I’m sure you saw summer’s big food story. The world’s first lab-grown burger was finally squeezed from its test tube and pan-fried for a palate test. So how does a $330,000 hamburger taste? Apparently not so hot. Still, petri patties could solve a lot of problems. But what if we all just ate a little less meat instead?
The artificial beef was made from cultured cow muscle cells subjected to a science-fiction recipe involving seaweed polymers and something called myotubes. But it was more than an exercise in idle carnivorous curiosity. With the world’s hunger for meat expected to climb 70% by 2050,  it was a first attempt to satisfy this anticipated appetite sustainably.
Because meat is cooking the planet. To get a quarter-pound hamburger you need roughly 53 gallons of water, 74 square-feet of land, and seven pounds of feed.  (Feed all the grain we feed to livestock in the U.S. to people instead, and 800 million of us would eat. ) That same burger also adds over six pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  In fact, according to the United Nations, 18% of all global warming gases are released by livestock. 
To prevent this chili con carnage, we could eat fake meat. Or we could just eat less meat. That used to seem impossible to a meat-lover like me, but I’ve found that alternatives like these fill the meatless void quite nicely:
- Tofu is almost a meatless cliché, but it’s both filling and satisfying. Buy extra firm, let it drain, marinate it in something yummy and pan fry or grill.
- Tempeh is made from soybeans and other grains compressed and fermented. The result is a dense chewy texture and a rich nutty flavor that’s at home in all kinds of settings.
- Textured vegetable protein comes flakes or chunks. Rehydrate it a little and use it in recipes instead of ground beef. It’ll absorb whatever flavors you add to it with ease.
- Seitan is a wheat-based option. It does well as a chicken substitute. But you can bake, simmer, or fry it into almost anything.
- Portobello mushrooms are big and beefy, especially when treated to a soy sauce-based marinade. Grill them for a smoky touch that’s delicious.
- Beans come in all shapes and sizes. Mix and mash them to make veggie burgers and hearty pots of chili and stew.
- Premade substitutes like Gardenburgers and Quorn will work in a pinch, but in my experience a DIY approach yields superior results. One exception is Gimme Lean, which when combined with breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg makes a killer meatball.
Swapping ingredients like these for meat even a meal or two a week can make a big environmental difference. And you really won’t miss that cheeseburger. The key lies in recipes and marinades that elevate taste and texture to satisfying meat-like levels. You can’t just toss tofu in the pan and expect applause ten minutes later. But with a clever cookbook, there’s little standing between you and a standing O.
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America’s most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.