Senator Marco Rubio Says We Might Have to “Go a Little Vegan”

|Updated May 8, 2020
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This week US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared on Fox and Friends to discuss the meat supply chain debacle. During the interview, there were a few words mentioned you don’t hear often in primetime coronavirus news: One was “vegan” and the others were “Impossible Burger.”

“I guess we’ll have to go a little vegan, right?” Florida’s senior Senator quipped when talking about the meat shortages.

“Unlike other supply chain issues, this has nothing to do with anyone overseas. This has to do with how many people can you make work inside one of these processing plants — they’re all very close to each other and there’s a public health risk. So there’s been disruptions there,” Rubio noted. “I know people are working hard to get that resolved.”

As meat processing plants have been shut down amid rampant coronavirus spread within the industry with thousands stricken and dozens of workers having died, the processing plants have been on the front lines of whether workers can be forced back to their jobs, something the plants' worker union has fought. Meanwhile a shortage of animal protein has ensued.

This in turn has brought much-needed attention to the grim realities of modern-day industrial animal agriculture and the dire need to rethink the way we see our food supply.  Many people are turning to eating more fish, or plant-based proteins. The consideration that alternative proteins just might actually be a safer and more sustainable food source is in the news. However, if you’ve been listening or reading mainstream media reports, the conversation rarely includes a mention -- by a US Senator -- of alternative meats, plant-based foods or "going vegan," even a little. But on Fox and Friends, there was a glimmer of an idea that the discussion might be shifting.

Issues raised during the meat shortage in a lawsuit filed against the USDA by the Human Society are that regulators are allowing plants to use a process that speeds up the slaughter process, which could lead to animals still being alive when they are dipped into boiling water to soften their skin and remove the hair. This acceleration could also increase the possibility that fecal matter and other unsavory parts could enter the meat supply, according to a report issued by PETA, citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector Jill Mauer.

With the shortage of the meat supply, plus the atrocities of farmers having to dump milk and eggs (since demand has dried up), now, finally, there is a forced discussion about both animal welfare and alternative plant-based proteins. One of the Fox and Friends hosts quipped this in response to Senator Rubio's comments: “Or, the Impossible Burger is going to be the only possible thing you can have.” He may not have realized that this is a reality that is starting to make sense.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, two leaders in the plant-based meat alternative space, report surges in sales they attribute to a coronavirus-inflicted beef and pork shortage. Beyond Meat says it saw a 141 percent increase in net revenues this year compared the same period last year, according to The Hill. Impossible Foods said it’s currently adding its product to 777 retail locations in California, Nevada and the Chicago area. And, Americans in general are eating more plant-based foods while on pandemic lockdown according to new research

What coronavirus has done is forced a spotlight on the exploitative nature of factory farming—both for animals and the humans who work there. Now, the mainstream is being forced to reckon with the grim reality of where their bacon comes from. The good news is, you don’t need animal meat to find plenty of affordable and delicious alternatives that await you. 

Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Protein According to a Nutritionist

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1. Seitan

Protein: 21 grams in ⅓ cup (1 ounce) Seitan isn’t as popular as other proteins, but it should be! Made from wheat gluten, its texture resembles ground meat. It’s often used in pre-made veggie burgers or meatless nuggets. Seitan has a savory taste, like mushrooms or chicken, so it works well in dishes that call for an umami flavor. With a hearty texture, seitan can be the star of practically any vegan main dish. Add it to stir-fries, sandwiches, burritos, burgers, or stews. Like tofu, seitan will take on the flavor of any marinade or sauce.


2. Tempeh

Protein: 16 grams in 3 ounces If you like a protein with a bit of bite, add tempeh to your list. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a slightly nutty flavor and is pressed into a block. Most varieties include some sort of grains, such as barley or millet. Not only is tempeh a plant-based source of protein, but the fermentation process also creates good-for-your-gut probiotics. You can cut tempeh right off the block and use it as the base for a sandwich or pan-fry it with some sauce. Or, crumble, heat, and make it the star of your next taco night.

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3. Lentils

Protein: 13 grams in ½ cup cooked Lentils come in multiple varieties--red, yellow, green, brown, black. Regardless of the type lentils are small but mighty nutritional powerhouses. They pack a good amount of protein as well as iron, folate, and fiber. When cooked, brown lentils retain their texture and can be the base for a grain bowl or make a hearty substitute for ground meat in meatballs, lasagna, tacos or Bolognese. Red lentils are a bit softer and make a nice add-in for a hearty soup, chili, or stew.

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4. Hemp Seeds

Protein: 10 grams in 3 tablespoons Hemp seeds are a tender and nutty seed, derived from the hemp plant. They contain good amounts of omega-3s, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. They are also a solid source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps to keep your digestive tract healthy and humming. Because they pack a double whammy of protein and healthy fats, hemp seeds can help satisfy hunger, preventing those embarrassing stomach growls as you slog your way to your lunch break. Add them to your morning smoothie or sprinkle them on top of yogurt, oatmeal, or even a salad.

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5. Tofu

Protein: 9 grams in 3 ounces (⅕ of a block) Made from coagulated soybeans, tofu is the most popular plant-based protein. Soy is one of the only meatless "complete" proteins, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids that the body can’t make but needs for muscle and immune function. With 15% of your daily calcium needs, tofu is also a good replacement for dairy.

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6. Edamame

Protein: 9 grams of protein in ½ cup This sushi appetizer is a nutrient powerhouse, so eat it anytime. Edamame is really just another name for soybeans in their pods. Let’s list off some stats--a small ½-cup serving of edamame has 9 grams of protein, 15% of your daily vitamin C, 10% of your daily iron and 16% of your daily fiber. Keep a bag of edamame in your freezer to serve as a fun-to-eat side dish or opt for the shelled variety to toss into salads or a grain bowl.

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7. Quinoa

Protein: 8 grams per cup (cooked) Quinoa is an ancient grain and since it's gluten-free a great choice for anyone avoiding gluten. Add it to your burger recipe to create filling texture, or instead of meat in your taco or burrito. Quinoa is among the healthiest foods on the planet, delivering phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory qualities, so keep it in your pantry for any meal that needs a filling grain. Just remember to soak it and rinse before cooking to get rid of any bitter taste.

8. Black Beans

Protein: 7 grams in ½ cup (canned) Eating beans on the regular might as well be a prerequisite for a plant-based diet. Not only are canned black beans inexpensive, but they also contribute 10% of your daily iron and 25% of your daily fiber to your diet. For less than $1 a can, beans can be the star of tacos, quesadillas, salads, soups, burgers, or dips.


9. Amaranth

Protein: 6 grams in ⅔ cup (cooked) Chances are you’ve never cooked amaranth. But you should, since this tiny, gluten- free grain is packed with almost 30% of your daily fiber and 20% of your daily iron. Cook it like a traditional grain to yield a soft, porridge-like texture. Many people add amaranth to other a hot breakfast cereal mixture, like oats and quinoa. It also pops like popcorn. Toss it in a pot with some oil and wait for it to pop up into a nutritious snack.

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10. Peas

Protein: 5 grams in ⅔ cup If peas were one of your most hated veggies as a kid, it’s time to give them another chance. These green beans are a great low-calorie protein to keep in your freezer. Sure, they don’t always taste great when steamed or microwaved (who wants to eat mushy, overcooked peas?), but they do blend well into a yummy puree that can be slathered on toast. To amp up the flavor, add some lemon juice or mint to your mix before you blend.