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Comfort Food vs. CAFOs: The Battle Over What's "Healthy" Continues

Theresa "Sam" Houghton
November 16, 2020

Good Monday, my fellow nerds! Ready for another news 📰 roundup? It’s a weird and wild week (McPlant, 🍔 anyone?) with consumer sentiment all over the map, plant-based protein galloping 🐎 toward victory and factory farms moving us closer to massive health problems on a global scale.

…I swear it’s more uplifting than it sounds. 😅 Let’s dive in!

More Reasons Why Factory Farming is Dangerous and Horrible

A recent World Animal Protection report highlights what many in the plant-based space already know, and what numerous consumers are discovering: Factory farming practices pose huge health risks for the global population. 😷💉

Antibiotic resistance and pandemic potential are the two major concerns. Every year, 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections. Projections suggest the number could skyrocket to 10 million people per year by 2050 and incur global healthcare costs of as much as $10 trillion. And, by and large, it’s not because we’re taking too many antibiotics—it’s because we’re giving 75% of all antibiotics produced around the world to factory-farmed animals in a desperate attempt to keep cramped, unsanitary conditions from killing them.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Despite this, animals get sick anyway. A lot of animals. And some of those diseases jump to people. In fact, the increase in meat consumption since the 1940s has accounted for 50% of infectious diseases in humans.

This doesn’t even take into account the combined environmental, social and economic impacts of factory farms. 🏭 Between crowding on the farms themselves, contamination of the surrounding ecosystem with waste runoff 🌊 and the subsequent health hazards posed by unreasonably fast processing speeds, the risk of animal diseases entering the human population is growing more serious over time.

And Plant-Based 🌱 Protein Looks Like the Preferred Alternative

As consumers become more concerned about food safety (including food-borne illnesses), chronic disease risk, nutrition 👩🏻‍⚕️ and the environmental issues surrounding factory farming, they’re gravitating toward foods they perceive as healthier and more sustainable.

And it’s a boon for the plant-based market. 🌱

Why? Consumer concerns are fueling a movement of meat reducers and flexitarians. Both startups and big food companies are jumping on board, releasing new product lines and innovating fresh solutions. 🍔 The flurry of activity—and consumer spending—has put the global plant-based market on track to be worth more than $35 billion by 2027.

It’s quite the leap, considering the very same market was worth just $11.1 billion in 2019. According to a Polaris Market Research report, “increased health awareness” is one of the top reasons for the shift.

The challenge lies in meeting that expectation. Currently, consumers remain confused as to how to reap the greatest benefits from plant-based diets. 😵 To prevent the industry from falling victim to the “health halo” phenomenon that has rendered terms like “natural” and “organic” almost meaningless, plant-based companies need to focus on the next phase of the movement’s trajectory: offering better health for all. 😊

Health and Flavor are Pretty Important, After All

Even though the definition of “healthy“ remains clouded in vagueness and confusion, health is still top of mind for a large chunk of the consumer base. Three out of four shoppers are planning to eat and drink healthier 🍎🌽🥦🥑 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re on the hunt for ingredients they can pronounce.

These changing habits are driving demand for foods with perceived or proven benefits — the functional ingredient market alone could hit $100 million by 2025. 🍄 That means natural products will increasingly boot the glut of artificially flavored, colored and preserved junk foods out of pantries and off store shelves.

At the same time, comfort is still a priority. Consumers want indulgent foods that make them feel happy 🍫 but don’t contribute to poor health. Companies that hit the mark on flavor, texture and convenient packaging stand to gain from this mindset as long as they’re able to keep labels short, clean and recognizable.

Comfort food and health — it’s an interesting paradox that certainly isn’t out of the question. 😃 (Intrepid plant-based and vegan bloggers have been nailing it for years!) But my eye is on the trajectory of factory farming.

At a time when consumer education is at an all-time high, knowledge of what actually goes on in our food system is frighteningly limited. 😓I spent some of my time as a health coach trying to increase awareness, and I’m hoping plant-based companies and advocates will use their platforms to do the same.

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