Why do Americans eat so much meat

Sieren's China: The big meat question

Nowhere in the world is the pressure to reduce meat consumption as great as in booming China. The Chinese already eat almost a third of the meat offered worldwide - twice as much as is consumed in the USA. And the trend is increasing. Because China has only reached the per capita income of Bulgaria.

Meat is a status symbol for the rising middle class. That is why the meat supply is also about the political stability of the country. Before there is a crisis because the Chinese feel they cannot get enough cheap meat, there has to be an alternative on the market that is acceptable. Because with conventional meat, as much is already becoming apparent, the demand cannot be met. That is why Beijing supports the development of meat imitations made from soy, tofu and other vegetable proteins. As early as 2016, the government announced that it wanted to reduce the population's meat consumption by half by 2030. But the topic has not yet really moved into the political focus, such as artificial intelligence or the electric car. That will come soon, however.

Chinese cuisine also works without meat - with tofu instead. The Chinese leadership encourages that.

Race for the top in the meatless market

In addition to political stability, China is also about people's health, climate protection and now even animal welfare. The two Californian startups Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are also currently increasing the pressure on China to develop something themselves as quickly as possible. The Americans are already further than the Chinese. Impossible Foods launched the "Impossible Burger" back in 2016, which is now on the menu at White Castle Burger, the oldest US hamburger chain and is offered as a whopper in 60 Burger King branches. And Beyond Meat had one of the most successful US stock market launches this year. Although the share has now plummeted 68 percent, it is still trading at $ 74, well above the $ 25 issue price. Most banks bet on the stock. The two US companies in China are still looking for business partners and the Chinese food authorities have yet to give the green light. But they want to be established in China by the end of next year.

Beyond Meat sells meat that does not contain meat but tastes like meat

The Chinese are slowly catching up: One of the most promising and at the same time most traditional providers of plant-based alternatives to meat is the company Qishan. It also operates under the English name Whole Perfect Foods. The company, headquartered in Shenzhen, was founded in 1993, a time when vegetarians only occupied a niche in the West and almost no one in China thought about the topic. But Yu Zhaode, the founder, is a Buddhist and for this reason did not want to eat meat. From this he developed a business model. His company now has over 300 different products on offer - more than Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods combined. Including complicated taste nuances such as abalone, the sea snail delicacy, or vegan oyster sauce. Yu's company had sales of $ 44.6 million last year. That's about half as much as Beyond Burger. But that should change now.

Meatless research in association with universities

In the past few months, Yu has entered into partnerships with the e-commerce giant Alibaba, but also with the US chain Walmart, which has around 400 branches in China - in the best case scenario, this is also a door opener for the lucrative US market. Qishan has been exporting its products to countries such as Portugal, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia for a long time. "We conduct between three and 50 studies for new products every year," said marketing manager Zhou Qiyu. "This year, together with the local government, we opened a research institute at Shenzhen University to isolate soy proteins even better and to further develop other plant-based products."

In China, the aim is to expand the range in the direction of local specialties, such as "Jiaozi", filled dumplings that are traditionally filled with pork. Imitation meat, which tastes good fried, must not disintegrate in the noodle soup. It must be suitable for grilling, but also remain juicy as a filling. Chinese fake meat producers have long mastered the ability to serve this variety.

Chinese tradition of meatless meat

The Chinese have three other key advantages over the Americans. Your market and the pressure to act is much greater than in other countries. Unlike the American President and fast food lover Donald Trump, Chinese politics supports the issue more than ever. And China has an ancient meatless meat tradition that originated under Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Even back then, Buddhists developed deceptively real meat imitations that have been perfected over generations, from duck made from soy protein to smoked fish made from seitan.

Looks and tastes like a hamburger - but does not contain any meat

The so-called "Buddhist meat" is not yet perceived as trendy in China. However, the old traditions have what it takes to become a global soft power, if the vegetable meat suppliers manage to make their dishes hip among young city dwellers. China's "fake meat" should become a cornerstone of pop culture. Instead of only addressing vegetarians, the producers have to convince the meat-eating mainstream without, however, morally urging people to switch completely to a plant-based diet. Incidentally, this is also the strategy of companies like Beyond Meat. Because in the USA only around seven percent of their customers are flawless vegetarians.

Swine fever increases the pressure to act

Political pressure has intensified since swine fever broke out in China this year. The virus, which also survives cooked and frozen, has spread across the country from northeast China. Millions of animals had to be forcibly killed. China imported millions of tons of pork from abroad that year to meet its needs. Even the "strategic pork reserves" set up in 2007 by the government in nationwide cold stores were opened in order to keep prices stable and inflation under control. Because of the shortage in China, pork prices in Germany even rose by over eight percent. In China, pork was 168 percent more expensive than last year. Meat consumption is also stressful for the health system, as widespread diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems are increasing rapidly.

This pressure to reform is not only weighing on China, but on all of Asia. Market researchers estimate that Asia could be the largest growth market for plant-based meat alternatives as early as 2023.

Only vegetable meat in canteens?

The only thing missing now is good marketing. It becomes easier in China because the Chinese are much more open to vegetable meat than the Americans, also because of their tradition. Almost 96 percent of those surveyed said they would buy "fake meat". In the US it was only 75 percent. This is the result of a new study by the US journal "Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems". Now the industry is waiting for a sign from the government: Just as it recently decided that the authorities are only allowed to buy Chinese computers, it could, for example, enforce that state Chinese canteens only offer vegetable meat.

Our columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over twenty years.