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This Is What Happens When Silicon Valley Takes on the Burger

The vegan patty is now in restaurants in three U.S. cities, and it could be the next step in nudging die-hard meat fans toward more sustainable fare.

Reuters/Beck Diefenback

A handful of restaurants in three major U.S. cities now have a new menu item that’s deliciously misleading.

The “Impossible Burger” is a vegan patty that looks, smells, and tastes like beef. Cockscomb and Jardiniere serve it in San Francisco, as does Crossroads Kitchen in LA. In New York, Momofuku Nishi started serving it six months ago for $12, and two others—Saxon + Parole and PUBLIC, which has earned a Michelin star and James Beard Awards—are adding it to their menus this month.

The parent company, the Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods, hopes to shake up the global food system by engineering a large-scale shift in both eating patterns and production. The patty, which took almost five years and millions of dollars to cook up, uses 95 percent fewer resources than traditional livestock, explained the chief operating officer David Lee in an interview with Business Insider.

Research has shown that meat production contributes to global warming at a much higher rate than cultivation of vegetables and crops. As long as meat consumption is on the rise, greenhouse gases will be, too, concluded a group of leading researchers at Oxford last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed global meat production increase by 612,000 tons in 2016. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization claims that 14.5 percent of global carbon emissions is due to industrial meat agriculture. Attempting to change consumption patterns could help: The Oxford team suggested that “a widespread switch to vegetarianism” could reduce emissions by two-thirds.

The Impossible Burger comes with a reduced environmental footprint. It’s made from wheat, potatoes, coconut oil, and heme—an iron-dense molecule contained in blood and produced by using fermented yeast. Heme is the magic ingredient that transforms this from any run-of-the-mill veggie patty to one that is supposed to seem, well, meaty.

“We had to make something a meat lover will prefer to what they’re getting today from an animal—and that meant we had to approach it as a very deep scientific problem,” said the Impossible Foods founder and chief executive officer Patrick Brown in an interview with Vox.

Impossible Foods isn’t quite yet at the stage of whole-sale production. But so far, their focus has been on getting their product out to major cities first, albeit on a limited scale. And it makes sense to concentrate their efforts on cities, as research has shown repeatedly that urban areas will be most impacted by rising sea levels and severe weather, some of the few consequences of climate change. If a plant-based veggie burger patty is one small way to help create some change, we might see it on more menus soon.

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