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Comment: Travel editor Winston Aldworth backs Air New Zealand's new vege burger

Air New Zealand's introduction of vegetarian burgers has got the country's meat-eating advocates frothing at the mouth.

The airline is serving the "Impossible Burger", with a patty containing a plant-based meat substitute developed by a San Francisco company, on flights between Los Angeles and Auckland until late October. Hang on a minute, a "plant-based meat substitute"? Like as in no animals being killed, and vegans can eat it? What is this, 2018 or something?

New Zealand First's primary industries spokesman Mark Patterson called the burger a "slap in the face" for New Zealand's red-meat producers and National's gumboot-wearing Nathan Guy leapt on to Twitter to vent: "We produce the most delicious steaks & lamb on the planet — GMO & hormone free. The national carrier should be pushing our premium products and helping sell NZ to the world."

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It's PC gone mad! The national carrier serving vegetarian burgers! Next thing you know, they'll be embracing LGBTI rights and using a common Māori greeting as the title for their in-flight magazine!

The burger finds itself at the frontline in NZ Inc's awkward transition from a primary-producing economy to a high-end consumer one. Tourism (worth $14.7b annually) recently overtook dairy ($14.2b) as the country's top income earner.

It's odd to consider that we're still in an age when faceless MPs can rant about the evil effects of vegetarianism on the national economy. At least they've (generally) moved on from blaming unwed mums, people who listen to punk music and immigrants.

Some people don't eat meat. While Patterson and Guy could be mollified by having a live calf slaughtered for veal at the front of the Business Premier cabin straight after the safety briefing, plenty of others are repulsed by red meat.

There are compelling environmental arguments for eating less red meat — from soil erosion, to water quality and CO2 emissions. Red meat is the least efficient way of getting protein from soil into your tummy — meaning it uses up more land to keep us all going.

(Declaration: I like steak, though I'm trying to eat a bit less of it these days for health and environmental reasons.)

Flights between Los Angeles and Auckland will be serving meals fom the Silicon Valley food tech start-up. Photo / Supplied
Flights between Los Angeles and Auckland will be serving meals fom the Silicon Valley food tech start-up. Photo / Supplied

This sustainability stuff fits right in with Air New Zealand's branding. In the airline industry the national carrier is a leading light on environmental issues. Yes: They burn fossil fuels to fly people to Disneyland, but they display a greater awareness of and willingness to address environmental issues than, say, Fonterra. Cynical marketing? Possibly, but if it means a jet some day flies on 100 per cent bio-fuel, I'm all for it.

Don't hate Air New Zealand for allying itself with a Silicon Valley mob who are creating food for the future — this is an avenue our primary-industry producers should have explored a long time ago. When in government for the better part of a decade, Guy's National Party reduced funding for the kind of research and development that could have put New Zealand ahead in the production of this kind of food.

If you think steak made in a lab is a challenge for the rural sector and New Zealand First backbenchers, wait until they start making perfect milk protein.