Pass the Tofurkey

by Kratika Tandon

This past holiday season was quite the experience. Some people had to spend it away from their loved ones, while others hadn’t left their loved ones for ten months straight. Needless to say, it was different for every family. For my family, we decided to experiment a bit. Our Thanksgiving menu included mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and tofurkey. That’s right: tofurkey, which is a vegetarian/vegan alternative to turkey made entirely from tofu. I’m not going to lie—it was actually pretty good! In fact, just like our family, more and more people are choosing healthier and more sustainable diets—resulting in skyrocketing sales for the plant-based meat industry. 

With the release of contemporary climate change warnings, people are beginning to understand that the food they eat might be contributing to the crisis. It’s well-known that carbon emissions are quickly rising. A UN report from August 8, 2019 warns that drastic changes in agriculture and human diets are necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The report explains that the beef and dairy industries are a key cause of these carbon emissions released due to factors such as deforestation and methane production. According to a New York Times article from January 25, 2018, 574 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are accredited to animal agriculture in the US annually. 

Reports like these have led to a shift in the American population’s diets. Although vegetarian and vegan movements have been around for millennia, their popularity is increasing now more than ever before. According to an article in Forbes Magazine from November 2, 2018, the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew 5% from 2014 to 2017. Although that is still a small number of the population, it’s an increase of approximately 16.25 million people.

With a growing shift towards more sustainable diets, consumers aren’t just switching to veggie alternatives (like portabella mushroom burgers) or skipping out on meat altogether. Some are actually going towards sustainable and plant-based meat: a new generation of incredibly sophisticated food science.

Let’s introduce the plant-based Impossible Burger, which is manufactured to be indistinguishable from meat. CEO Pat Brown’s company Impossible Foods creates their soy-based burgers by using heme, which is the molecule found in beef that catalyzes the aromas and flavors of real meat. Their scientists are able to extract this molecule from plants rather than animals. This burger has risen in popularity as the taste is nearly indistinguishable from real beef and can be purchased at popular restaurant chains such as Burger King and White Castle.

A significant shift to a more plant-based diet holds incredible benefits for our planet, which Doctor Dana Hunnes highlights in an article published on UCLA’s Sustainability website. Turning away from animal-based foods completely would add 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands and significantly reduce carbon emissions. Likewise, as National Geographic (December 21, 2019) explains, cutting the consumption of animal products in half would reduce the United States’ dietary water requirements by 37%. These reductions would make the planet a safer and healthier place to live.

There are many new options on the menu for those looking to eat more plant-based meals. Reducing the consumption of animal products is an impactful way that consumers can help the environment. There are so many small steps we can take to make a big change. Perhaps implement “Meatless Mondays” into your weekly menu, or even venture out and try the Impossible meat yourself! The Publik House and One World Cafe are just a couple of restaurants in Peoria that offer the Impossible Burger on their menus. So, as we step forward, let us do so with the mindset to make a difference!

About Kratika Tandon

Kratika Tandon is an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is majoring in biology and graduating with a minor in environmental economics and policy. She graduated from Dunlap High School as class valedictorian. Tandon is incredibly passionate about sustainability. As such, she is interested in many different career paths that involve helping the environment. She is most interested in writing about the subjects of environmental issues, social justice, life during a pandemic, and racial equity. She is proficient in informative and expository writing as well as public speaking. Tandon was a part of her high school’s speech team for four years. This past season, she competed in two events at the state championship tournament: original oratory and informative speaking. She wrote and perfected these speeches on her own, both tackling specific topics dealing with the environment. Tandon was also the president of her school’s local Interact Club. She possesses great leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. She is participating with Giving Voice because she wants to use her voice and writing to inspire others and facilitate change.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Aryanne “Ary” Westfall is a sophomore at Bradley University majoring in Animation and minoring in Theatre Arts. She is pursuing a career as a storyboard artist and enjoys creating graphic novels in her free time. As a member of the Digital Art Team, Westfall spends her time connecting with other artists and creating as much as she can.