We hear a lot about the effects of the beef industry on the environment. Growing up, my step-grandfather owned a rather sizeable cattle ranch in Arizona. At the time it was the third-largest beef supplier in the US. The size of his ranch was hard to comprehend, as I grew up in Albuquerque and the scale of his land just couldn’t compare to anything I’d ever seen out here. All that space dedicated to cows, with enormous herds roaming around freely, required an upkeep that is mind-boggling. Now, think about the amount of water and time and energy used to raise that many cows on a year-to-year basis, and multiply that hundreds of times over for the US alone, and it becomes easy to see how the beef industry damages our planets overall health.
I say all this because there’s been a race to find better ways to maintain the status quo with less damage to our planet. The biggest push has been finding truly effective vegetarian substitutes for normal meat offerings. With a dramatic shift in the way vegetarian options are created, we’re seeing more originality and variety in the products available.
For example, 15 years ago, most stores had next to nothing for meat alternatives, and what was offered was a pittance of a creation, being a plant-based patty of some kind with little to no seasoning or flavor offered. The industry is finally catching up to meet the needs of the new wave of vegetarians that have risen up in the last decade. With products like Beyond Meat, which essentially builds meat from plants by matching the genetic properties of meat to those found in plants, the industries are taking an innovative approach to the process of creating vegetarian offerings.
The rise of vegetarian offerings has a particular effect on New Mexico, where we have one of the largest beef industries in the country. With a lot of land and not enough people to occupy it all, we’ve found great success in the livestock industry, with current population estimates showing we have a ratio of 0.62 cows to every person currently in the state. With current estimates for the US showing we’re at roughly 7 percent of the total population being some form of vegetarian, that industry isn’t in any danger of fading away. But the question is, how long will that remain the case?
A rise in global activism with climate change at the forefront of issues concerning younger generations could spell a shift in cultural needs and wants. As more and more people take personal accountability into consideration, they become part of a change to the system, and we could see that number continue to rise. In the past decade alone, the number of vegetarians nearly doubled in the US. It wouldn’t be all that shocking to see that happen again, even faster this time. Even now, we’re seeing places like Del Taco and Burger King making a shift in their menus to accommodate the new wave of vegetarian interest.
We have so many places here, like Annapurna and An Hy Quan, that have extensive menus offering vegetarian and vegan options. These places have become local staples and have managed to penetrate into the markets of people who aren’t normally vegetarian but want to make an attempt at healthier eating. The outlook for vegetarians has never been better in terms of choice, as options continue to expand and grow.
Look at local places that have been ahead of the curve, including B2B Bistronomy, a burger and brews joint. Currently their menu has seven separate styles of vegetarian burger, and they’re all quite extraordinary. Not content to just throw together a single-style patty with a few bleak ingredient offerings, they’ve managed to create truly gourmet designs of vegetarian burgers that will leave most people—accustomed to only a few choices—reeling as they decide. Whether it’s a black bean burger with sundried tomato or the edamame cashew with wasabi and pesto mayo, these aren’t your typical vegetarian choices.
All this is to say that things have grown and changed over the past few decades. Burger Week is next issue, and we’re featuring multiple vegetarian options. This is a huge step forward and shows hope for future change. Keep your eyes peeled for next issue and keep an eye out for vegetarian burgers. I left surprised at the level of quality on these, and you could, too. An open mind and an empty stomach could be all you need to change your opinion on vegetarian food.