What’s the deal with plant-based sandwiches?

While taking a summer class, I often scurried up to Tim Hortons during breaks in the lecture to snag a breakfast sandwich and coffee. I eat meat, but it was just as easy, filling and protein-packed to grab a plant-based alternative. So I did.

The recent explosion of plant-based meat alternatives into the mainstream food market has targeted consumers that are often overlooked — people who will choose the more eco-friendly option when they can, but find it isn’t always feasible.

I know that choosing a plant-based sandwich wasn’t an earth-shattering move as it was still wrapped in wasteful paper and wasn’t using local ingredients. That being said, it was a small change that I was able to make for the better because it was accessible.

We put a lot of pressure on individuals to make huge lifestyle changes to try and save our dying planet but turn away from the corporations who contribute most to our dire circumstances. Fast food restaurants and other foodservice locations offering plant-based alternatives represent how corporations and individuals can work together to reduce harmful consumer habits.

It avoids an issue I have with the plastic straw ban: removing something that some people need as an option without any solid alternatives. Plant-based proteins aren’t here to replace meat but to provide an additional option. I know offering plastic and paper straws isn’t as glamorous as an all-out ban to the corporations clamouring for eco-friendly street cred, but it accommodates folks with disabilities who need plastic straws.

I am cautiously optimistic about plant-based meat substitutes and the current cultural fixation on them. They feel like a step in the right direction, though I am still concerned about the other impacts they may have. Corporations can’t just offer plant-based protein patties and call themselves eco-friendly. They need to address every step of the supply chain, work towards transporting products more sustainably and package and advertise them with less waste. They also need to address inequitable labour practices — focus on the social and economic empowerment of workers who make these products. Ensure they have a living wage and positive working environments. Cut out abuse and inhumane conditions.

I also hope individuals don’t latch on to this to the detriment of folks with dietary restrictions. Some people need meat in their diet. They should have the same freedom and flexibility to eat in restaurants as folks who don’t have dietary restrictions. We also need to accept this socially and not shame anyone for eating what they need to — each of us knows our body best and I am not here to pretend I know what works for someone else. Goodness knows folks with disabilities and dietary restrictions face enough invasive questioning on the daily. My point isn’t to demand personal information and play judge and jury when it comes to the decisions of others, it’s just about making small changes in your own life that work for you — don’t get it twisted.

Plant-based meat substitutes could be a great way for consumers to make less harmful choices. That being said, there is also a lot of room for these alternatives to become just as hazardous as those we’re moving away from. I love that environmentally friendly options are becoming more mainstream and more financially accessible. I love that I can grab a plant-based sandwich that tastes just as good as real sausage and feel a bit better about my choices as a consumer. I am wary given the track record of buzzed-about eco-friendly movements (like the straw ban) but then I think about how people have started planting bee gardens and walking instead of driving to work more. I am proud of individuals who take small steps to be more eco-friendly in their day-to-day lives. Though I distrust corporations, it is in their best interest to become less harmful to the earth — they can’t become the next Microsoft if we all die from heat waves, wildfires, ice storms and hurricanes, after all. I hope that the intersection of individual choice and corporate motivations can make something beautiful — and tasty.

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