Although a plant-based, allergen-free, whole food meat substitute with quality taste may sound too good to be true, Flagstaff’s Real Vegetable Meat (RVM) is out to prove it’s possible – and available now.
Local Alternative Foods, a plant-based whole food manufacturer and creator of the RVM product line, was founded in Illinois in December 2003 to connect local farms to consumers in Chicago’s neighboring communities.
Founder Jonathan Netzky, a former mechanical engineer, said his goal was to create harmony within the local food system by connecting the growth and consumption of local produce.
Local Alternative Foods got its start in Flagstaff in 2013, a few years after Netzky moved to the city. Although the company was a food catering business at the time, it built a custom veggie burger by request for Diablo Burger.
“That was the birth of what is now a multi-faceted meat substitute business,” Netzky said.
But RVM is not just for vegetarians.
While the vegetables and grains used in its products provide full servings of complete proteins and complex carbohydrates – they’re also completely vegan. The simplicity of the products, which do not contain any “hard-to-understand” or genetically-modified ingredients, are what make RVM unique, Netzky described.
“We don’t ever remove any of the constituent components of the product. If we say we are using a bean, we use the whole bean," Netzky said. "We don’t remove the fiber or add a protein isolate.”
Unlike many meat substitutes of the past, RVM is as versatile as ground beef in the kitchen. “It’s not a pre-cooked frozen hockey puck… Our products come editable, in a raw form, where they’re formable and shapeable,” Netzky said, explaining that real vegetable meat can be used with diverse spices and cooking techniques, especially grilling.
Since creating its experimental veggie burger in 2013, Local Alternative Foods has become a supplier for food service businesses throughout Flagstaff, from the Toasted Owl to the Flagstaff Medical Center. Netzky has also built relationships with a multitude of Arizona farms, which each contribute different produce items depending on their specialization, location and the season.
He has also refined the products which are available to both food service businesses and individual consumers. Local Alternative Food’s trademarked product “tepa,” an egg-white based meat substitute, was just retired last week to make way for the company’s newest products, many of which are still in development.
Upcoming products include the black bean-based University Vegetable Meat (UVM) – the result of a recent partnership with Arizona State University – and a high-protein, four-seed vegetable meat.
The business has experienced equal success out of state, too.
“We’ve been served as far as from San Francisco to New York,” Netzky revealed.
This feat was made possible with what Netzky calls “well-engineered packaging.” Using a combination of flash freezing and vacuum sealing, RVM can be shipped anywhere in the country, without negatively affecting its quality.
“As opposed to a cellophane wrap… Our products do come raw and vacuum sealed, so you’ll never experience frost bite on your food. It’s truly locking in the fresh quality,” Netzky said.
Sustainable practices further distinguish RVM. In addition to using entirely local ingredients, Local Alternative Foods reduces food waste and preserves product freshness using a “micro-batch processing system” in which RVM is made in 24-pound bulk batches that are shipped almost immediately after they are prepared.
“The unique nature of this micro-batch processing system… is the ability to process fresh food into a ready-to-use raw vegetable meat, bulk patty, slice or ball,” Netzky said. “And to do so 24 pounds at a time means that our intention is to make the product for you when you order.”
As a result of this technology, RVM has become particularly popular among national parks. It is currently found at the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Mammoth Cave in addition to standalone eateries throughout the country.
“All of those businesses have contributed to the form, function, and flavor profiles that drive the RVM product line,” Netzky said.
Due to RVM’s local success, Netzky plans to create new production facilities like the one in Flagstaff.
“Our goals are to be able to replicate the local success from other geographic distribution points to provide greater access to consumers through food service and directly to affordable plant-based whole foods free from allergens at the center of their plates,” Netzky added.
RVM offers a wide range of products at varying prices for both individuals and businesses. Orders can be placed through its website, by email or by phone.