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The Impossible Burger Raises Questions About Health and Environment

Apr 22, 2019

Credit Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods

First, it was White Castle and Red Robin. Then, Burger King.

Vegan meat substitutes are popping up at fast food chains across the nation, raising questions about how much better they really are for the environment, and for you.

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 it’s mostly good news for the environment and for animal welfare.

The Impossible Burger is a super high-tech veggie burger that’s made of soy, food starch, and potato. That soy in the burger is soy leghemoglobin -- the hemoglobin or “heme” found in soy. Heme is an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life and is found in every living being -- both plants and animals. Heme is the element that gives meat it’s meaty taste and bloody feel.

“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,” Broad said.

A lot of promises are coming out of the plant based food industry. Some are saying it’s better for the environment, for animals, and better for nutrition.

Broad says “maybe.”

He says that these types of burgers are better for animal welfare.

“If you care about animal suffering, there’s a win. We’re potentially redirecting people who would be eating animal meat to these other products.”

When it comes to the environment, life cycle analyses have been done that argue that these foods would create major reductions in global warming potential and water consumption.

“The big difference is when you’re raising livestock – they need a lot of feed and land. If you’re cutting out that middle cow, it’s less than the feed required to go to the animals themselves.”

What’s tricky though, is nutrition. There are some nutritional gains, like less saturated fat, but it’s not a health food.

“The philosophy is that this is the way people eat – we need to give them stuff that’s cheap, tasty, and convenient. We need to go to the places where they’re eating it already.”

Which is why you’re seeing the Impossible Burger in Burger King and White Castle. And as far as the taste, Broad has his opinion as a vegetarian, ““It tastes good, it tastes meaty – it tastes enjoyable, but I’m not who they’re trying to convince.”

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Web content created by Liz Lerner.