Air NZ’s Meat-free Storm In A Teacup

PAT PILCHER delivers both bouquets and brickbats to Air New Zealand over their meat-free burger.


Air New Zealand’s announcement that they’re going to offer a faux meat burger on selected flights has kicked off a big stink as politicians – and the meat industry – cry foul (not fowl).

Air New Zealand, thankfully, chose not to back down. They say they shouldn’t need to apologise for offering “innovative product choices for its customers” and “will continue to do so in the future”. We at Witchdoctor agree wholeheartedly. Air NZ should be congratulated for upping their game and innovating.

Sadly, the CEO of Beef+Lamb NZ, Rod Slater, doesn’t agree. He waded in, saying Air New Zealand should help promote local meat to the same degree that they’re pushing a product from United States firm Impossible Foods. I wonder if he’s conveniently forgotten that Air NZ has been serving passengers NZ beef, chicken and lamb for decades?

Having opened his yap hole and failed to engage his brain, Slater also said Air New Zealand should send journalists out to farms to promote local meat. Is it just me or is this a potentially risky move? I suspect that he’d probably not be so mad keen at all on media visiting New Zealand’s meat-works to see the killing chains in action. You see the problem with the media is that it isn’t under his – or anyone else’s – control. It obviously never occurred to him that a trip to the meat works would also probably do untold damage to brand New Zealand.

Sensing yet another chance for some screen/radio/print coverage, politicians wasted no time in entering the fray. NZ First primary industry spokesman, Mark Patterson, said it was a “slap in the face” for NZ’s red meat sector, demanding Air NZ take another look at the promotion.

Not to be outdone, he was followed by the former primary industries minister Nathan Guy who tweeted: “Disappointing to see Air NZ promoting a GE substitute meat burger on its flights to the USA. We produce the most delicious steaks and lamb on the planet – GMO & hormone free. The national carrier should be pushing our premium products and helping sell NZ to the world”.

While I am a committed omnivore (I’d go vegetarian if it weren’t for the fact that I love a good medium rare steak, roast chook or BBQed ribs), I’ve travelled long haul with vegetarians and seen the frankly shitty food they’re served by airlines including Air NZ. Based on this alone, a non-meat hamburger represents a massive improvement over the usual vegetarian “special meals” they’re fed. These usually consist of limp salad and overcooked, soggy pasta. Ugh!

Am I alone in thinking that both the politicians and lobbyists need to take a deep breath and get real? The Impossible Burger is only one of three possible meal options on Air NZ’s menu (the other two probably are most likely meat). It’s only available until late October and will only be an option for just one destination (the Los Angeles to Auckland route). If that wasn’t enough, it’ll only be available to the folks at the pointy end of the plane while the great unwashed in cattle class will still be making do with old-school airline meals.

While dishing a bouquet to Air NZ for daring to innovate, there’s a brickbat in there too. Might it not be more productive to suggest to Air NZ that they fix the frankly dire food on offer in their Koru lounges and aircraft? Having travelled internationally with Air NZ, I’d happily eat an Impossible burger over the usual dire fare they serve. Air NZ proudly tell us how they’ve won airline of the year awards, but I’d wager the award judges never had to eat at the back of the plane with the peasants. Rubbery mystery meat drenched in salty fake gravy with mushy over-cooked and bland vegetables is the norm.

As loudly as meat industry lobbyists might complain, the simple fact of the matter is that faux meat is the future and they’d better start planning for it. Local faux meat ranges such as chicken-free chicken can barely keep up with demand. Projected population growth means pressure is going to be placed on traditional meat farming as protein demand surges.

New Zealand may produce some of the best meat in the world (our fillet steak is hard to beat), but the reality is that meat farming can’t expand output much more without resorting to inhumane farming methods and/or environmentally damaging practices as the deteriorating water quality in many of NZ’s supposedly “100% pure” rivers and streams already demonstrates. With global protein demand set to grow, more efficient use of available land for plants for faux meat production just makes a tonne of good common sense, regardless of what politicians and lobby groups say as they throw their lamb chops out of the cot.

Perhaps lobby groups such as Beef+Lamb NZ should stop shouting and start looking at the future – helping farmers plan for the inevitable rise of alternative proteins would be more helpful and productive.
Politicians being paid improbable amounts of taxpayer money could focus on real problems and less on media whoring and making noise about pointless issues such as in-flight meat-free burgers. Simply put, there’s bigger faux fish to fry.

One Comment

  1. I recently had a vegetarian meal on a US flight and it was most vulgar food I’ve ever seen. It looked like they asked a student to design a vegetarian meal for as little money as possible. Bean slop was the best way to describe it. The meal on the other leg of the flight, with BA, was the best food I’ve ever had on the plane. The number of Indians flying with BA seems to have forced them to up their game. Good to see Air NZ thinking the same.

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