli-skiing and snowmobiling) are fragmenting the landscape and disrupting caribou.

The provincial and federal governments have known for decades that B.C.’s caribou are in trouble, yet little has been done to address the root causes of habitat destruction. Instead, government has opted to scapegoat other species for the decline in caribou. Since 2015, the provincial government has killed over 700 wolves through its wolf cull program. Now, the province wants to expand the cull and has plans to kill more than 80 per cent of the wolf population in the expanded areas, primarily through a combination of radio collaring and following collared wolves by helicopter to the rest of the pack, who will all be gunned down from helicopter.

Vancouver Humane opposes the misguided and unethical wolf cull program and joins the growing number of organizations and advocates calling for genuine habitat protections for caribou and an end to the cull program.

You can read the groups’ open letter here.

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Vancouver Humane Joins Call For A Ban On Horse Carriages in Victoria

It was a May 2018 incident involving Victoria’s horse-drawn carriages that seemed to revive the debate over the controversial practice and has ultimately brought the issue before Victoria City Council.

The traffic incident, in which a horse carriage was bumped by a bus, led to two trolley horses slipping and falling onto the street. Video of the incident, shared by Victoria Horse Alliance, showed the animals struggling to get up for over five minutes, with members of the public attempting to intervene and inadvertently putting themselves at risk of injury. Eventually, the horses’ harnesses were removed and they were able to regain their footing.

The Ogden Point incident made media headlines and led to questions about whether horse-drawn carriages and trolleys should continue to be permitted in increasingly busy and traffic-congested urban environments.

Earlier this year, the debate made its way to Victoria City Council, as Councillor Ben Isitt proposed banning horse carriages by 2023. Council opted to seek further input from the BC SPCA before deciding on any changes to the practice.

As an organization that has advocated for ending the operation of horse-drawn carriages in Vancouver, in particular in Stanley Park and more recently at holiday events in the city, Vancouver Humane has also submitted a letter to Victoria City Council for their consideration. You can read our full letter here.

Vancouver Humane’s primary concerns are for the welfare of the horses, who are subjected to pulling carriages and trollies in urban environments that pose serious safety risks to both the animals and the public. The regular exposure to traffic, noise and pollution; the long hours of standing and walking on hard surfaces; and the hard labour under sometimes extreme weather conditions are not consistent with a horse guardian’s responsibility to provide high-quality, long-term care for horses.

While some suggest increased regulation as a solution, the urban conditions create inherent welfare and public safety issues which cannot be adequately addressed through regulation of the industry.

Vancouver Humane is strongly encouraging Victoria City Council to follow Montreal’s progressive lead in phasing out and banning horse carriages, as well as supporting the industry and workers in transitioning to alternative employment, such as guided bicycle, pedicab or walking tours.

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Faux Meat Burgers And Your Health: Facts And Fallacies

A guest blog post by Dr. Chana Davis (PhD in genetics) of Fueled by Science

Check out more of Chana’s work on her website, instagram and facebook pages.

Restaurants and grocers across the country are struggling to meet the demand for the hottest new food trend: plant-based burgers. These new kids on the butcher’s block meld features of meat with those of plants in an unlikely marriage and are being sold alongside their muses in the meat case.

At the same time, these burgers are also facing a lot of skepticism and criticism. Can something that tastes so good also be good for you? Can meat lovers truly have their cake and eat it too — reduce their red meat intake, increase their veggie intake, all while enjoying a decadent burger??

Are fake meat burgers healthy?

This article takes a science-based look at plant-based burgers and your health and examines many common concerns including: safety of novel ingredients (soy leghemoglobin), number of ingredients, use of additives, and label as a processed food.

Warning! You may find that you need to rethink some of your favourite rules of thumb for choosing healthy foods.

Plant-Based “Meat” Is Not A Viable Replacement For Whole Vegetables.

Why not? Whole veggies are loaded with fiber, one of the most critical, yet under-consumed nutrients. We need dietary fiber to keep our systems running smoothly and to feed the little bugs in our gut that keep us healthy. Plant-based burgers score slightly better on fiber than meat (a big fat zero) but are still sadly lacking. 

Whether we’re talking about heart healthcancerdiabetes, or obesity, the message is loud and clear: eat your veggies! A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with (whole) fruits and veggies (see Canada Food Guide). Don’t forget to eat a diversity of fruits and veggies to get the full rainbow of micronutrients that they offer.

Faux Meat Provides The Same Nutritional Benefits As Ground Beef

Compared to typical ground beef (20% fat or more), plant-based burgers provide similar amounts of:

  • calories (~250-280 calories)
  • high quality protein (20 grams per patty)
  • iron (~16%-25% bioavailable)
  • other micronutrients (*Varies by brand. The Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods dials up the zinc and B vitamins including Vitamin B12. Beyond Meat does not [yet].)

Much ado about sodium

Plant-based burgers have been criticized for their sodium content. While this criticism is technically valid, it lacks appropriate context. A typical beef patty contains about 80 mg of sodium, whereas plant-based burgers land at around ~370 mg. In most cases, this sodium is naturally occurring (we need it to live!), not added for flavour.

Is 370 mg of sodium a lot? Not really. You could eat 4 patties and still land on the low end of healthy recommended daily intake for sodium (1,500 to 2,000 mg per day). Rather than fixating on the sodium content in their patty, consumers would benefit from choosing their toppings and bun wisely: a fully loaded fast food burger can easily contain over 1,000 mg of sodium, of which only 1/3 is from the patty!

Learn more about sodium needs and sources Some shockingly high sources include bread products, processed meats, tomato sauces and soups.

Plant-Based Burgers Offer Potential Health Benefits Over Ground Beef.

Each of these benefits is relatively small, especially for infrequent burger consumers, but together, they tip the health balance in favour of plant-based burgers.

Benefit 1: A (slightly) healthier mix of fats

An average 80/20 beef patty contains nearly 20 grams of fat, of which about half are saturated fats. This means that a single patty gets you nearly half of the max recommended saturated fat intake for adults (5-10% of calories). The most decadent of the new veggie burgers contain the same or slightly less total fat, but the mix is more favourable – less saturated fat (5 to 8 grams per patty) and more unsaturated fats. Reducing saturated fats is a win for heart health – as long as you replace them with unsaturated fats, rather than with sugars. Furthermore, most faux-meat burgers use coconut oil as their source of saturated fat, which may be less harmful than the saturated fats found in beef. Coconut oil appears to raise “good” HDL cholesterol (while also raising “bad” LDL).

Learn more about coconut oil and get Harvard’s scoop on good and bad fats.

Benefit 2: Low to no trans fats

A single standard beef patty (80/20 cut) contains 1-2 grams of ruminant trans fats, thanks to the bacteria in the cow’s rumen. These naturally occurring trans fats are remarkably similar to industrial trans fats, such as those found in old-school margarines and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The World Health Organization and others are taking a cautious stance on ruminant trans fats, regulating them the same as industrial trans fats. They recommend limiting total trans fats to under 2 grams per day, which means that one beef patty gets you close to the warning zone. The only potential trans fats in plant-based burgers come from canola oil, which can contain trace amounts of trans fats when heat is used during processing

Learn more about ruminant trans fats: Fueled by Science (video), World Health Organization 2018 draft guidelines  and recent review (Nestle, 2014).

Benefit 3: Lower risk of food-borne illness

Plant-based burgers are safer to handle raw than ground beef, due to the reduced risk of contamination with pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. When I visited the Impossible labs, I happily sampled a raw patty! 

Raw ground beef must be handled with great care due to the risk of pathogenic bugs from cow innards that can contaminate meat during slaughter. These same gut bugs can contaminate water used to irrigate farms and end up in fresh produce, notably leafy greens. In theory, a large scale shift away from animal farming would make fresh produce safer too!

Benefit 4: Lower cancer risk (maybe)

In 2015, the World Health Organization labeled red meat as a Class 2A “probable carcinogen” based largely on a strong link with colorectal cancer. While controlled trial data are lacking, there is a strong mechanistic basis, particularly when using certain high-heat cooking methods, which generates well known carcinogens (such as Heterocyclic Amines (HAs) and Polycyclic Hydrocarbons. This link is well established in animal models but it is unclear how much red meat you would have to consumer, and under what conditions, to translate to a real-life increase. As always, the dose makes the poison!  

Learn more about red meat and cancer risk from the World Health Organization. Also, see Examine.com’s suitably skeptical review of the link and the potential mechanisms.

Plant-Based Burgers Use 100% Safe Ingredients

Food author Michael Pollan’s oft repeated mantra “eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants” is an excellent rule of thumb. So too are his suggestions to emphasize minimally processed foods with short, lists of familiar ingredients.

At the same time, these rules have severe limitations, and one can be incredibly misled by applying them blindly. The main reason these rules generally work is that most additive-rich foods are engineered purely for craveability, with no regard for nutrition. Fruit Loops and Orange Crush soda are perfect examples. Yet, there is no reason that an engineered food can’t be made healthy if that is part of the product’s value proposition.

In general, I find that the simple rules like “choose whole foods” work well for apples-to-apples comparisons (like apples to apple juice) but fall apart for apples-to-zebras comparisons (like beef to veggie burgers).

A rigorous comparison looks beyond simple rules of thumb and includes a detailed assessment of nutrition and safety.

Processing

It is simply not true that everything from nature warrants a health halo (hello, bacon and butter) and that everything processed is toxic (hello, infant formula). Instead of painting all “processed foods” with the same brush, why not focus on the nutritional profile (and safety) of the final product? Using the “just the facts” nutritional lens, plant-based burgers come out ahead, as discussed above. Safety is also a non-issue as discussed below.

It’s also worth recognizing that the definition of processed foods is extremely murky. Indeed, “wholesome” staples such as yogourt, cheese, bread, and wine, involve modified ingredients and elegant chemistry, with the assistance of microbes. Plant-based burgers are no different.

Additives / chemicals

It’s natural, and sensible, to be leery of unfamiliar compounds, but this is not a valid scientific reason to reject something. An infamous fearmongering food blogger who won’t be named managed to get parents in arms about ascorbic acid in their baby food. Would they feel differently if it were labeled as Vitamin C?  How would you feel about sodium chloride in your food? Wait, that’s table salt!

Rather than paint all additives (and all chemicals), with the same brush, we should take an objective look at the ingredient list and ask how good / bad / safe they each are (at those doses)? Through this lens, everything in plant-based burgers gets a green light in my books, including methylcellulose (modified plant cell walls). Chemical should not be dirty word!

Number of ingredients

Choosing fewer ingredients can be a useful rule of thumb, because many foods contain extra ingredients that are added solely for extra craveability (e.g. salt, fat, sugar), with little nutritional benefit. Yet, when you scratch beneath the surface, this rule quickly falls apart.

First, this rule ignores the fact that ingredients are often added for a nutritional boost. I much prefer fortified milks to unfortified milk because I appreciate the easy source of Vitamin D, B12, and more. The ingredient list of the Impossible Burger would be half as long if it weren’t for the nutrients they boosted to match beef.

Second, this rule implies that any recipe with fewer ingredients is automatically healthier. When you apply this to your home cooking, the absurdity of this logic becomes apparent. Is a stir fry with 3 ingredients better for you than one with eight ingredients? What about homemade banana bread or granola? Should we be counting the ingredients?  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Minimalist Baker, but that’s because of the simplicity (and great taste) of her recipes!

Third, the concept of an “ingredient” is applied arbitrary. Purified chemicals like salt and sugar are single ingredients, made of a single chemical molecule. But beef?? Beef contains thousands of chemicals – fats, carbohydrates, proteins, connective tissues, and more.

Given that this rule has so many pitfalls, it makes much more sense to focus on the overall nutritional facts (alongside the safety assessment).

“Novel” ingredients

The only “novel” ingredient in plant-based burgers – heme – is actually rather ubiquitous. You have over 1000 patties’ worth of it in your body right now! Scientists at Impossible Foods discovered that heme in meat plays a critical role in its aroma, cooking transformation, and flavour explosion. Plants also contain heme, but in much lower amounts than meat. Rather than harvesting boatloads of soy fields to get enough soy leghemoglobin (heme’s carrier protein), they use fermentation to make vats of it using specialized microbes. This ingredient has been extensively tested for safety, despite the fact that it occurs naturally both in meat and in plants.

Learn more about the magic ingredient in the Impossible Burger and its safety testing

Plant-Based Patties Are Not A “Loaded” With Pesticides

Pesticide levels in these burgers are incredibly low and undeniably safe. Consider glyphosate, the world’s least beloved pesticide.  I would have to consume 5000-25,000 Impossible burgers per day to approach the already conservative national and internationally recognized safe daily intake of glyphosate. This is clearly a case of fearmongering. It’s toxic doses, not toxic compounds, that get us into trouble. Everything is toxic at high enough doses, and everything is safe in small enough doses. The threshold varies for every compound and we can use science to determine that threshold, and ensure we stay well below it.

Learn more about how  ‘the dose makes the poison’  from American Chemistry Council.

Another way to put the levels in context it is to compare the tested levels (11 ppb) to the EPA safe tolerance for glyphosate for soy – 20,000 ppb (20 ppm). Yes, they are nearly 2,000 times lower than the levels deemed safe. Indeed, these levels are nearly 10x lower than allowable glyphosate levels in organic produce (5% of conventional).

Learn more about organic vs conventional veggies in my article and from Health Canada. They may not be as different as you think. 

Plant-Based Meat Mimics Are Not Perfect

No food is perfect. Breast milk is as close to perfect as it gets… but even it’s not perfect for lactose-intolerant kids. Every food has its pros and cons. Here are some downsides to plant-based meats.

  • High cost. With time, this may not be an issue, as scale increases.
  • Allergenic potential. This risk is true of any legume product, and many of these burgers use soy or pea protein. Reactions are rare but may be severe, so caution is warranted, particularly for those with food allergies.
  • Saturated fat content. Though saturated fat levels are generally better than fatty ground beef, there is a lot of room for improvement, and this is an area of active research. Regrettably, saturated fats play a key role in the decadent mouthfeel of meat; and are a big part of why the new plant-based meats are nothing like the old ones.

So… Are They Healthy Or Not?

When we talk about healthy eating, it’s important to zoom out and look at the whole meal, the whole day, the whole week, and beyond.

The way that you serve these patties can make or break the meal. When served by a fast food chain, these meat mimics can weigh in a hefty 900 calories and over 1,000 mg of sodium. Things get even uglier when paired with fries and a drink. Yet, the patty itself is only contributing about 1/3 of the calories and sodium! 

It can be a very different story when you grill these burgers at home, choose your toppings and bun wisely, and serve alongside a large salad. Yum!

The Bottom Line.

  • Faux meat does not replace veggies. Aim to fill half your plate. Try my recipes if you are looking for inspiration.
  • Plant-based burgers provide many of the same nutritional benefits as beef but with fewer potential downsides.
  • Fake meat is safe – arguably even safer than beef!
  • The way you serve your burger makes or breaks the health factor. If health is a priority, cook them at home, choose toppings and bun wisely, and don’t forget the side of veggies!

In other words, meat lovers can have their cake and eat it. These burgers are a great option for vegetarians and vegans who miss ground beef. However, their main audience is a much bigger slice of the population: omnivores, reducetarians, flexitarians and others looking to reduce their red meat consumption, while still enjoying the decadent taste and aroma of meat.

Last but not least, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. The leading companies offering fake meat are mission-driven, with vegan roots. They aspire to reduce animal suffering, to feed a growing population, and to improve the health of our planet. It seems to me that any benefits to human health are icing on the cake.

In the words of the leading (vegan-founded) fake-meat innovators: