The Happy Cow Myth, Asian Consumers & Attitudes Towards Alt Proteine

A great deal of analysis about alt protein consumers suffers from a significant blind spot, namely, a lack of geographical diversity. Most of the studies, media headlines and statistics quoted refer to European, North American and Oceania consumers, and are missing a basic understanding of the average Asian consumer.

Most middle-class Asian folks I know have not grown up with what I have termed the ‘Happy Cow’ myth, a childhood memory of brown or white-with-black spots cows peacefully ruminating on shiny grass, a memory connected to a host of delicious and nutritious foods such as refreshing glasses of high-calcium dairy milk, iron-rich T-bone steaks and hundreds of creamy cheese wheels.

While we might have mental images of lush rice paddies and coconut groves and banana plantations depending on which part of the region we hail from, we don’t have childhood memories of pasture-feeding happy cows. Many of us will have grown up in dense, crowded, modern cities without much exposure to farmers or food production. It is likely we have never visited a working farm. Unlike the average Global North, European-ethnic consumer, we are unlikely to have a beef or dairy farmer relative.

Asian farmers do not (yet) feel under attack from the nascent alt-protein sector and Asian consumers do not view beef and milk consumption as integral to their national identity. The topic of whether dairy milk or beef should be a part of our daily diet is not a polarizing dinner table topic as of today. This is just one of the ways in which Asian citizens differ from Global North consumers.

Beyond price, the average Asian food consumer is motivated by health, nutrition and food safety, rather than environmental and animal welfare concerns. This is what may attract us to purchase cholesterol-free plant-based meat, for example. Early polls show we also are more open to the idea of cultivated meat compared to our counterparts elsewhere, who do not face the same food supply chain traceability and trust issues that we do.

As a result, it’s important not to fall into the trap of broad-brush analysis when discussing consumer behavior around plant-based meat. Asian consumers have very different purchasing behaviors and motivations than those in the Global North (and there are dozens of different Asian countries, each with their own unique profiles).

Let’s decarbonize!

Sonalie Figueiras is a prominent entrepreneur, journalist, and eco-warrior based in Hong Kong. She is the founder and CEO of Green Queen Media, a digital media platform that promotes sustainable living and plant-based eating in Asia. As a passionate advocate for sustainability, Figueiras is committed to making a positive impact in the world. She has been recognized for her leadership and influence, including being named one of Hong Kong’s 100 Most lnfluential People in 2019 by Tatler magazine. Through her work with Green Queen Media, Figueiras continues to drive meaningful change towards a more sustainable future.