Cutting back on the amount of meat you consume is probably a good idea—for both the planet’s health and yours. It might also help with your food budget, given the high price of meat compared to other protein sources.
Read on to understand the impact that meat makes on the environment, your health, and your budget. Then learn about tofu, tempeh and textured vegetable protein (TVP), three soy-based meat substitutes that you can use in recipes if you decide to reduce the amount of meat you consume.
Producing meat is resource intensive
NPR describes the enormous amount of resources that goes into making just a quarter pound hamburger: 6.7 pounds of feed, 52.8 gallons of water, 74.5 acres of land, and 1036 BTUs of fossil fuel. Read this article from One Green Planet for some illuminating numbers on the resources needed for producing meat versus plant-based protein. Hint: plant-based protein wins big on conservation of resources.
Consuming too much meat increases your risk of cancer
According to a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine article, large studies in England and Germany show that by eating a meat-free diet you are 40 percent less likely to develop cancer. Studies from Harvard likewise show that you increase your risk of colon cancer by three times by eating meat each day compared to consuming it infrequently.
Meat costs more than other protein sources
How about the high cost of meat compared to meat substitutes? While it may be difficult to quantify, one popular natural foods grocery store charges $6.00/lb of the cheapest grade of ground beef and about $6/lb for a boneless, skinless chicken breast. In comparison, organic tofu costs just over $1.00/lb, organic tempeh costs around $3.50/lb, and organic textured soy protein costs close to $4.00/lb when hydrated.
As a comparison, organic canned navy beans costs just $1.50/lb or so. Pound for pound, you’ll spend a lot more on meat than you will on soy-based products and beans.
The difference between tofu, tempeh, and texture vegetable protein (TVP)
So just what are these soy-based meat substitutes and how do people cook with them?
From the BBC Good Food blog, tofu, a mainstay of Thai and Chinese cooking, “is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it.” It varies in its texture, ranging from soft and almost pudding-like to firm and more like a spongy cheese. Tofu is great for using in stir fries, miso soup, and in a variety of other Thai dishes. It tends to take on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in.
According to a Whole Foods blog post, tempeh originates from Indonesia and is made by cracking soy beans, cooking them, culturing them for about a day, and then packing them together in a “cake-like” structure. It has a nutty flavor and somewhat meaty texture. You can marinate it and grill or fry it or crumble it up in soups and casseroles to give a bit more flavor and heartiness.
Your Daily Vegan has a great discussion about textured vegetable protein (TVP), explaining that it “is a defatted soy flour product, a byproduct of extracting soybean oil. Most commonly found as an ingredient in meat analogues, TVP is also sold as a dry crumble that is easily re-hydrated.” You can use TVP as a filler to stretch hamburger or to give a meatier texture to some foods, like chili. Like tofu, TVP tends to take on the flavor of what it’s cooked in. It’s probably not as good for the environment since it does take a fair amount of processing. By the way, TVP is also called textured soy protein (TSP).
What about the protein?
if you eat meat for the protein content, you may want to see how much protein you’re getting from each source. The Self Nutrition Data and Calorie King web sites provide these numbers based on one ounce of each item:
· Ground Beef Cooked 7.1g
· Chicken Breast Cooked 7.6g
· Tofu 1.9g
· Tempeh, Cooked 5.1g
· Textured Vegetable Protein 14.2g
· Navy Beans Canned 2.1g
While vegetable sources of protein (other than highly-processed TVP) tend to offer you less protein per ounce than meat, they do reduce your risk of cancer by allowing you to eat less meat. In addition, tempeh offers a good source of fiber and tofu delivers a big dose of calcium.
Caveats about soy
Although soy-based products provide one way to reduce your meat consumption, CNN notes that soy contains isoflavones, a phytoestrogen that mimics estrogen in your body and that may reduce a woman’s reproductive ability. As a result, health experts recommend eating it in moderation. They also recommend that you eat soy in its less processed forms—tofu and tempeh. That’s when it’s best for your health, the planet and your wallet.
What are your thoughts about soy-based products? If you’ve tried to cut back on meat, what other meat substitutes have you tried? Why not prepare a meatless meal tonight using tempeh? Just marinate some strips of tempeh in your favorite barbecue sauce, grill them, put them on a bun, top it all with some crisp coleslaw from my Easy Coleslaw Recipe. You can’t go wrong!