The 2021 Food Scene:

In my last article, I wrapped up 2020 with a synopsis of major events that affected both farmers and consumers. This month, I want to focus on what the 2021 food scene will look like and how it may impact pastured protein producers and regenerative farmers.

2021 Food Trends
In December 2020, Food & Wine magazine published an article that detailed the biggest anticipated food trends of 2021. If you are a pastured protein producer and marketer, these trends have implications for you.

  1. Special Occasion Dining is expected to become a major part of “dining in” in restaurants. When people do eat out, they want it to be a memorable experience. Part of making meals memorable is great food that not only has robust, complex flavor profiles, but also is healthy for you.
  2. Deeper dives into ethnic and heritage cooking. Many pastured protein producers are using breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, etc. that clearly fit into heritage and ethnic dining. Additionally, the way those animals are raised and finished better fit the culinary roots chefs and consumers are looking for.
  3. Individualized tasting menus. When people dine out, they now want something beyond the norm. They are looking for unique experiences. The survey indicates that small group private dining will be quite trendy. Tasting menus are perfect for whole carcass utilization and introduction to consumers of different cuts and organ meats.
  4. At-Home restaurant experiences. This trend will cause restaurants to become ever more creative in offering appealing “to-go” menu options. This fits nicely with what we have to offer within the regenerative food sector.
  5. More virtual cooking classes. This is a huge opportunity for branded programs and direct marketers. For those who have the ability to do some compelling online meal prep and cooking classes, or can partner with a chef or two, this can both further solidify your current customer base and attract additional customers.
  6. Even more local. This trend is tailor made for pastured protein producers. Every one of us is local because our respective farms are located in a specific community. We, not the big food companies, are best positioned to meet this trend.
  7. Restaurants will become more diversified businesses. The survey indicates that more restaurants are shifting to not just providing a dining experience, but expanding to small grocery offerings, specialty foods offerings, catering, meal kits, tasting menus and more. Direct marketers can take advantage of this within their own programs by looking at offering these types of experiences for their customers.

Plant-based Proteins
Plant-based proteins have exploded onto the marketplace in the past two years. In 2020, we saw advertising and venues for these products expand significantly. The use of the term “plant-based” is very intentional and leads consumers to believe these products are healthier for you. Sara Keogh, Integrative Eco-Nutritionist and Understanding Ag Board of Advisers, has dissected the claims made for plant-based proteins and has uncovered some very interesting and thought-provoking items (Artificial Animals – Part 2 | Soil Health Academy).

In the majority of consumer surveys regarding plant-based proteins, “improving one’s health” is often listed as one of the biggest motivators for trying the products. Many survey participants believe a plant-based burger to be healthier than a beef burger when asked to compare nutrition fact labels. They considered the nutrition facts panel to be more important than the actual ingredient list. The problem is nutrition fact panels are a far cry from presenting the nutrition facts that consumers really need to know and understand. Calories, fats, proteins, carbohydrates are only scratching the surface of nutrition. But consumers have been led to believe these are the most important factors to look for.

Placing primary importance on a food’s healthfulness based on caloric content and macro-nutrients leads consumers to craft a false impression of true nutrition. Consumers should be taking note of the specific food items, additives and chemicals listed in the ingredients of a product.

For example, take a look at the ingredient list for two of the most popular plant-based “meats:”

Let’s break apart these ingredient lists and look at what they really tell us. First, as Sara points out in her clinical work that soy and pea protein can cause issues for people with food allergies, digestive issues and autoimmune disease. Second, the oxidized plant oils (such as sunflower oil and canola oil) contain potentially inflammatory polyunsaturated fats. Third, many of the additives are derived from industrial and laboratory manipulation and are usually found in highly processed foods (or what some people call food). These additives include things like methylcellulose, yeast extract, modified food starch, natural flavors (a complete misnomer as these are all laboratory manufactured), cultured dextrose and refined coconut oil. None of these are found naturally in whole foods. Novel ingredients, such a soy leghemoglobin, are basically genetically engineered products with very little safety studies to back them up. At this point, it would be impossible to assess whether they pose health risks and negative epigenetic implications.

The proteins used in these plant-based “meats” are both heavily processed and stripped of their whole food form. During the processing, they are subjected to high heat that does not break down antinutrients, such as lectins, and may create the formation of additional antinutrients.

Antinutrients include phytoestrogens (associated with cancer and hormonal imbalances), goitrogens (disruption of thyroid function), lectins (autoimmune disorders and gut permeability), phytic acid (limits mineral absorption) and trypsin inhibitors (block digestion aiding enzymes). Other antinutrient compounds in soy include saponins, oxalates, hemagglutinin and aquaporins. The aquaporins have been linked to neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases.

While some will make the argument that soy has been a part of the human diet (particularly Asian) for several thousand years, they are not pointing out the fact that today’s genetically modified soy has no comparison to the soy that was a part of ancient diets in some civilizations. Moreover, soy was not a staple of these diets but used more like a condiment and occasional meat replacement, and most often in fermented forms. Additionally, the USDA Pesticide Data Program shows that many soy samples have as many as 14 toxin residues. This includes, of course, glyphosate.

Pea proteins have many of the same issues as the soy proteins. These include antinutrients, potential allergy issues and herbicide contamination.

So, the jury is far from out regarding the healthfulness of these plant-based “meats.” I have only scratched the surface in this article. As you dig deeper, the health concerns only magnify.

There are a number of food trends that we need to pay careful attention to and incorporate into our own marketing programs. These trends certainly favor the types of foods and the story that regenerative farms can provide.

The growing popularity of plant-based “meats” is certainly a concern but a deeper dig reveals a number of weaknesses and downright health concerns with many of these products. If someone wants to eat vegan, they are far better off eating whole plant proteins and not these highly processed quasi-foods. There are long-term, hidden health hazards that are yet to be discovered.

The foods we produce on regenerative farms are both whole and wholesome. Whether we are talking about plant foods or animal proteins, we can be proud of the fact that we are producing whole, healthy foods that contain truly natural flavors and nutrients. Our ingredient labels are pretty simple – beef, pork, eggs, chicken, tomato, lettuce, etc. They do not read like a list of chemicals and foreign substances and that provides regenerative producers with a “natural advantage” to meet the growing consumer trends in 2021 and beyond.

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