By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

THE novel coronavirus that has effectively frozen our lives is thought to have animal origins — the virus may have spread from eating certain wild animals which were the original reservoirs of the SARS-Cov-2 virus which causes COVID-19 (scientists today point to either bats or pangolins; we’ll not get into the other conspiracy theories surrounding the spread of the virus). At the same time, the lockdowns and lack of public transportation have made it more difficult to acquire food than it was before the pandemic. As a temporary solution, some — this reporter included — have taken to eating meat analogues, or products made to resemble meat, to provide protein substitutes in the absence of meat.

Meat analogues are simply a new name given to a practice that began eons ago. Buddhist monks in China valued wheat gluten and tofu as substitutes for duck or mutton. Closer to our era, the Archer Daniels Midland Co. invented textured vegetable protein in the 1960s, made out of soy protein created by defattening soy beans. This product, sold dry, keeps for a year when stored properly. A cup of it, when rehydrated in hot water, expands to about four times its weight. Its nutritional value is comparable to ground beef, providing high levels of iron, potassium, magnesium, and large amounts of B vitamins. It has been used as a meat extender for prisons and schools, and this reporter has used it for a meatless version of chili con carne. Keep in mind though, that just because the product is meatless, it is still very much a processed food.

“It is always wiser to eat vegan foods because of its benefits, regardless of a pandemic,” said Mitch Trinidad, co-owner of Meatless Philippines, a company that provides “meat” assembled out of flaxseed, rice flour, soy, and other plant-based ingredients, in an e-mail. “As more and more vegan food is developed around the world, the stigma of vegan diets having no taste and blatantly identified as boring food is a thing of the past.”

Mr. Trinidad gave a practical reason for adopting a meatless lifestyle: “It’s a cheaper alternative to fast food.” The meat analogue used by this reporter costs about a third the price of ground beef. Over at Meatless Philippines, their products range in price from P300 for pork barbecue good for four people (assembled with rice flour “fat”) to P1,500 for a pack of plant-based “ribs.” He also says that it’s cheaper to produce — one doesn’t have to house or feed animals.

It is also nutritious. “Because we use a combination of different locally sourced vegetables to boost the nutrient benefits and taste of each product, our customers can enjoy a balanced meal without fear of not getting the same nutrition compared to eating meats,” he said. “We only use real foods to make our products. For example, we use real portobello and shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kale, flaxseeds to name a few… we learned that each vegetable could contribute to a specific flavor profile of a certain food product. Through extensive research and a lot of testing, we perfected combinations of vegetables to replicate the taste of meat whether it is fish, chicken, pork, or beef. We use bamboo for bones!”

He also adds, “You can eat bigger portions without worrying about cholesterol.”

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock industry produces emissions of “7.1 gigatonnes of C02-equiv per year, representing 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.” So eating less meat, or no meat, is good for the environment.

Some hardcore vegans (those who do not eat any animal-derived products, including milk, eggs, and honey) might say that in using meat analogues, one isn’t fully immersed in the vegan cause. After all, you are still looking for the “meaty” experience. Mr. Trinidad says, “We think adopting a vegan diet is not about what society dictates, it is about you making a conscious decision to protect your health, to eat better foods, and to safeguard the animals from senseless slaughter.”