Thinking of becoming vegetarian or cutting down on meat and fish? Here’s how Singapore has been stepping up its game in the global meat-reduction movement – and how it can relate to you.
Choosing whether to eat meat has increasingly become more than just a matter of one’s personal health concerns or even an individual’s ethical stance – it’s a matter of actually saving our planet. With meat production accounting for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally (more than all transportation combined worldwide!), and reports that the global temperature rises are unlikely to keep below two degrees Celsius without a shift in global meat and dairy consumption, scientists are encouraging people to embrace more plant-based diets to mitigate environmental disasters and natural resource depletion. But this doesn’t necessarily mean giving up meat completely. Adopting a “flexitarian” diet, they say, is at least a step in the right direction toward promoting sustainability.
What is flexitarianism?
Eating meat doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Instead of quitting cold turkey, there’s an alternative: flexitarianism – following a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally consuming seafood or meat. Also known as semi-vegetarianism, this type of diet (much like pescetarian and pollotarian diets) allows you some flexibility while still being mindful of food choices, and the ethical and environmental impacts of those choices. Unlike veganism, which promotes the complete abstinence of animal products, including eggs and dairy, a flexitarian diet might mean abstaining from meat six days a week to one person, but going meatless only once a week to another.
No matter how you decide to interpret it, the goal is to minimise animal-based protein intake, thus reducing your carbon footprint, even just a little. And the appeal of this type of diet, for many, is not having to label themselves one way or the other, or feel the pressure of committing to a permanent lifestyle choice.
The concept may draw eye-rolls from some who see it as “cheating” or “vegetarianism with benefits”, but the fact is that cutting back on meat rather than refraining completely could be the practical compromise that’s needed in order to help the environment. It can have a positive impact on one’s health, too.
Several studies have shown that frequent red meat consumption and the mode of its preparation are associated with an increased risk of development of colon cancer, says gastroenterologist DR ANDREA RAJNAKOVA. Which is why, she says, removing meat from the diet even at least once a week can be beneficial. “Thanks to their high intake of plant-based foods, vegetarians have less risk for development of certain types of cancer and other diseases.” At the same time, she adds, strict vegetarian diets without any animal proteins may cause various nutritional deficiencies – of iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, for example, along with protein deficiencies.
As for amino acids, Dr Andrea says because animal protein contains all the essential amino acids in the correct proportions, it’s considered to be of a high biological value, while vegetables can have an incomplete amino acid profile. “For this reason, the combination of grains and legumes in the same dish (rice and lentils, for example) represents a better substitute of a slice of meat than legumes on their own, as grains contain an amino acid missing in the legumes,” she says.
In all, Dr Andrea feels that a flexitarian diet is a great compromise, as combining animal proteins with vegetable proteins a few times a week can provide a better variety of vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lacking in a purely vegetarian diet.
Dr Andrea’s tips for eating a Flexitarian Diet
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (more vegetables than fruit). Include whole grain in at least one main meal per day.
- Include different sources of iron that may be lacking due to a low intake of red meat.
- Good sources include dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli.
- Use foods rich in vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron from vegetable sources: a small glass (150ml) of freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon sauce as a dressing, bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and kiwifruit, for example.
- Include animal protein a few times a week, such as salmon, eggs, low-fat dairy and chicken.
- Improve your ability to digest the legumes (and reduce flatulence) by soaking them for a long time, then changing the water before cooking; and, when possible, remove the skin.
The mock-meat market
With campaigns like Green Monday and Meatless Monday having gained popularity worldwide, the decision to go meatless, even just on certain days, has become more mainstream than ever. As a result, more plant-based protein options are hitting the market than ever before, particularly mock meat that tastes and looks just like the real thing with the goal of giving meatlovers the same “experience” they crave from a conventional burger, but without the health, sustainability and other problems connected to it.
Beyond Meat, a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes, has been one of the key players in revolutionising the mockmeat market since 2009 with its imitation chicken and beef products. In 2016, the company released the Beyond Burger made from pea protein, and it became the first plant-based burger to be sold alongside beef, poultry and pork in the meat section of grocery stores. Not only does the patty change colour as it cooks, just as a traditional burger would, it also “bleeds” beet juice.
Other brands have launched equally impressive “analogues”, as they’re known, such as Impossible Foods. The Californian company aims to replicate the taste, smell and texture of animal meat by using heme – an iron-containing molecule found in both animals and plants that’s responsible for the unique flavours and smells of meat – in its Impossible Burger. To imitate fat, Impossible Foods mixes specks of coconut oil into ground “plant meat” made from textured wheat protein and potato protein, making it melt just as beef fat would. Even start-ups here in Singapore are set to launch their own meat analogues in the near future.
As an interest in veganism and semi-vegetarianism has shown considerable growth in Singapore over the past few years – PETA recently named Singapore the second most vegan-friendly country in Asia, and Happy Cow named the city-state the sixth top vegan city in the world – these meat substitutes have popped up not just in grocery stores and at dedicated vegan restaurants, but also at regular restaurants looking to offer more plant-based options that are just as enjoyable as their meat-based counterparts.
One early adopter of mock animal products on its menus was Grand Hyatt Singapore; the hotel’s Mezza9 and Oasis restaurants introduced the Beyond Burger this past August to an overwhelming response – it has since outsold the restaurant’s beef burger three times over! – followed by the addition of Oasis restaurant’s JUST Egg Sandwich in November. Made from mung beans, the cholesterol-free and antibiotic free sandwich from JUST Inc requires less water and fewer carbon emissions than conventional chicken eggs, but scrambles just like the real thing, and can be used as an egg alternative in any recipe.
Most recently, the hotel’s Italian restaurant Pete’s Place launched Omnipork, a cruelty-free pork alternative from Right Treat, a Canada based food scientist team working in partnership with Green Monday – a Hong Kong-based social venture that promotes sustainability and plantbased lifestyles. A blend of plant protein from peas, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushrooms and rice, the Omnipork is served Italian-style, as part of Pete’s Place’s plant-based lunch buffet.
“The great thing about these products is that they’re made to cook and taste just like their meat variants, which allows our chefs to continue to cook just as they always have while giving us an opportunity to reach out to more diners,” says JEROME PAGNIER, the hotel’s director of food and beverage. “The popularity of these products also shows that diners are increasingly making conscious dining decisions based on the source of their food, and are also becoming more open to plant-based alternatives, as restaurants continue to redefine the taste perception of plant-based dishes.”
A vegan himself for the past two years, Jerome feels it’s crucial for hotels and restaurants in Singapore to do their part in encouraging more plant-based options – not just for a more inclusive dining experience, but for a better planet, too.
“We also see it as our responsibility to protect the planet and care for the environment. As a 677-room hotel with five restaurants, we produce an immense amount of food on a daily basis, which gives us an opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment by making smart decisions.” This includes meatless options, as well as sustainable seafood, free-range chicken eggs, organic greens from local farmers, a rooftop herb garden, and a waste management plant that converts an average of 700kg of food waste on a daily basis into pathogen-free fertilisers, he explains.
Other restaurants across the island have also adapted to meet the needs of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diners. Wolf Burgers, for instance, has partnered with Beyond Meat to create the Future Burger, and fried chicken chain 4Fingers has linked up with British meat substitute brand Quorn to offer Quorn chicken-less wings and Quorn chicken-less nuggets made from Mycoprotein (a patented fungi-based protein) at 13 of its outlets across Singapore. And there’s no stopping there; you can even find vegan sashimi at certain sushi restaurants if you look for it!
These days, you don’t even have to look that hard. Launched last year, AbillionVeg is a Singapore-based review platform for plant-derived dishes and eateries around the world. The app and web platform allows consumers to locate and review vegan and/or vegetarian-friendly options, from a specific dish at a nearby café to a packaged product sold at FairPrice Finest, Redmart or another grocer. In addition to connecting people with user-generated reviews of vegan options, AbillionVeg has created a global network of farm animal rescue groups and sanctuaries to which it contributes $1 every time a review is posted.
Other resources have popped up in recent years, too, making it easier than ever to go meatless. The HappyCow mobile app can direct diners to hundreds of vegetarian, vegan and veg-friendly options in every corner of the island (or check out happycow.net), while Animal Allies (animalallies.sg) offers a database of vegan-friendly finds on its site; the Meatless Mondays in Singapore Facebook page offers a place to share recipes and recommendations for meatless meals across the island, and Green and Healthy Monday (greenandhealthymonday.sg) educates on the benefits of the meatless movement, and directs people to veg-friendly recipes and eateries.
The movement to reduce meat consumption is expected to only grow stronger. With an increase in F&B players creating more appealing meat-free options, and many of them encouraging customers to go meatless at least once weekly – Food Rebel and Cedele, to name a few – it seems Singapore is on the right track to making an impact; it’s just a matter of deciding how you’ll play a part.
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