David Yeung, founder and CEO of social venture Green Monday, is on a mission to ‘make green common’ and to advocate for awareness of alternative meats, environmental impact, and sustainability. He believes that traditional livestock farming systems are outdated and alternative meats are taking off in a big way.
SINGAPORE (May 29): We’ve all read about the devastating impact of livestock farming on the environment: Breeding animals for food contributes some 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport together. To produce 1kg of beef, 25kg of grain (animal feed) and over 15,000 litres of water are required. Thirty per cent of the world’s surface area is dedicated to livestock farming. Even without taking into account the moral and ethical complexities of animal cruelty, the environmental impact of livestock farming is, and will continue to be, a problem.
Yet the idea of going vegan or vegetarian is one that remains difficult for many to do. Although many have adopted these diets by choice or because of religion, humans consume 315 million tonnes of meat every year, globally, and by 2030, this number is expected to rise to 453 million tonnes. Enter the alternative meat industry: Innovative new companies in FoodTech using plant-based proteins to recreate the experience and taste of meat, without the social, environmental and health guilt.
This industry has taken off in a big way. Over the past two years or so, plantbased meats by manufacturers like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have seen a huge growth in demand and retail sales. When Beyond Meat went public in May 2019, their shares grew almost to 150% more than their IPO. In fact, Swiss bank UBS expects the plant-based-protein or alternative-meat market to grow by 28% a year to US$85 billion ($120 billion) in 2030.
The rising popularity of plant-based proteins comes as no surprise, as they are said to generate up to 87% less greenhouse gases per burger patty. In the thick of this growing industry, especially in Asia, is David Yeung, founder and CEO of social venture Green Monday and its alternative meat brand OmniMeat.
Green Monday, which was established in 2012, is a multi-faceted social venture aimed at promoting plant-based eating and environmental protection, in hopes of tackling climate change, and global food security as well as promoting public health. One of Green Monday’s ventures is OmniFoods, its FoodTech arm, which produces OmniMeat, the alternative meat that is now present in 10 countries including Singapore.
In just two years since OmniMeat (which is an all-purpose, plant-based “pork”) was launched, it has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular alternative meat products. Yeung, who was named “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the World Economic Forum and Schwab Foundation, believes the time has come for the alternative meat industry to shine, and that 2020 is the year of alternative meat.
Time is now
For Yeung, the rise of alternative meat is no mere trend, it is an absolute necessity which has come into the spotlight more so now than ever before.
“We are all striving towards the same goal. Our population is eight billion today, and we will reach 10 billion very soon. Animal factory farming is an outdated way to feed the planet, and it is very risky, as evidenced by what is happening right now — the current pandemic has fully exposed in numerous ways why we must change,” he says. “And we must change, not because some dudes like David Yeung or Ethan Brown [founder of Beyond Meat] just want to convert everybody to become vegan. It is because 75% of infectious diseases are transmitted from animals to human beings.”
Indeed, the US Centre for Disease Control says that scientists estimate that more than six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.
“Covid-19 is not the first, and sadly not the last [zoonotic] disease to be transmitted, unless we significantly overhaul our diets. [Livestock farming] is the factory for disaster when it comes to viruses,” Yeung adds.
He points to news that some of the largest and fastest-growing clusters of Covid-19 infections in the US have been among the meat industry workers. At least 20 meat packing workers have died from the virus in the country, and 5,000 have become infected, according to the workers’ union. “These workers are forced to go to work, because ‘meat is essential’. My simple counter question is: Is it really? Is it really essential to the point that workers have died and thousands infected? I believe the whole supply chain is [messed] up, and it’s collapsing; and if this doesn’t wake the industry, consumers and even governments up, then I just don’t know what it would take,” Yeung says.
As such, he stresses, alternative meats — something which companies and investors have been talking so much about for the past 8–10 years — are no longer an option, they are a must. “It’s not about getting people to become vegan.... from a purely business standpoint, the ways of animal factory farming no longer meet the needs and the circumstances of today,” he adds.
For Yeung, Asia is at the epicentre where this change needs to happen. “We are based in Asia, and Asia makes up 60% of the world’s population. So, if we are talking about changing the world, Asia is not small, right?” He laughs. “[The conversation] around food security, food safety and food innovation is at a bit of a lag here, and the US, particularly in the West Coast, have tended to lead the progress thus far. But I feel that Asia is catching up, and it’s now exploding — and our focus is on Asian-specific food demands.”
Yeung laughs heartily when this writer enthuses about OmniMeat’s newly-launched OmniMeat Luncheon. A processed meat dish, luncheon meat is a popular Asian staple, usually fried and served with rice. Unfortunately, this tasty treat is also said to be unhealthy as it contains high amounts of sodium (over 1,200mg, which is about more than half the daily recommended intake of sodium) and has been found to have cancer-causing carcinogens.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Yeung is of course no stranger to this dish. With a twinkle in his eye, he says that his agenda to create OmniMeat was, in fact, deeply personal — he just wanted to eat his favourite foods, like dumplings or luncheon meat, without feeling guilty. “So actually, despite all my talk about climate change and animal cruelty and all that, my agenda is very personal,” he jokes. With a R&D team based in Canada, Yeung says from day one, he knew he wanted to concentrate on food he grew up with.
“I remember when we were on the drawing board, way back in 2016, I said: ‘I want to make dumplings,’” he recalls, laughing. “That pork mince that is used in dumplings? I want to make that. Luncheon meat? I want to make that. As a child, I used to eat pork strips with preserved vegetables and vermicelli noodles. I wanted to make that. So half of it is scientific research, the other half is my personal agenda.”
Perhaps this is why, as a result of Yeung’s “foodie” inclinations, OmniMeat has now three products in its stable — OmniMeat (“pork” in minced form), OmniMeat strips (“pork shoulder”) and OmniMeat Luncheon. OmniMeat Luncheon is made with soy, pea, shiitake mushrooms and rice, and boasts 40% less calories, 49% less fat content, and 62% less sodium content than the real thing. Green Monday also runs Green Common, which is the world’s first plant-based concept store, based in Hong Kong. OmniFoods also makes ready-to-eat meals, and has partnered with Hong Kong’s top ready-to-eat dumplings brand, Wan Chai Ferry dumplings, to use OmniMeat.
In Singapore, Green Monday distributes Beyond Burger, Beyond Beef, Beyond Sausage, Gardein Fishless Fillet, Gardein Crabless Cake, Gardein Sweet and Tangy BBQ Wings, in addition to its own OmniMeat. In fact, OmniMeat can be found in some hawker stalls in Singapore, including (among others) Quan Xin Vegetarian in Bedok, Veggie Dojo in Bishan, and eight Daily Green branches across the island.
To get alternative meats into the mainstream and achieve the Green Monday goal of “make change happen, make green common”, Yeung says it is down to the “carrot and stick” approach. “People change their behaviours either through want or fear. And that fear part, the ‘stick’, is evident and happening right now with the pandemic — the infections among meat industry workers, climate change and food insecurity,” he says. “On the [carrot] side, we have to create [alternative] products which are just outstanding, convenient, and affordable to make them irresistible.
“As long as we can restore some balance [to the environment], to just ‘go green’ for a few days or at least on Monday [every week],” Yeung adds, noting that he is not striving for perfection. “Ultimately it goes back to the spirit of Green Monday.”