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Not-so-impossible burgers

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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved animals. I never had a pet while growing up, but from an early age, I learned to admire the many creatures that inhabit our planet. Despite this great love, meat has always been a large part of my diet. Both of my parents fueled my carnivorous lifestyle: my mom controlled the stove and oven while my dad commandeered the grill. 

I don’t blame my parents for raising me on meat; after all, humans have a long history of animal slaughter for human consumption, and it is also very difficult to give up meat (even though we can live without it). I don’t even see anything wrong with eating meat in theory—my continued role in the meat industry was only a problem for me because of the currently brutal animal treatment. As hard as it was to give up, it felt hypocritical to claim to be an advocate for animal rights while still contributing to the demand for meat, so I finally made the switch.

While not exclusively vegan because I still eat seafood, my animal-conscious (and also climate-conscious) diet has been pretty successful. But despite my strong desire to stop eating most animal products, it’s been very difficult for me to make such a drastic change. I miss so many different meals, but it’s not even that. My big problem is that  I don’t know how to psychologically move on from the idea of meat completely. That’s why meat alternatives like tofu and tempeh have been really important to me this semester.

In case you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, alternative meat is becoming more and more commonplace. But as new as the idea may seem, tofu has potentially existed for as long as 2,000 years. In a more modern sense, meat analogues started to emerge in the late 19th century, though they were far less common before the past few decades. Yet the idea only seems to have become mainstream now when fast-food chains like Burger King are selling meat substitutes nationwide. Duke has already started to expand access to meat alternatives, as well, but it should take a larger role in this trend.

Duke has made a lot of progress for being inclusive towards veganism—there are numerous different vegan protein sources available so far—but it still has more it could do. Unlike more traditional vegan meals, meat analogues have an especially critical role in distancing ourselves from the meat industry because they are better gateways into flexitarian or vegetarian lifestyles. But those options are less visible on campus than they should be.

While every restaurant on campus has a vegan option, vegan substitutes that mimic meat are less common. Sprout obviously has its mock chicken nuggets, at least a dozen other restaurants offer tofu/similar soy products, and even vegan burgers are becoming more commonplace. Regardless, there are still many restaurants without a true vegan substitute for meat—a good number of these restaurants offer beans, hummus, or portobello mushrooms as the main vegan protein, but it’s just not the same. A large part of the problem is my inability to escape the framework of the meat-centered meal, but I know I can’t be alone in this struggle. 

The majority of Americans are cutting their meat consumption in some way, and there is also a rapid projected increase in the market for alternative meat; those two facts together mean that many consumers who are leaving meat will want products that replicate the flavor/nutrients of animal flesh without the health-related, environmental or ethical costs. For people like me who want to make a difference by cutting meat from their lives but are struggling to quit cold turkey, meat substitutes are life-changing options that enable us to create change. And this would not only improve the lives of students across campus. By working to make vegetarian or vegan alternatives that exist to replicate meat more accessible and affordable, Duke can help decrease the demand for animal products and lessen its negative impact on livestock, public health, and the environment while reducing its own role in the meat industry.

Duke is already an inclusive campus for vegans relative to other colleges, but that doesn’t mean we should stop. And I don’t think it will—the temporary return of Big Bowl and the recent addition of Impossible Burgers to the Krafthouse menu are both good signs for the future. But attempts at vegetarian, flexitarian and especially vegan diets are still daunting lifestyle changes, so Duke can help make those changes easier by promoting current vegetarian/vegan options and continually offering new ones—alternative meat most critically—across campus.

Alex Frumkin is a Trinity junior. His column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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