Plant-based chicken: should you switch?

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We’ve all seen and probably tried the Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat beef burgers. Plant-based options are popping up in almost every fast-food restaurant: plant-based chorizo at Chipotle, Impossible Whoppers at Burger King, and most recently, plant-based chicken at KFC.

Let’s start with the basics – protein

Food is tasty, and we all love to eat (I know I do), but in the end, we want the nutrients in the food just as much as we want the flavor.

When I consider the benefits of chicken, the first thing that comes to mind is it’s a great source of protein. This means it has the nine amino acids profile that can fill in for the ones our body can’t make on its own.

Our bodies need 20 amino acids to break down foods, grow and repair body tissue, build muscle, boost your immune system, make hormones and brain chemicals, and give us healthy skin, hair, and nails. 

We can make 11 of these essential amino acids on our own, but we need to eat the other nine. What type of protein we eat determines if we are getting an incomplete or complete profile.

Complete proteins such as beef, poultry and eggs have all nine essential amino acids. Incomplete proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, and grains have some amino acids but are missing some of the essential ones.

Is it worth it, then?

So, does this mean we shouldn’t eat plant-based proteins? Absolutely not. We need nuts, seeds, vegetables, and various other plant-based protein sources as part of a balanced diet.

Interestingly, soy is the primary source of protein in plant-based chicken. This is different from many plant-based beefs using pea isolates as the main source of protein. Soybeans are one of the very few plant proteins that contain all nine amino acids and are considered a complete protein. Others include brewer’s yeast, cottonseed, and the germ of grains. All of the plant-based chicken brands we listed below have the full complement of amino acids.

Let’s take a look at the nutrient profile of traditional chicken in comparison to some of the more popular plant-based chicken companies: Daring, Tofurky, No Evil, and Sweet Earth. These companies sell plant-based chicken that is not fried. There are other plant-based chicken companies, like Impossible and Beyond, but they focus on fried nuggets and patties that contain extra fat and calories.

Sources: USDA,,,,

What’s really in plant-based chicken?

When looking at the nutritional components above, one thing is clear: conventional chicken has the most protein out of all the options. It also has the least amount of sodium.

When buying processed food products such as these plant-based options, it’s essential to look at the product as a whole as well as each macronutrient. High sodium is often hidden in these processed foods because it makes the product more shelf-stable and taste better. The FDA recommends we limit our sodium intake to below 2,300 mg a day to decrease our chance of getting diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Let’s take a look at the differences in ingredients:

It’s obvious that there’s only one ingredient in chicken, but take a look at all of the ingredients in the plant-based alternatives. The protein source in alternative chicken is soy. But notice how seed oil appears in almost every other product.

Seed oils, like canola oil and sunflower oil, contain many omega-6 fatty acids. While not harmful to our health when consumed in the proper ratio to omega-3s, we want to limit our intake of omega 6s to between 11-22 grams a day.

It’s important to consume more omega-3 fatty acids from foods like salmon and spinach as they lower inflammation and increase blood flow. Conversely, too much omega 6 in our diet can lead to increased blood pressure, blood clots, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Plant-based meat misconceptions abound, from nutrient profile…

So now you’re probably asking yourself, “Should I begin eating plant-based chicken?” Of course! But it’s important to call out some misconceptions regarding plant-based meat before making your decision.

The phrase “plant-based” leads consumers to assume that these products are veggie-filled, or that vegetables are the primary ingredient, similar to a veggie burger.

However, being “plant-based” does not mean full of veggies, so you’re not getting the same nutrient profile. Plant-based just refers to the protein source, whether that’s from peas or soybeans.

Other consumers switch to plant-based meat, including chicken, as part of a “clean eating” diet. The phrase refers to only consuming unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables. However, when you look at plant-based chicken or any other alternative meat, for that matter, it’s pretty hard to argue that these foods are not processed.

As a marketing strategy, many of these plant-based companies also emphasize that they are non-GMO and organic because consumers associate both these terms with a healthier food product. However, neither of those components speaks to the nutrient profile or overall health of the product. Instead, be sure to look at the nutrition label for a real determination of health — especially its sodium and fat content. And, by the way, there’s no such thing as a GMO chicken.

…To its environmental effects

Like the Impossible burger, plant-based beef caught on quickly for a few reasons, but probably the biggest one was that people believed cattle were responsible for climate change. This fad caught on quickly, giving companies like Impossible and Beyond the push they needed to really start selling. To learn more on cattle’s effect on climate change, click here.

Chicken is less criticized for contributing to climate change. Some consumers make the switch to the plant-based alternative because of animal advocacy and concern for animal rights. There are misconceptions that chickens raised on factory farms are treated inhumanely and not as living, breathing animals. It’s also believed, erroneously, that chickens are pumped with antibiotics and not allowed outside.

Which to choose? Any and all.

With all of this in mind, will plant-based chicken ever catch on? Maybe. At the end of the day, it depends on the taste! Plant-based chicken is a good alternative for those who are vegetarian or vegan, but it doesn’t pack the same punch concerning other important aspects like plant-based beef did.

Either way, there’s room for all protein sources to give all 7.9 billion people in the world their complete amino acid profile, we need all types of proteins. Personally, I tried plant-based chicken and prefer the taste and texture of the real deal.

FFA’s Kayla Rossi: Responsibly Managing Livestock

Kayla Rossi of the Soroco Future Farmers of America (“FFA”) Chapter in Colorado lives on her family’s cow/calf operation and developed an interest in the experience at an early age. She runs her livestock operation on roughly 100 acres of irrigated pastureland, raising cattle, sheep and goats. Kayla irrigates, fixes fences, drags meadows, monitors the livestock, and harvests hay. 

In 2021, she was the Future Farmers of America’s Entrepreneurship Winner for Diversified Livestock Production. To hear more about her operations and role at FFA, click here.

My life on the family farm

I am a fifth-generation rancher. My family began ranching in the early 1900s by owning a small herd of Hereford Cows and growing potatoes.

Progressing into the mid-1970s my grandpa and uncle worked in the local coal mine and managed summer yearlings, which eventually led to the building of our cow herd that we have today.

A cow/calf operation allows us to have a permanent herd while producing calves to sell later in the year.

Having a cow/calf operation allows us to make breeding decisions that are best for our location, learn the importance of delivering the calf, keep accurate records on the cows, calves, and bulls, and know when to wean our calves to prepare for selling them.

What’s the process of running such a large operation?

I run my sheep, goat, and cattle enterprises on 100 acres of irrigated pastureland from my dad. I can lease these 100 acres through a labor exchange agreement, as it’s part of the family-owned ranch.

At the beginning of my SAE [FFA’s supervised agricultural experience], my dad taught me proper management and husbandry skills.

This enabled me to become independent over the last two years to ensure my operation ran smoothly.

What kind of work goes into maintaining the farm?

To be successful in my SAE, it is my responsibility to uphold my labor exchange contract. This includes irrigating, which I do from mid-May to early September. I learned about water rights from my dad and grandpa and the local water commissioner. This gave me an understanding of how much water I must use and where I need to get it in the pasture.

My family begins harvesting hay in late July. It is my duty to run the racking tractor because I am the youngest and that is how everyone starts on the ranch.

I do know how to run other equipment, but my sole responsibility is raking hay.

Farming challenges & opportunities

What is the most challenging part of your job on the farm?

The most challenging part of my job is time management. Every day I have to focus on all enterprises, which can be troubling. The best way that I can overcome this problem is through recordkeeping.

Solid time management skills allow me to understand what is going on in my operation, what enterprise needs the most hours of work out of my day, and what animals need attention.

I have to ensure I am giving enough time to each of my different enterprises while maintaining the responsibilities of my labor exchange.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love breeding and kidding, lambing, and calving all my livestock. I take pride in knowing that I can breed my livestock with the animals that I have, and I get to see the end result.

Lambing season is the first major event of my year in late January. This requires me to check my ewes every few hours, and I get the ewes to the lambing jugs in the barn if there are babies.

I lamb until late February. Then, I calve in mid-March.

I love calving because it has been my life since I was a little girl. I have learned a lot from living on our family-owned/operated cow/calf operation. Later, I kid in early June to give me some time from when calving season ends in late April.

Goats are hard to raise in the cold, so I try to do it in the beginning of summer. This is to ensure they live to the time I sell them.

What is the most rewarding part of your job on the farm?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing all my hard work pay off. The biggest example was with my proficiency application. I applied for the Diversified Livestock Proficiency award at my state-level last February 2021.

This application allowed me to explain my operation through prompts. When announced as the Colorado state winner, I revised it to be sent to the National level. Little did I know that I would be announced as a National Finalist in this area in August of 2021. I prepared for the interview that would allow me to show my knowledge of my operation.

At the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo, my Diversified Livestock Proficiency was announced as the National Winner. I was filled with excitement.

This taught me that while the work may be challenging, I know I am finding success at a job well done.

Creating the path for growth

What is an example of a regenerative practice that you’ve instituted at your operation? 

A particular regenerative practice that I have implemented in the livestock operation involves integrating livestock and crops.

In the spring, garrison grass begins to grow. I put cows out to graze the grass prior to irrigation. Grazing before irrigation reduces the amount of garrison grass that matures.

What is your best piece of advice for young people looking to focus their careers in farming?

The best piece of advice that I can give young people looking to focus their careers in farming is to not give up during the hard times. There are many days that agriculturists face where life seems to not be going their way, especially during droughts. However, the FFA has taught me to not give up because the rising sun symbol introduces a new day in agriculture.

Is Ag the Key to Future U.S.-China Relations?

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We can’t live with them, and we can’t live without them.

We are sure you have heard this expression before – but not related to an important country with a $17 trillion GDP trying to close in on the U.S. $23 trillion GDP.

Tenuous relations with China

The issues between our two countries are vast: trade imbalance, Covid shutdown, supply chain shortages, intellectual property theft, tariff agreements, Xi-Putin relationship, human rights abuses, Chinese military buildup in South China sea, and worry regarding the Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“As we face a complex and severe situation in agricultural development and food security worldwide, I firmly believe that China and the U.S., as major agricultural producers, consumers and traders, should meet challenges together, maintain stable development of agriculture, enhance the resilience of agricultural supply chains, ensure food security domestically, and promote cooperation for international food security. This will certainly be helpful for maintaining world peace, promoting global economic development and social stability, and delivering sustainable development.

Let’s bear in mind: no food, no stability, no peace.”

– Qin Gang, Ambassador to the United States, People’s Republic of China

Can our agricultural trade relations put the U.S. on a more equal footing?

The simple facts of mutual self-interest in food are obvious.

China needs a reliable supply of the food and feeds needed to offer improved diets for a burgeoning, increasingly affluent populace.

American farmers need markets for the incredible bounty produced by the most advanced, efficient food system on earth.

And in 2020, China was the largest market for U.S. agricultural exports. For instance, soybeans are 11% of U.S. total exports to China.

The history of U.S.-China trade in commodities and food products reflects those realities.

Phase One of Trump’s Trade Agreement called for China to purchase and import an average of $40 billion annually in food, agricultural, and seafood products for two years (2020 and 2021).

Chinese officials claim the actual 2020 purchases of $26.5 billion reflected the special circumstances facing the world as Covid took hold. In that environment, food and agricultural imports of that amount are noteworthy and still constitute the largest single export market for U.S. agriculture. The U.S. also happened to be China’s largest import market.

Can agriculture help bring our two countries together?  It seems that we are at a standoff. Both countries have initiatives in place to be dominant global leaders. China has the Made in China 2025 plan where they have selected key technologies that they strive to dominate globally.

The U.S. Congress has a bill outstanding called the America Competes Act of 2022 which is aimed at reducing long-term dependence on China. The bill includes everything from providing massive subsidies supporting U.S. semiconductor manufacturing to prohibiting federal funding for the Wuhan Lab.

Trade imbalance and tariffs on Chinese imports

The trade imbalance puts the U.S. at risk. U.S.-China trade has increased in value since China joined the World Trade Organization in December 2001. Today, trade between the two countries is $650 billion, give or take a boatload or two of soybeans, compared to $120 billion just two decades ago.

But the U.S. trade deficit has grown quickly, too, along with worries that the imbalance is costing the United States jobs and economic growth. In 2021, the total trade imbalance was $355 billion. The U.S. exported $151 billion to China versus imports totaling $506 billion.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates the trade deficit accounts for as many as 3.7 million lost American jobs between 2001 and 2018. Already in January and February of 2022, the trade deficit was 67 billion, up from 501 billion during the same period in 2021. That alone helps explain Washington’s growing interest in tariffs.

Now let’s combine inflation, a trade deficit, and tariffs. With prices at their highest level in four decades, politicians are grasping for any and all options for reducing the price pain felt by voters in an election year. As more than one public figure has opined, tariffs may be a good negotiating tool, but they serve no strategic purpose and are essentially a tax on consumers.

The most recent Covid shutdown has only exacerbated high prices and inflation. Once again China is in the spotlight for holding up the global supply chain. In their quest for zero Covid tolerance, 26 cities are in lockdown including Shanghai and soon to be Beijing. Citizens are quarantined, factories are partially shut down with employees living on floor mattresses, and global supply chains are suffering.

The United States imports 18 percent of all products from China and 33 percent of electronics. Looks like that new car you might have ordered might not be here by summer.

Timing is everything

But is this the right time to increase tariffs? Psaki and other officials emphasized that the entire question of tariffs remains under discussion within the Biden Administration. They also emphasize that the tariff-reduction and tariff-elimination talks involve “non-strategic goods.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen helped bring the issue out into the open last month in testimony before Congress. Reductions in tariffs on U.S imports from China were “worth considering,” she told lawmakers and the assembled media. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later added that the Biden Administration indeed is evaluating the inflationary effects of the tariffs on imports from China imposed by the Trump Administration.

The idea has considerable bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But efforts to link the issue with further reductions or elimination of tariffs – especially for popular “non-strategic” consumer goods – have proved more contentious.

The political picture has grown more complicated by the much-publicized public polling that shows many Americans still favor the use of tariffs as a lever in building better relations with China. As Forbes reported on a survey from Morning Consult:

“61 percent of voters believe that increased imports have caused the U.S. to become dependent on China for goods that are critical to the U.S. economy and U.S. national security…73 percent of survey respondents said they support the U.S. government using trade remedies on China to protect U.S. industries and American workers with a similar high number – 71 percent – supporting the trade war tariffs imposed on $250 billion worth of China imports during the Trump Administration.  

– Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes, April 24, 2022

Take for instance the excitement around emission-reducing electric cars. The world is expected to drive about 400 million of these in the next 20 years. Which country is responsible for extracting rare earth minerals and processing lithium-ion batteries? You guessed it: China. While the cobalt, nickel, and manganese might come from Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile – Chinese state-run companies have a hold on extraction and dominate the processing.

Many politicians agree with those sentiments and argue for the continuation of aggressive tactics to deal with the perceived problems arising from a “one-sided” trade relationship. Some argue against further tariff reductions or exemptions and instead favor ramping up pressure on China to do more to correct the trade imbalance.

One solution would be to bring back manufacturing to the U.S. and reduce our reliance on Chinese imports. This would also address U.S. concerns over intellectual property rights, human rights issues, investment policy, and a host of other matters.

The debate over tariffs fits nicely into the simmering question of how best to revamp U.S. policy toward China. The continuing questions about the direction of U.S. strategy toward relations with China promises to be animated and protracted.

Amid all the arguments, two important points in that debate should be considered…

China is far more inclined to embrace trade in goods essential to citizens’ well-being than in non-essential products. Chinese leaders will look for suppliers who can reliably deliver essentials such as food. With arguably the most efficient and productive agricultural and food system in the world, the United States has the potential to be an important agent in shaping a more constructive relationship between the two countries.

Recognizing and accommodating China’s expanding food needs and objectives – and encouraging a competitive farm and food system to serve those needs and objectives – seems like a more productive approach than mandated quotas and fixed sales commitments.