Even as a devoted omnivore, I’ve noticed that the rest of the world seems to be hungry for plant-based meat alternatives.
The global market for staple, plant-based proteins such as Beyond Sausages, Impossible Burgers, Lightlife Smart Dogs, Quorn ChiQuin and Upton Natural’s BBQ Jackfruit bites is just under $14 billion a year. While this number is a fraction of global annual sales for chicken ($312 billion), pork ($254 billion), seafood ($257 billion) and beef ($497 billion), industry analysts say true meat market segments are likely to only grow single-digits, year after year, in the near future. However, spending on alternative meat will increase by as much as 30 percent annually. At that rate, eaters could spend more than $230 billion on man-made “meat” by 2033.
My gripe with most of these products lies in the fact that almost all of the plant-based alternative meats sold in Maine’s supermarkets come “from afar,” sometimes very, very, very far away. For example, a large majority of the pea protein in Beyond Meat comes from China and is heavily processed in factories in Missouri and Pennsylvania into lookalike steak tips, Italian sausages, chicken nuggets, and jerky strips. Impossible Burgers are made in Oakland, California, from GMO soybeans grown in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. And Quorn, owned by Philippine conglomerate Monde Nissin, which recently built a research and development lab in Dallas to promote its plant-based chicken alternatives in the US, produces most of its products in the UK from a fungal protein called mycoprotein. That substance is mixed with potato protein, pea fiber, wheat gluten and yeast extract from sources not listed on the company’s packaging or website.
With so many food miles and industrial production cycles at play and the potential for monocropping practices to wreak havoc on the soil, the argument that plant-based protein is a greener option than grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and pork, and sustainably harvested seafood loses ground . a lot of ground.
If you’re a locavore looking for a Maine-made, plant-based protein for dinner, you have a couple of choices: Heiwa Tofu, produced in Rockport, and Tootie’s Tempeh, made in Biddeford.
A family-owned company led by husband-and-wife team Jeff Wolovitz and Maho Hisakawa, Heiwa has been making its tofu for 15 years with non-GMO soybeans grown on farms in Maine and New England. Wolovitz explains that while he has built some redundancy into his soy supply chain because crops can fail for a variety of reasons, soybeans come primarily from Aurora Mills and Farm in Linnaeus, just 175 miles away from his tofu production facility. He estimates that to supply his customers (independent health food stores in Maine, as well as all Hannaford stores and Whole Foods stores in the Northeast) with his handmade tofu, he spends $150,000 a year on soybeans. That’s quite a chunk of change to keep recycling within the local food economy.
Farmer Sara Williams Flewelling says that while her family’s farm is best known for its grains – buckwheat, oats, rye, spelled and wheat – growing a variety of soybeans well suited to the northern climate as part of a farm-wide crop rotation plan , helps keep the soil of the farm healthy. Legumes, such as soybeans, dried beans and field peas, fix nitrogen in the soil as they grow. The fixed nitrogen helps future crops thrive when planted in the same soil. Flewelling says her farm’s business-to-business relationships with food manufacturers like Heiwa and Tootie’s Tempeh (which uses soybeans exclusively from Aurora Mills and Farm to make its product) are integral to her farm’s future success.
And the farm takes steps to ensure the quality of the legumes it supplies to its partners. The mill recently received a grant from the Maine Technology Institute to purchase an optical sorter that will ensure there are no rocks, foreign objects, or blemished beans in legume shipments to partners.
Just in case the benefits of buying local, the role soybeans play in enriching the Maine soil, and the fact that strong business partnerships come from thriving local farms aren’t enough to get these two meat alternatives into your weeknight meal rotation. Tootie’s Tempeh co-founder Sarah Spears says her worker-owned co-op has made an effort to produce tempeh with as little plastic as possible. She does not want to add anything to the world’s single-use plastic problem.
Tempeh, a traditional Indonesian meal protein made from cooked soybeans that are inoculated with Rhizopus oligosporus fungal cultures and then fermented so that the beans bind together to form a nutty-tasting plant protein cake, was traditionally wrapped in banana leaves to ferment. In most modern tempeh production facilities, the mixture is wrapped in plastic to ferment and then repackaged for sale.
Tootie’s team developed a fermentation method for making tempeh that does not use plastic. The finished product is available in most health food stores and independent supermarkets in Maine. While only the traditional flavor was available when I spoke to her, Spears said a caraway seed version (great for Reubens) and an Italian spice version (great for pasta dishes) would soon be on the market.
Marinated Maine Tempeh Tacos
Tempeh cakes can be easily cut into strips or cubes or broken into crumbs. The smaller the pieces, the more flavor the tempeh will get while marinating. Try this recipe the next time you’re craving tacos. The tempeh has so much flavor that you won’t miss the chicken, beef, or pork you usually put in your tacos.
For 4 persons
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons of honey
1 1/2 tsp Gryffon Ridge Senor Pistole spice mix
1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces Tootsie’s Tempeh, crumbled
8 Tortillery Pachanga corn tortillas, warmed
1/4 cup of sour cream
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup pickled onions
2 radishes, thinly sliced
Coriander leaves, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
Mix olive oil, lime juice, honey, spice mix, garlic and salt in a medium bowl. Add tempeh, cover and marinate for one to eight hours.
Place a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the marinated tempeh to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid in the marinade has evaporated and the tempeh is beginning to brown slightly, 5-6 minutes.
To assemble the tacos, hold a warm tortilla in your hand, spread a dollop of sour cream in the center, add 1 ounce of marinated tempeh, fill the taco with shredded cabbage, pickled onions, and sliced radishes. Garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.
Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. Serve tacos immediately.
Christine Burns Rudalevige, a champion of local food, is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a sustainable food column in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. reach through: [email protected]
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