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I can’t believe it’s not chicken: Plant-based shawarma on the menu soon

Andre Menezes

Published: Updated:

Around the world, we consume food in different ways but it is hard to find a cuisine that doesn’t love chicken. For good reason too, because chicken is the most commonly available, most versatile, and arguably the most exciting meat globally.

In the Middle East the humble shawarma is the go to street food for many, and for those willing to push the boat out, a succulent shish tawook teases the palate.

There’s something for every meat lover to enjoy, but it will only be on the menu for a few more years because soon that shawarma will taste like chicken, and will have the texture of the meat, but it won’t be chicken as we know it. We will all be eating plant-based chicken shawarma sandwiches.

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If you consider that we slaughter about 80 billion animals a year for food, it’s obvious that the animal farming system is unsustainable and cannot continue. Many of us are now challenging the presumption that we need animal farming to produce the delicious food that we love.

Similar to meeting the challenges of the sustainability needs of the evolving transport industry and energy sector, a rethink about using animals for food is underway. New ideas are coming thick and fast, and at the heart of it all is totally using plants for all meals.

Plant-based food products have advanced greatly over the years, and today we now sit on the cusp of a new wave where animal meat will be slowly removed from the food chain.

With so much of our culture organized around food, it is surprising that innovation has been disproportionately slow compared to other sectors and industries.

The next time you bite into that chicken sandwich think about when plant-based chicken will replace animal meat. (File photo: AP)
The next time you bite into that chicken sandwich think about when plant-based chicken will replace animal meat. (File photo: AP)

We’ve progressed leaps and bounds across transportation with electric cars and high-speed trains coming to the fore. Looking at power generation, the drive for green sustainable energy sources has become essential to maintain our day-to-day lives. But when it comes to producing the food we love, we still use a technology that is 3000 years old: animal farming.

As a society, we have a huge undertaking in play, operating a global food chain where chickens and other animals raised on farms find their way onto our dinner tables at home. It’s designed for an older and simpler time, and the growing burden of maintaining the system has become inefficient, but animal farming toddles on without proper changes being introduced.

Specifically, rearing animals is notoriously bad for high greenhouse gas emissions, and an alarmingly high water consumption is needed. This is at a time when we are finally recognizing our urgent climate crisis, and resource overuse concerns.

By making chicken-tasting foodstuffs from plants - or any meat for that matter - we cut out all the planetary costs and inefficiency of the animal farming system, while introducing a host of new benefits.

The nutritional quotient of plant-based meat is comparable to the amount of protein delivered to the body from an animal, with no antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, or cholesterol contained.

There’s a downside though: perception. When changes to transport and new energy systems are proposed to the public you will generally see a positive consensus if the new programs benefit peoples’ lives.

The same philosophy isn’t applicable to food. It’s an integral part of our culture, and there’s a wariness when words such as “innovation” and “research and development” is applied to the industry. The very idea of food tech is anathema to some, so asking people to consider a change in approach to their eating habits is difficult.

It’s the duty of the industry to not simply develop the technology and assemble the best brains to challenge the way food is made. It’s also about education and marketing the products effectively to make people understand the benefits they bring.

We already know that using plant-based products to replace animal meat is possible. We’re already witnessing a changing landscape with a positive consumer response to the American burger.

The development of plant-based food solutions is well underway, and we’re now meeting the ambition of tantalizing our taste buds without compromise.

So, the next time you bite into that shawarma sandwich think about when plant-based chicken will replace animal meat. This time isn’t far off.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.