Saturday, September 26 2020 - 12:45 AM
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Where’s the Beef?

Decades ago, a spry senior citizen wisecracked, “Where’s the Beef?!” in a Wendy’s commercial and the catchphrase caught fire. Now with COVID-19 rampaging through meat processing and packaging plants, that question is no joking matter, as meat supplies dwindle and prices rise.

Employees in more than 215 meat processing plants nationwide accounted for at least 17,000 COVID-19 cases by late May, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN). Of those workers who contracted the disease, 70 died, as did four U.S. Department of Agriculture food inspectors.

By late May, the pandemic had shut down at least four meat processing plants and many more were crippled by reduced workforces. Without workers to process and package meat, shortages and higher prices have resulted. Grocery store meat supplies could be 30 percent lower and prices 20 percent higher by June, according to CoBank’s “Closed Meat Plants Today Mean Empty Meat Cases this Summer” report.

Even without shortages and higher prices, some consumers are avoiding meat due to concerns that sick workers could pass COVID-19 through the products they handle. Combine that worry with those looking for ways to strengthen their immune systems during the pandemic through better nutrition, and it’s clear that meat consumption may be lower for some time to come.

Traditionally, the focus of the American dinner plate is a large portion of red meat or poultry with little attention paid to fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Many home cooks may be so accustomed to building a meal around animal protein, they are stumped on what to do now. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based protein options that even the pickiest carnivore will love.

Plant-based Protein Options

The good news is that most of us don’t need huge amounts of protein. Just how much is needed varies from person to person depending on factors such as age, weight, and activity level. But protein deficiency is an uncommon occurrence in the U.S. and typically folks aren’t calculating how much protein they eat daily. (If interested in the numbers, there are calculators that can compute how much protein you need.)

Even better news is that there are lots of affordable protein-packed plants that can fill in for absentee meat. Consider one of these options to replace meat as the centerpiece of meal planning:

Beyond whole plant sources, there are dozens of plant products that mimic meat. Some best known (and loved) brands include Beyond Meat, Morningstar Farms, Quorn, Tofurky, and Sweet Earth. These plant-based protein sources are convenient and versatile. Beyond Meat, for example, not only has “burgers,” but also offers crumbles that can be used for tacos, chili, or in pasta sauce.

Resources on Meat-free Meals

Still unsure of where to start? Try the internet! If interested in preparing meat-free meals, resources are plentiful with a quick Google search. Below are a few favorites.

Websites worth bookmarking include:

Check out these Instagram pages for inspiration:

  • Shine with Plants (@shinewithplants)
  • Taavi Moore (@healthienut)
  • Lauren Kirchmaier (@flora_and_vino)
  • Caroline Ginolfi (@plantbasedblonde)

And don’t forget Pinterest for thousands of recipes:

With meat supplies dwindling and prices spiking, now is a great time to explore plant-based meal options. Meat-free meals can be delicious, nutritious, easily sourced, and economical. By embracing plant-based options, the answer to “Where’s the Beef?” won’t really matter.

Kim Freeman writes from Ohio.

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About Kim Freeman

Kim Freeman

writes from Ohio.

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