the word “processed” it became a scribble.
Say “processed food” and many of us imagine unhealthy, cheap junk. Fresh food directly from the garden or field is good. After we ran it through a processing plant or lab, we removed its halo features and added a bunch of bad ones. This means that meat substitutes are no better than junk food.
However, this perspective is narrow-minded. We will not feed billions a nutritious diet sustainably. without food processing. The growing backlash against the procedure is something that neither humans nor the planet can afford.
Benefits of processed foods
Processed food is more than Coca-Cola, Dairy Milk chocolate and ready meals. Most plant and animal products go through some kind of processing to turn them into something we can eat and want to eat. We grind grain into flour to make bread. To obtain meat, we slaughter animals and remove their bones. We pasteurize the milk.
Processed foods have given us countless benefits, many of which we quickly forget. Iodized salt is just one example; Iodine deficiencies were common around the world, causing increased risks of stillbirth and miscarriage, significant reductions in IQ, and reduced cognitive development. Now a large part of the world consumes iodized salt and many countries have made up for this deficiency. By adding nutrients to food, we were able to correct a number of other micronutrient deficiencies.
We have been able to preserve food and reduce food waste by extending its shelf life. We have reduced the spread of foodborne diseases. Those with food allergies and intolerances can now eat a balanced diet. We don’t need to spend the day preparing meals – this has been particularly important for women’s education and career advancement. Last but not least: taste. Our shelves are now full of great-tasting food.
Of course, when people talk about “processed” foods, they’re often talking about ultra-processed foods (UPF). These snacks and ready meals are designed to be more convenient and delicious, with a longer shelf life. Companies are working hard to find the “Goldilocks” flavor profile we can’t resist by adding sugar and fat to make food as flavorful as possible. Many describe these finely tuned combinations as addictive.
It is true that increased consumption of highly processed foods is linked to poor health outcomes. It has been associated with less consumption of essential nutrients such as vitamins C, D and B.12. The more of these foods we eat, the more likely we are to become overweight or obese. This puts us at higher risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Ultra-processed foods are easy to overeat.
The problem with most UPFs is that they are higher in calories, sugar, and fat. And they’re lower in protein and fiber, which are nutrients that keep us full.
But this is not unique to food processing itself. What matters is what companies add to our food. They can create healthier food if they want or if we request it.
Increased response to meat substitutes
One of the areas where I see the biggest reaction against the process is meat substitute products.
These products try to mimic the meat experience and contain plant proteins such as soy-based sausages; Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers; Proteins made from fermentation, such as Quorn, and lab-grown meat.