the impossible burger

Vegetarians, Day 4: The Impossibly Complicated Impossible Burger

Dan and I go out to dinner pretty much every Friday night. It’s either because we’ve run out of food, motivation to cook, or both. This past Friday was our first experience in a restaurant as vegetarians. We almost went to our default place – Tiny Thai, which we both agree we could live solely off from- but then remembered that Mule Bar was now selling the Impossible Burger. It was time to give it a try.

For those of you who have no idea what the Impossible Burger is, it’s supposed to mimic a real hamburger without the meat. They tout, “Impossible™ meat delivers all the flavor, aroma and beefiness of meat from cows. But here’s the kicker: It’s just plants doing the Impossible.” I was skeptical, but ordered one anyone.

the impossible burger

My first impression was, Wow, that actually looks exactly like beef. Not only was it shaped like a burger, but it was even cooked to behave like ground beef, with a brown exterior and pink middle. Then came the smell test and it passed that, too. It shockingly smelled like a burger that just came off the grill. So what about taste? Would it taste just like a burger?

Sort of. The “meat” actually didn’t taste much like anything, IMHO.

After researching, I’ve learned the Impossible Burger is made of coconut flecks, wheat, potato protein, and heme, which is the secret ingredient that gives the burger its meaty texture…and is also, as I found out, a pretty controversial ingredient.

Heme is a molecule found in all living things, from animals to plants. But you need a ton of it to create anything substantial. The company who makes the Impossible Burger found a way to manipulate soy so that it pumped out heme in mass volume. This is part of why the Impossible Burger is controversial: it’s genetically modified. The other reason it is controversial is because up until very recently, heme was not recognized by the FDA as safe for human consumption. A ruling in July of 2018 changed that and now the FDA considers it GRAS (generally recognized as safe). As in, don’t worry, it’s pretty much safe to eat this. We think. As far as we know. There was that one rat who grew an extra limb out of its head, but we think that was an anomaly. 

The FDA denial and GRAS status is concerning for me because, to be blunt, the FDA typically sucks at protecting consumers. We assume if an ingredient is dangerous to ingest or put on our bodies, the FDA wouldn’t allow it , right? Wrong. Lead has been found in all major brands of lipstick, formaldehyde in baby shampoo, phthalates in food packaging, and bpa in pretty much every plastic. All of these chemicals are known carcinogens that wreck havoc on our bodies, and yet, are still being manufactured. How? Because many of these products are not required to undergo FDA approval and because they can keep the ingredients a “trade secret.”

At the start of this journey, I wanted to eat less meat because I didn’t want animals to die. But there was also a health component – I wanted to find healthy, protein alternatives to fill me up. And here I am now substituting naturally occurring meat from animals who are part of our food chain, for genetically modified food that a scientist concocted in some lab. Is that really a better choice?

Here are some redeeming qualities of the Impossible Burger:

  1. It uses 75% less water, 95% less land, and generates about 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional burger from cows.
  2. It’s produced without using hormones or antibiotics, normally injected into cattle.
  3. It contains no cholesterol.
  4. It doesn’t kill animals.

So, the big question: would I order the Impossible Burger again, knowing all that I know now? Probably not. Controversies aside, I wasn’t super wowed with the taste. And if it doesn’t taste that good, and I have moral reservations, what’s the point? I think I’ll stick to typical veggie burgers for now.

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Vegetarians, Day 3: That Smells Good, Too Bad I Can’t Eat It

Day 3

At the start of this experiment, I decided I never wanted to be one of those people who make their vegetarianism a big deal. I’m not here to preach, convert, or make anyone go out of their way by adjusting their cooking to fit my lifestyle. I’m just here to eat fewer animals for a month.

Last night, my book club had its monthly meeting and dinner (side note: we call it the Shithole Book Club and we only read books by authors who are from “shithole” countries, according to Trump). My friend who hosted told the group she was going to make a French cassoulet — a casserole, typically made of beans and you guessed it, meat. I called her to ask if I could possible scoop around the meat. She let me know that wasn’t really possible and that the sausage was cut up very small.

Here it was: my first vegetarian conundrum.

Just to be clear, I hadn’t told my friend I was doing this experiment. I really didn’t want her to have to change her plans for 1 of 7 people. I also knew others would bring an appetizer and a side dish to go with the main. I told her not to worry about me. “Worse case scenario, I can just fill up on bread.” So that was my strategy. And then I walked into her house.

I was immediately overcome with the delicious smell of the cassoulet. In a split second, my brain went from saying, “That smells sooo good, I can’t wait to eat it,” to “Fuck! I can’t eat it!” And I realized this experiment might actually be harder than I wanted to admit.

But in the end, I stuck to my plan and it really wasn’t a big deal. I ate cheese and crackers, bread, and huge helping of a delicious walnut grapefruit kale salad. I was full and I was satisfied.

Part of what I’m learning is that more than anything this is a re-conditioning of my brain. I do not need to eat meat, or even a meat substitute, at every meal–that’s just what I was conditioned to believe up to this point in my life. I think I also learned that although I don’t need to push my ideals on others, it might not be the worst idea to mention in advance that I’m doing this experiment to a) not make my friends feel bad if they cook meat and b) to make sure there is something else available.

If anyone has tips on how to broach the vegetarian subject in a non-annoying way when someone has you over for dinner, I’d love to hear it! Also, do folks ever bring over their own food, or is that weird?