Someone asked me what I think of fake meat, specifically the “Impossible Burger” ™ and “Beyond Burger” ™ and let’s say I’m underwhelmed and a bit confused. Now I have nothing against vegetarianism. I approve of it, in fact. People eat too much meat and animal fat. There really is no doubt about that. So for health reasons alone eating more plants and less meat is definitely good. And when you add in ethical considerations about the treatment of animals, well, there are valid reasons for trying to nudge people to eat more plants.
But is trying to develop a fake meat the way to do it? No. There are a lot of problems with these fake meats. The claims that it is healthier are, frankly, doubtful and not based on any real data. The claim it is more environmentally friendly than raising animals is doubtful as well because making this stuff is incredibly complicated and energy intensive. Everything in it, and I mean everything, is highly processed, and chemically and/or mechanically modified. These products are also more expensive than real meat. And they’re fairly high in sodium, with about 400 milligrams per serving.
As for the health claims, we are discovering that eating highly processed foods of any kind, even stuff that supposedly is good for us, is detrimental to our health. We’re finding that if a food product is modified in ways you can’t do yourself in your kitchen with ordinary cooking techniques, and requires a factory or laboratory to make the stuff, it probably isn’t all that good for you. There are now studies that indicate that people who eat diets high in processed foods don’t live as long and suffer increased health problems.
And have you seen what’s actually in these “healthy” and “natural” meat substitutes? Let’s take a peek, shall we? Here’s what’s in the “Impossible Burger” (The other product has an ingredients list that is virtually identical, but substitutes pea protein for the soy):
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
Now I don’t know about you, but with the possible exception of the two oils, there is nothing on that list that I actually want to put in my mouth. While everything in that list up there is technically a “food product”, all of it has been mechanically and chemically processed so heavily that it isn’t even recognizable any more. (And I will refrain from bringing up the professor from U.C. Davis who pointed out that the list of ingredients in these things is identical to the ingredients in some brands of, well, dog food. Nope, won’t bring that up. That would be a cheap shot and I wouldn’t stoop to that. Oh, wait, I just did, didn’t I. Oh, dear, I am disappointed in myself.) Yes, it’s safe to eat. Maybe. But there is more to a healthy food than just not killing you when you eat it. This stuff would have almost no nutritional value at all if they weren’t adding back in all of the vitamins that were destroyed during the processing.
So do I have a point here or am I just venting (I was beginning to wonder that myself, to be honest)? Yes, I do. This whole fake meat thing is just silly. It isn’t going to convert anyone to vegetarianism. At best it might get someone to substitute this stuff for real hamburger once in a great while, but certainly not on a regular basis. Normally this would be nothing but a novelty product that a small number of people might be interested in. But because of a savvy marketing campaign that’s bombarded the media with claims about it’s alleged health and environmental benefits, none of which have actually been proved, it’s managed to sweep through the media and appear everywhere.
What about the alleged environmental benefits? I grant you that the cattle industry has a huge, adverse environmental impact. But would switching to this stuff change that? Fertilizer, fuel for tractors, increased pesticide and herbicide use, fuel for trucking the various ingredients around, sometimes for huge distances. I should point out that there are really only two sources for industrial quantities of vitamins these days, India and China, so some of these ingredients are being shipped literally all the way around the world. The energy used to run the factories… Frankly, I think that when everything is added up without cherry picking the data the way the promoters of this stuff have been doing, the actual environmental impact of this product isn’t going to be much less than actual cattle.
There is really only one clear advantage to this and that is an ethical one. A switch to these products would mean it would no longer be necessary to raise millions of cows for no other reason than to kill them for food. But then getting people to eat more plants and less meat in any case would do that. And the question is, how many people are actually going to switch to this stuff? Almost certainly not enough to make any kind of real difference
And then there is the fact that despite all of the hype you’ve been hearing, it still doesn’t taste like or have the texture of meat. In blind taste testings, 100% of the people who compared these two products to actual meat, could immediately tell the difference between this stuff and real hamburger.
So let’s sum this up.
1. It doesn’t taste like meat. Sorry, but it doesn’t. Yes I know all the media outlets are raving about this stuff claiming it “tastes just like hamburger!”. But no, not if 100% of the people who did the blind taste testings could tell the difference. Have I ever tried to eat one of these things? No. And I won’t, either, not after seeing that list of ingredients.
2. It isn’t “natural” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s made from materials so highly processed that it isn’t even recognizable as being “food” once the factories and labs that make it are done with it.
3. It’s expensive. I haven’t seen the stuff for sale in grocery stores, but I’ve seen it at restaurants, and hamburgers made with the stuff are costing anywhere from $3 to $7 more than burgers made with regular hamburger.
4. It’s fairly high in sodium. It has 400 milligrams of sodium per serving, and that’s before people add more salt and condiments to it to make it taste better. That’s about as much as a McDonald’s hamburger.
5. It’s —
Oh, hell, let’s just stop this. I’ve already spent way more time on this than I really wanted to, so let me wrap this up.
If you want to eat more plants and less meat, good for you. You’ll feel better, you’ll look better, and there’s a good chance you’ll live longer. But this stuff? It is “vegetarian” only by a technicality. It is one of the most highly processed and artificial so-called “food products” I’ve ever seen. From a nutritional point of view you’d be just as well off eating a handful of sawdust and a vitamin pill.
This is, frankly, a product that has no rational reason for existing. Well, except one, to try to separate you from your money.