Despite All the Fake Meat, Americans Are Still Gobbling Up the Real Stuff

Beef and chicken consumption got a boost during the pandemic.

Alex Potemkin/Getty

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

These days, you can find faux beef at just about any national fast-food chain and supermarket meat case. Already wildly hyped in 2019, tech-backed burger analogues got a boost from the pandemic. As COVID-19 roared through meatpacking plants, sickening and killing workers and triggering shutdowns that briefly caused real-meat shortages, consumers loaded up on Impossible Burgers and various competing products. More recently, faux bird has landed, too: Walmart now peddles house-brand vegan “chick’n patties,” and KFC is trialing not-chicken nuggets developed by Beyond Meat. 

But here’s a question: When will all this plant-based “meat” consumption start to curtail the US appetite for the real stuff? Americans lead the globe in carnivory, and the great bulk of our meat supply comes from massive confinement operations that spew greenhouse gases, pollute air in other ways, and foul water. Venture capital darlings like Impossible Foods may claim their ground legume patties—tweaked to look and taste like flesh—hold the key to enticing consumers to cut back.

But so far, there’s no sign of it.

The US Department of Agriculture just released 2020 numbers on meat consumption. For chicken, pork, and even beef—so far, the main target of Silicon Valley disruption—the per capita numbers have crept up since 2016, the year the Manhattan restaurant Momofuku Nishi served the first Impossible Burger. 

Sure, tech-enhanced, hyper-realistic fake meat hasn’t been around long enough for any definitive judgment of its efficacy. Maybe it’ll eventually work. Or maybe Americans are treating the Impossible Burger like an amuse bouche—a palate-tickling prelude to a meaty meal.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate