Dutch vegetarian butcher takes on the 'Frankenburger'

Never mind last month's revolutionary test-tube beef burger grown from meat stem cells. The Dutch are way ahead with a "vegetarian butcher" who transforms plants into "meat". Dubbed the "Frankenburger", the lab-grown beef —developed at a cost of more than 250,000 euros ($330,000)—was unveiled by scientists in London and served to volunteers in what was billed as the start of a food revolution.

But "we are much more advanced, so-much-so that we have built an unassailable lead over produced from ," said Jaap Korteweg, founder of the "Vegetarian Butcher".

While the "cultured beef" in London was made using strands of meat grown from taken from a living cow, the Dutch butcher needs only to make his "meat".

Korteweg's shop on a main street in downtown The Hague is packed with a range of products from veggie "hamburger" patties to "meatballs" and even "tuna" salad.

One of the secret ingredients is a soy paste, which when put through a special pressurisation machine, imitates meat fibres, a technology invented by the University of Wageningen in the central Netherlands.

Ingredients vary. For chicken, he uses more soy, while beef is made from carrots, peas and potatoes. The "meat" taste comes by adding herbs and spices and all the rest.

The vegetarian chicken "tastes just like real chicken", and the tuna salad is also close to the real thing, according to an AFP journalist and several customers, who conceded some products weren't quite realistic but said they tasted good.

The demand for an environmentally friendly and vegetarian alternative to meat is growing, with notoriously inefficient, requiring huge swathes of land to grow the crops to feed the animals.

"Our hamburger's is seven times less than that of a real hamburger," claimed Korteweg.

"Our chicken only requires half to a third of what's needed to produce a real chicken. I'm talking about use of land, water, the grain and feed normally fed to chicken," he said.

Three years after opening, the Vegetarian Butcher sells its products in 500 stores around the Netherlands, mainly supermarkets and specialist food stores.

Korteweg says that sales have doubled each year since, and hopes to open his own factory next year to boost his share of the market and drop prices to below that of the real thing.

Though now slightly more expensive than real meat, his products cost about the same as organic meat.

The Vegetarian Butcher has struck a chord with Dutch animal welfare organisations and its pro-vegetarian Party for the Animals (PvdD), which has two seats in Parliament. One of those seats is held by Korteweg's wife and PvdD leader Marianne Thieme.

But just as French beef farmers reacted with outrage at developers of the stem-cell burger, the Dutch meat sector has issues with the Vegetarian Butcher.

'Don't call it a hamburger'

"Every consumer has the right to choose what they eat, of course," Jos Goebbels, the head of the Dutch Central Meat Sector Organisation (COV), told AFP.

"What we do have a problem with is that they use terminology specific to meat, while everybody knows that there's no meat in there," he said. "It shouldn't be called chicken, or a hamburger but should rather have another name, because it tricks consumers."

Goebbels did not, however, feel that veggie meat posed a threat to the chicken or beef industry.

In his quest to make veggie meat taste like the real thing, Korteweg has enlisted the help of chefs, as well as scientists.

"The great difficulty is to reproduce on a large scale what we're able here to produce with our experiments in the kitchen," chef Paul Bom told AFP.

Another problem is people who say "they simply could not imagine consuming an alternative" to meat, said Bom, so "the only solution is to get them to taste it."

Dutch environmental group Natuur & Milieu is doing just that, promoting veggie food with free tastings in supermarkets.

"We believe vegetarian food is a relatively easier alternative to achieve than say, finding an alternative to jet fuel or introducing electric cars on the road," said Olof van der Gaag, the organisation's campaign manager.

If everyone in this country of 17 million ate one less meat-containing meal a week, he asserted, it would be equivalent to cutting the carbon emissions of a million cars.

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© 2013 AFP

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Sep 08, 2013
What a coincidence.
A team in Las Vegas has transformed beef into various vegetables, for reformed vegans.

Sep 08, 2013
Thats nothing, here in Belgium we have a special very advanced bio technology that produce meat by just useing grass, we call it The Cow. Its so advanced that its autonomous , self healing and if you have few of them of different gender, they can even reproduce ! And they even produce valuable by products like The Milk wich is very nutritious and land fertilizer we call The Manure and very resistant material we call The Skin that can be used for wide variety of purposes. Its so sofisticated that entire building plan and programmation is coded on an device so small you would need very powerfull microscope to see it. I would love to explain what exactly is the meaning of The Cow, but its still top secret high bio technology...

Sep 08, 2013
The problem with the soy fibers is that it comes pre-cooked. The process produces a result that can be pressed into patties or nuggets etc. but it cannot produce anything more than the "convenience meal" type of prepared food that is mostly described as best not to think about it.

It's a bit of a culinary limitation to not be able to pound and season your own steak, or marinade a chicken breast. What if you like steak tartare?

Sep 08, 2013
Thats nothing, here in Belgium we have a special very advanced bio technology that produce meat by just useing grass

Unfortunately, needs something like a ha pasture per cow and diet supplements in the winter.

Dispassionately, much of this effort is about figuring out a less expensive way to produce something consumers will purchase instead of meat (beef). Extrapolate growing populations, changing tastes. Possibly lots of money to be made. I don't think any of the efforts are close to producing an imitation steak, though.

Sep 08, 2013
Tried a couple of these products. They mostly get the texture right, but the taste is still pretty far off (basically the same as with the Frankenburger).
I'm still thinking the grown-in-a-vat beef will one day be a real alternative.

Then there's the nutritional issue. Amount of vitamins and nutrients in a certain type of food means where little. What is important is how much of that your body can get at (i.e. a 'daily dose of X in Y grams of this food' means nothing if you excrete all that X. A good example would be vitamin A in raw carrots. Plenty in there - but the uncooked cell walls are so tough that your body can't get at it in the few hours it remains in your digestive tract)

And when all is said and done: There are nutrients in meat that are accessible to the human body which aren't accessible when locked in plant matter. No amount of food emulation is going to change that.

Sep 08, 2013
Is this burger for the carnivores? because vegetarians don't like anything that looks or taste like meat

Sep 08, 2013
Had a friend who asked a vegan friend about fake meat.
"But philosophically, you're trying to eat something that looks like what you eschew...is that cheating?"
"Would you eat a human head made out of this fake meat?"

Sep 09, 2013
Had a friend who asked a vegan friend about fake meat.

Did the same, but there seems to be no problem here. They're not trying to avoid meat because it looks the way it does - it's for either ethical reasons or perceived health reasons (or a mix of the two).

Those who turn vegan for purely ethical reasons seem to have little problem with fake meat (or even Frankenburgers). Most of them actively LIKE meat. That group didn't give it up because they don't like the taste.

Then there's the moral objectors based on the amount of resources needed to create a pound of beef as opposed to plant based food (which is considerably more). Those may not go for the Frankenburger (it, too, is very resource intensive) but have no problem with the fake meat.

As for the ones who simply don't like meat: They will go for the ocasional fake meat to fit in at a BBQ or similar. There's plenty of vegans who aren't preachy at every occasion.

Sep 09, 2013
The basic idea of veganism is sentiocentrism, or in the words of Jeremy Bentham: "The question is not Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

My problem with that idea is, that we don't know who "they" are. Sentience implies the ability to have a subjective experience, but it doesn't imply that there's a mind or an awareness beyond that. It is in fact quite poorly defined and we don't really know what constitutes sentience, but even assuming that it's a meaningful concept we're still left with the question "who is suffering?".

An animal with sentience but no self doesn't know that it is suffering, because there's no "it" for it. The suffering is really happening to nobody.

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