Once these plant-based meats showed up in fast food chains, they ceased to be cool.
When the Impossible burger was first launched, it was hailed as a miracle of food technology. It was something to be celebrated and, if anyone had the great fortune to be near a restaurant that served them, tried immediately and blogged about. I was among that crowd of early taste-testers who rushed to a swanky burger joint when I was in New York City several years ago, just to say I'd eaten an Impossible burger.
Now, the attitude toward these plant-based patties – both Impossible and Beyond burgers – have changed. A fascinating article by Kelsey Piper for Vox examines the new wave of criticism that has been levied at these 'meatless meats', which have gone quickly from revered to reviled in the foodie world.The main criticisms, she writes, are: 1) they are highly processed; 2) they contain GMOs; 3) they’re not that healthy — or even hazardous to your health; and 4) they’re aesthetically objectionable as 'fake' food. Piper quickly debunks the first three points, explaining that there's no definition of 'processed' and that many foods we consider healthy are processed, too, i.e. yogurt, homemade baked goods.
The GMO issue (which only affects the Impossible burger and revolves around its use of heme, the additive that gives it a bloody look) has been cleared by the FDA. The company says it opted for GM soy to have less environmental impact: "Genetically modified soy is grown in the US while GMO-free soy would have needed carbon-intensive importation from Brazil."
As for health claims, no one says these burgers are health food. They're no worse and no better than their meat-based equivalents, and that's kind of the point.
When it comes to the final criticism, however, about them being "aesthetically objectionable as fake food," this raises fascinating questions of classism. Piper explains that people really only turned against the Impossible and Beyond burgers once they went mainstream and were available at places like Burger King, instead of Momofuku.
Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute wrote,
"I can’t help but notice that when fake meat was the purview of food utopians and visionary chefs, thought leaders were enthusiastically in favor of it. But as soon as fake meat hit the plastic trays at Burger King, they were fretting about how over-processed it was."
The unfortunate and inescapable fact is that our food system is highly industrialized; most products are mass-produced, and arguably have to be in order to feed so many. And the reality is that many eaters in the U.S. are indiscriminate, content to get their meals from fast-food joints.
At the same time, we know what's wrong with our current food production system – factory farming, antibiotic resistance, and environmental degradation, to name a few. Plant-based meats can help precisely because of their ability to scale up, to be mass-produced. They can meet the majority of eaters where they're at, but that means critics need to let go of the snobbery.
It's some great food for thought. Read the whole piece here on Vox.