Opinion | COVID-19, meat shortage are why you should move to plant-based meat

Molly Tamulevich is the Michigan state director at the Humane Society of the United States

Slaughterhouses throughout Michigan—and across the country—are grappling with astonishing numbers of coronavirus infections. It’s leading Meijer, Kroger, Wendy’s and other grocers and restaurants to limit the amount of meat customers can purchase. The breakdown of the meat supply is the result of the fragility and moral lapses of industrial farm animal production. 

Slaughterhouses are hotspots for COVID-19 infection because most workers must perform their jobs shoulder-to-shoulder in unsanitary conditions. In addition to being diagnosed with COVID-19 at heightened rates, slaughterhouse workers face high risks of other illness and injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “’[t]here are many serious safety and health hazards” of working at a slaughterhouse, including dangerous equipment, pain from performing fast, repetitive tasks and exposure to biological hazards like animal blood and feces. The U.S. Government Accountability Office notes that slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest rates of severe injuries. 

Animals also suffer tremendously. The overwhelming majority of farm animals in the United States are raised inside factory farms, which are operations where animals are kept by the thousands, often in tiny, barren cages that restrict their movement. Mother pigs used in the pork industry are locked in metal crates barely larger than their own bodies. Chickens killed for meat are crowded by the thousands in giant, windowless warehouses. They are bred to grow so large, so fast that their legs often become crippled under their own body weight. 

The World Health Organization acknowledged that “agricultural expansion and intensification” to meet humanity’s growing demand for animal meat is a driver of disease emergence, and confined animal feeding operations may amplify the risk of an epidemic in local communities.

One solution to this dangerous and brutal system is choosing meat made from plants instead of animals. Meat from plants? Of course, you’ve heard of veggie burgers before. But the newest plant-based meats mimic the taste and texture of animal meat more than ever and are packed with healthy plant protein. 

There are many delicious, hearty alternatives on the market, including products from Gardein, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Plant-based meats are widely available at grocery stores and at chain restaurants like Burger King, White Castle and Hardee’s. Michigan also boasts a growing community of local restaurants serving plant-based fare, from Detroit’s Nosh Pit to Bodega in Marquette. 

Morningstar Farms, owned by Michigan’s Kellogg Co., recently launched a 100 percent plant-based brand called Incogmeato. Even traditional meat companies are investing in plant-based. Tyson Foods has invested in these products, and Hormel launched its own plant-based brand

These companies are smart. Since COVID-19 started, plant-based meat sales have been skyrocketing

More can be done though to shift away from the archaic, unsafe production of industrial meat. Meat companies should ramp up their investments in plant-based technologies and diversify more into plant-based brands. Restaurants and food services companies that don’t currently offer meat alternatives should start serving plant-based meals. For example, since Wendy’s is limiting meat purchases, now would be the perfect time to start serving one of the many veggie burger brands that have the look and taste of animal meat, but without the numerous health and ethical problems.  

This change can be propelled by COVID-19 exposing industrial animal agriculture for what it truly is: cruel, dangerous and unsustainable. The food industry owes it to workers, animals and its own customers to put more plant-based foods front and center. With the price of animal meat on the rise, now is a perfect time for Michiganders to sample the variety of plant-based meats on the market.

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Hillary Rettig
Thu, 06/04/2020 - 4:36pm

What a great and timely piece! Battle Creek happens to be an historic center of ethical vegetarianism in the U.S., and many of our large community of Seventh Day Adventists are already following a vegetarian or vegan diet. So plant-based is definitely a MI thing!

We also have many local groups devoted to veganism, including our own group www.VeganKalamazoo.com. A local group is great for recipes, shopping tips, and community; and I urge everyone to find theirs.

Vegan Forevermore
Thu, 06/04/2020 - 9:52pm

I couldn't agree more! Middle aged and going on two years vegan. It has been the best decision of my life. I did it for health, but now truly feel bad for the animals and the environment. The food is amazing and so many family members are going in the same direction. Even one vegan day a week is a good start, but I basically did it over night. Today while driving on 94, I saw a pig truck and felt sick to my stomach. As I got closer it seemed like it was empty and then I saw the first level was full of baby piglets crammed together. I wondered if they would be slaughtered as I had recently read in the newspaper. I hoped to God no, but realize even if they were spared, they'd only live at max a year. My dog will probably live 14/15 years as a happy companion. Why do we torture and kill farm animals?

Thank God people are becoming more aware, a lot of great films to inspire change, for example "Game Changers", especially for men to consider.

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:39am

There was also a shortage of TP caused by COVID-19.

Should we switch to leaves?

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 1:08pm

It might lead to deforestation, we would have to have a tree free zone for Giraffes.

Charr Skirvin
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:47am

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to care better for our cousins, the animals, and our planet. But "plant based meat".... Let's retire that phrase. Call it what it is: a veggie burger. Veggies are extremely versatile and taste really good. I have yet to eat faux meat that tasted anything like real meat. If someone has to resort to it to wean him/herself off real meat, then go for it. But, it seems to me, to depend on it simply makes one feel that a vegetarian style of eating is a "make do" thing, a substitute for "real" food. Viva Las Veggies!

Bob Shishka
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 10:55am

I find this story to be nothing short of wonderful! I made the switch to vegan about 3 years ago at the tender age of 50. LOL Never been healthier or happier.

The fake meats were a huge help in weaning me off the hard stuff. My fave was the Beyond burger. My meat eating friends COULD NOT taste the difference! No antibiotics, added growth hormones & steroids for faster growth.....100% clean.

Gardein makes a plant based version of ground hamburger that is phenomenal. I use it in my spaghetti sauce, chili, tacos, any recipe that calls for ground burger. I don’t eat as much of it now as I did when starting out though?

Over time your taste preferences will shift. I don’t crave animal products anymore. A bonus to this new reality is less expensive grocery bills! Plus the weight loss too, let’s not forget about that? Still need to lose a few pounds though.

I switched for ethical reasons. I’m an unapologetic animal lover. I viewed a short 45 minute video ( on accident mind you... I was not interested in changing my dietary habits at that time).... 45 minutes later I knew I could no longer continue what I had been doing for 50 years! I was horrified. Actually, the word horrified isn’t anywhere near strong enough to convey how I felt at that moment.

It’s been my suspicion that I was given the gift of “enhanced health “ as a bonus for being kind to our barnyard friends.

My only regret is I didn’t find the truth until my 50th year. I could have used all this extra energy & clear thinking 30 years ago! LOL Oh well, better late than never.

To any readers who may be on the fence, give it a go and see if you don’t discover some health miracles of your own? Sometimes, scary as it may seem, change can be a positive thing. Be safe out there. Bob

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 9:01am

Beyond isn't 100% clean. It is highly processed and unhealthy. As a vegan I am happy that they are out there. Good from an ethical perspective for sure, but not health.

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 3:19am

No artificial meat for me. Those supposedly plant based imitations are full of chemicals.

More steak please.
Thu, 06/18/2020 - 8:50am

If it is a plant it is not meat. The author of this piece is clearly a radical animal activist. There is no “plant based meat” it does not exist. There are so many inaccurate assertions in the article that I cannot begin to address them.

Robyn A Tonkin
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 10:36am

"look and taste of animal meat, but without the numerous health and ethical problems. "
If these foods are so good for you, why disguise them? Why do they have to look and taste like meat? When I was to cooking for my family and myself with minimal meat, I never worried that tempe, tofu, seitan or cooked grains, didn't look like meat. I just seasoned the stuff, sauced the stuff, made casseroles and drove on with the partially vegetarian lifestyle. Sixteen years ago we went low carb, five years ago we went Paleo. We have a family of three that was always health, fitness and exercise oriented. We were somewhat overweight, and my husband and I in our early fifties began having minor nagging health issues that were never supposed to happen when you were on the low fat bandwagon. We have none of these issues now, we are all height/weight proportionate, and at 66 and 71, my husband and I feel great. What you eat is such an immense emotional and personal issue that saying I was convinced by the science of evolutionary biology to continue to have a meat centered diet just makes people want to argue with you. But we faithfully followed a low animal protein, low fat diet from 1972 until 2004, and a low carb diet of some sort from 2004 to 2020. The low animal protein, low fat diet (read: high carb way of eating--meat substitutes are made of grain carbodydrate) made us sick and the meat centered diet allowed us to regain our health. There are many moving parts to any diet--your faithfulness to exercise, your supplement regimen, your other food groups intake. But there are a lot of years in our personal diet experiment, we are not new to the "meat, or no meat, that is the question" line of inquiry. It goes without saying that animals destined to be eaten should be treated humanely and the people employed at slaughterhouses should be treated like the valuable employees they are. The process could be humane and the people treated with dignity and respect, and given adequate pay and job benefits commensurate with the valuable services they perform for society. Why aren't they? Well, why are the nursing home caregivers, who supposedly care for our beloved senior family members, so often paid such low wages and given such palty benefits? Is it because the American system of benefit and reward all screwed up? Are we going to do anything about that?