Where’s the beef?AHN CHAK-HEE
The author is the head of the global cooperation team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
How would you react if you found no beef on the menu at a hamburger restaurant? If you visit one of the two specialized stores of Australian burger chain Grilled in Sydney and Melbourne, you would find yourself in this situation. Grilled first opened in 2004 and operates more than 140 burger outlets across Australia.
Last week, the company transformed some stores in the trendiest neighborhoods of the two cities into fully vegetarian restaurants, replacing beef and chicken with non-animal based ingredients. Other stores of the chain have Meat-Free Mondays, when they only offer meat substitutes on the menu. It is a strategy to have customers participate in the campaign to eat no meat at least one day a week.
There is a reason for profit-seeking companies to make such decisions. In a recent interview, Simon Crowe, co-founder of Grilled, said the movement is not a fab, but a permanent trend. Plant-based burger sales went up from 5 percent to 15 percent, he said.
As the Covid-19 pandemic brought upon us doubts about sustainability, the sentiment is affecting consumer behavior around the world. The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization founded in Washington in 2016 to advocate alternate protein innovation, states that global meat production doubled to 337 million tons from 1989 to 2019.
The institute said that the greenhouse gas emission from the livestock industry exceeds the combined emissions of all transportation industries, including automobiles, trains, ships and airplanes. If humans maintain their habit of consuming meat as we do now, the institute warns that greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reduced no matter how much effort we make in other areas.
Habits, especially eating habits, are hard to change. Recently, I went to a hamburger restaurant run by a foreign celebrity chef in Seoul with my friends. As soon as we sat down, one friend, in her 20s, said she would choose a veggie burger.
We waited in line for a long time for a table in that restaurant, and hamburgers are normally supposed to be meat. So I wondered why she chose a vegetarian option. I asked after she had her burger. She said, “The texture is the same as meat, and there is no gamy smell, so I liked it.”
She said she will continue to choose non-meat options if there is a variety on menus using plant-based patties. I found her open mindset and courage refreshing.
I should gather the courage to change my fixed ideas and habits around food and help reduce carbon emissions and environmental pollution little by little. So I made up my mind. Next time, I will order a veggie burger.