Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Bleeding vegan burger claims the "Impossible."
The vegan burger that “bleeds”, known as The Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods is all the hype, going beyond its competitor, ironically named Beyond Meat, said to have done the impossible, having created a veggie burger that tastes and “bleeds” like the real thing...but it is good for you?
Major investors and Instagram famous.
The photos on Instagram are convincing and it must taste just as good. Besides now being a menu item at Burger King, priced at only $1 more than a Whopper, the Impossible Burger also available at White Castle, The Cheesecake Factory, The Hard Rock Cafe, Red Robin and hundreds of others. The company, now worth $4 billion, can count Jay-Z, Bill Gates and Serena Williams among its backers. And truly, for the sake of saving us all from cow farts, I really wish I could tell you to run down right now and indulge your every healthy fast food fantasy - sans guilt. But is this vegan burger really all we dream it could be or is this mission Impossible?
Redefining what we call “meat.”
Impossible Foods asserts that their products intend to reduce our dependence on animal derived meat, replacing it with a plant based alternative. A noble pursuit considering the state we’re in. The burger “meat” is made up of GM soy, potato starch, and coconut oil and claims to have the same meaty taste we crave. Impossible Food wants to redefine what we call meat.
Garrett Broad, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, and author of More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change, says,
“They’re trying to in many ways to change the definition of meat to be something that doesn’t necessarily come from an animal. They’re saying meat is a composition of amino acids and that we can make that exact thing out of plants.”
Genetically Modified...and natural?
A new definition of meat it may be, but Impossible Burger also poses as being natural, managing to be front and center at all the right places like the Natural Products Expo West convention, for example. Go back and look at those ingredients above. The main ingredient in the burger? GM (Genetically Modified) soy.
Take a step back, sister. Impossible Burger’s claim to having done the impossible: making non-meat taste like meat, is banking on the new, GM soy containing the heme it invented. But the product has never before consumed by humans. They may have found the Philosopher’s Stone for meat flavor.
But “natural” it is not.
US soybeans and Monsanto.
In the media, US GM soybeans (now 90% of all soy in America is GM) have been dragged through the dirt as it was ruled that US GM soybeans have been compromised by glyphosate and AMPA exposure. These cancer-causing toxins made their claim to fame in Monstanto’s notorious (and deadly) Round-up pesticide scandal. Glyphosate, which is sprayed directly onto porous, growing veggies is considered so deadly it has been banned or severely restricted in 34 different countries.
Word play. Are you paying attention?
Impossible Foods uses the nickname “heme” a lot, short for soy leghemoglobin, the vegan burger’s secret to its meaty flavor. On their website Impossible Foods says that their “meat” contains heme that is “identical to the heme humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat and other foods.” But modified GM soy and heme are not the same thing. You changed the recipe so - not identical, right? It’s modified.
“Re-engineered” is not the original.
And here is where the wannabe heiress "faking it 'til she makes it", becomes a liability. Genetically modified anything is just that: modified. Not the original. So when Impossible Foods told the U.S. Food / Drug Administration (FDA), that the soy protein that they’re using is pretty much the same as the protein found in the meat and vegetables we’ve been eating for centuries, what they’re really saying is: you probably won’t know the difference. Ask anyone who’s shopping for a Birkin bag or a Rolex if that sounds like a red flag or not.
Just because you say it’s heme, doesn’t make it heme
Wearing Louis V to the party doesn’t make you Rihanna and fake heiresses are a liability.
Or as Michael Hansen, Ph.D. and Senior Scientist at Consumers Union, a division of Consumers Reports puts it, “it’s misleading consumers”.
Impossible Burger can say heme all it wants, but Dr. Hansen has words:
“saying that this GM soy, never before consumed by humans is ‘identical’ to the heme that humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat and other foods is categorically not true.”
But why tho'?
Slight changes, major differences.
Heme is a molecule (made of atoms) and it's what gives meat its meaty flavor. Like another important molecule, “water” for instance (also made of atoms), heme is necessary to life and occurs naturally.
But a molecule is a specific recipe of atoms and if the recipe changes even a bit, you’ll get something else. Like with water for example, if you add just one more oxygen atom to the mix it becomes hydrogen peroxide - definitely not drinkable.
If an Impossible Burger tasted as bad as hydrogen peroxide we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Instead, the Impossible Burger is winning on taste. And looks. If you love meat and don’t have specific plans to destroy the environment this would seem like a good bet.
If it looks like a duck and talks like a duck...
In the company’s original press release, it said the burger “looks, cooks, smells, sizzles, and tastes like conventional ground beef.” It’s what we’ve always dreamed of: fast food without the guilt.
But there is a difference between dreaming and fantasizing. There is no product that can be engineered better than what nature has made available for us to consume, because we are in fact nature and would have to re-engineer ourselves.
Fast food has its place, and it’s price.
Fast food is by now a culture of its own, a way of thinking, and it’s here to stay. The idea of instantaneous, filling, delicious food has become too much not to take. Fast food has made gluttony one of our favorite, and most accepted deadly sins for the fact that it’s easy, cheap, and always available. And for the price, you get what you pay for.
Impossible Foods has done exactly what they set out to do, and as to be expected, are wildly succeeding. They answered the call to curtail animal consumption, replacing it with a plant based solution, without sparing any taste.
A solution to the problem or just a different problem?
But depending on the conversation, they seem to have only re-engineered a problem, rather than come up with a solution. Real food was altered to simulate the look, feel, and taste of the original food for the restaurant chains at which it’s served that need to keep up with demand. Simulation is great and all but no matter what VR headset you have, no matter how much your heart skips a beat, you’re still not driving an actual Ferrari.
Fast or slow, it’s up to you.
If fast food is what customers want, customers should have it for as long as there is a business willing to provide it. So give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Those who want plant based fast food that tastes like meat now have it! Impossible foods can guarantee that. And likewise, those who want slow food can have that too. There has never been an easier time in history to have exactly what you want.
Life in the fast lane.
We are fascinated by fast food, fast fashion, fast connections, and really anything that seems to fulfill an instantaneous need. Just the concept of fast food has inspired designers, artists, and even Michelin starred chefs.
Maybe this is a game of pick your poison. Will it kill you the first time you eat it? Most likely not. But has have warnings like this ever deterred us, knowing when something may do us harm? Gory images on cigarette packets weren’t enough to keep us from grasping for that little “cig” when we’ve had a bit too many bubbles or gin. In fact, studies show that they made us smoke more. So why would eating a cancer causing burger be any different?
It’s not just a burger, it’s a lifestyle
Fast food is a category that comes with certain assumptions and eating healthy is a lifestyle that comes with others. Compared to the Slow Food and Real Food movements that promote transparency all the way around, fast food is a culture known for substitutes and “mystery meat” while eating healthy is associated with eating organic, whole foods. The idea that fast food can be healthy is a idealistic concept but in the end only a novelty. By the simplest principles of economic scale based upon the capitalistic system in which we live, offering whole foods via the fast food model will never be a reality. And according to the market, you get what you pay for.
So will eating an Impossible Burger give you cancer? Of course not. Is it a substitute for fresh, organic fruits and vegetables? Also, no. Whether Impossible Foods will solve an environmental problem or create a new one remains to be seen but the fact we are moving forward with alternatives is in the end, great news. In addition to looking at ingredients, a look at our lifestyle and how we eat is also essential.
Making time to eat and meditate on the food with all of your senses without interruption is to give the food and your body respect. A mindful approach to eating is our real challenge, and the good news is that it is far from impossible.