Impossible Burger: Saving Meat and the Earth?

Photo of the Impossible Burger... looks like meat, tastes like meat, made from plants
Can you have your meat and not eat it too? Yes, with the Impossible Burger
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I Was Ready to Send it Back

It looked like meat; when I cut into it, pink juices ran onto the plate.  The texture was just-a-bit-crumbly, with a sear on the bottom.  And when I ate it, the burger had an umami, charcoal-y taste that seemed like the meat burgers I once ate.

So when the waiter returned to our table, I asked in an awkward voice, “Are you sure they gave me a veggie burger?  Because this tastes a lot like meat.”

“Love Meat?  Eat Meat”

Turns out that it was a veggie burger, aptly named the “Impossible Burger.”  Made from wheat and potato proteins, soy, coconut oil, and a substitute for a molecule found in meat called “heme” (involving genetically modified, fermented yeast), the Impossible Burger is based on the idea that animal farming is outdated and unsustainable.  The company’s mission: “we’re making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again.”

Your Burgers Are World-Changing (and not in a good way)

For each quarter-pound burger you eat, your estimated environmental footprint is (numbers approximate, and based on conventional beef production):

  • 15 gallons of water
  • 14 pounds of animal feed
  • 65 square feet of land, to raise the feed for the cow
  • 0.13 pound of methane, a potent greenhouse gas
  • 4 pounds total carbon footprint

You may think that’s not much, but the USDA estimated that the average American would eat over 220 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, and that domestic production would exceed 100 billion (yes, billion with a b) pounds. That translates into a lot of carbon! An early 2018 estimate put carbon emissions related to all farming at about 574 million metric tonnes in the US, with 42 percent of that related to animal agriculture.

You can reduce your carbon footprint by eating less meat. According to the University of Michigan, eating one vegetarian meal a week for a year is the same as driving 1,160 fewer miles. Switching from a meat burger to a veggie burger could be an easy way to start.

Would the Meat Taste Get You to Switch?

I stopped eating red meat and poultry about 20 years ago.  Since then, the creativity and range of flavors in veggie burgers have blossomed. Gone are the days when a cook would put a portabello slice on a grill and cover it with cheese!  And many veggie burgers provide a complete source of protein. The attractiveness of today’s veggie burgers and my association of meat taste with meat impact mean that a meat-like burger does not appeal to me.

But with the emphasis on high-protein, low-carb eating, and Americans’ love of burgers, maybe a well-executed imitation is just the thing to get people to switch from meat to plants. Think big, start small, seek impact!

Overachievers’ Corner

If you have a free afternoon and are willing to get a little messy, this recipe makes a terrific, umami-loaded veggie burger. You can make a whole batch and freeze the extras.

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