Impossible Foods Building the Next Bloody, But Meatless, Burger

Impossible Foods, Patrick Brown, fake meat, vegan, meat alternatives, Leon Kaye, carbon emissions, meat production
Impossible Foods wants to build a better burger

If plant-based protein becomes the norm — and meat production becomes only a minor, not major, contributor to the world’s problems coming from carbon emissions and pollution — then much of the credit should go to Stanford University researcher Patrick Brown. The professor of biochemistry, who has spent much of his career on genetic research, has taken on a new quest: finding alternatives to animal farming. And one of his ideas is a plant-based hamburger that oozes out blood like the real thing.

His brainchild is Impossible Foods, a Redwood City, California startup that has scored $75 million in venture capital funding, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company is developing fake cheeses and meats, including his beef substitute that uses plant-based molecules to recreate a more environmentally friendly, and humane, alternative to steak and hamburger. In his quest to change how we eat, and put a dent in the global meat industry, he is focusing on the environmental argument while trying to develop a product that has the taste and texture of the real thing — eschewing the emotional and ethical arguments typical of the anti-meat crowd.

Other companies are on a similar mission, such as Beyond Meat, the Southern California-based firm that has been supplying Whole Foods and other retailers with chicken strips that taste practically — I would argue better — than the real thing. Beyond Meat uses a mixture of carrot fiber, amaranth and pea flour for a product that can be mixed with pasta or grilled like fajitas. Like Impossible Foods, these companies are on a mission to develop products that are cost-competitive, and eventually cheaper, than meat from cows or chickens. If they and other companies succeed, they can help fight the global obesity epidemic, help stall global emissions, put a salve on what many see as a cruel industry, and free up land otherwise used for pasture and other livestock farming.

And these companies have got to succeed if we are going to come close to making a dent in our addiction to meat. Let’s address a few of the social and economic realities. Many of the meat alternatives out there are of poor quality, and made from a base of gritty soy or manky fungus — not to mention that they are often hyper-processed. While diets can and will change, they do slowly — so shaming people to switch meats for seitan, lentils or mung beans will not work. Many people have grown up accustomed to the taste and texture of meat, or are developing a liking for it abroad as the global middle class expands. So we can talk until we are blue in the face (or blue like some meat in China) about animal cruelty, the fact the meat industry is a larger carbon emitter than the transport industry worldwide, that more land is used to raise food for animals than humans, and the health risks of consuming too much animal fat and protein. A good quality product, at a fair price, however, will get some attention.

It will be interesting to see if Impossible Foods can succeed. The quest to find new environmentally-friendly protein is analogous to developments in safe, renewable energy — many ideas work in the laboratory, but cannot scale. Another question is whether consumers will salivate, and not be creeped out, by a fake hamburger gooey with fake blood. But Dr. Brown and his Redwood City crew are not developing new products for vegans, but for the mass market. And if they become Facebook-IPO rich while we scale back global meat production, power to them.

Image credit: Impossible Foods

After a year in the Middle East and Latin America, Leon Kaye is based in California again. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

6 responses

  1. It’s amazing how psychologically people are likely to respond to things like this…. I love the idea of fast food chains just swapping out beef for something like this. It’s so processed to begin with, I genuinely don’t think anyone would notice.

    1. I agree, Nick. If only a fast food swap could be this simple! Some consumers may try it for sensationalist value. But let’s see if they “come back home for the real thing”, with help from meat industry ads.

      And yes, this “food” looks so processed, vs healthy.

  2. I wish Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat great success. I lost my taste for meat decades ago, and no longer go for substitutes, either. I won’t eat soy unless it’s organic and fermented, or sprouted, or both.

    I DID make incredible patties this summer, using sprouted cranberry beans, sprouted red quinoa, portobello mushrooms, beets, carrots, shallots, and homemade curry powder, blended in the Vitamix and dehydrated. I didn’t call them burgers.

      1. Thanks, Regina. A few of the people who tried them were impressed by the color, and thought they looked “burgery.” (Yes, I just made that word up.) I served them on paleo wraps (made only of coconut) spread with ripe avocado, with mesclun, sunflower greens, tomato, and flowering chive (with the lavender flower peeking out of the top of the wrap). It took days to make the patties (quinoa sprouts overnight, the beans took 2 days, versus the 3-4 they would have had I used dried), and the dehydrating took about a day and a half. Considering that I ate them over weeks, it was worth the time. Health and peace.

  3. Change can take time, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes it just takes trying well-prepared veggie food, and having social support.

    I became vegetarian for health reasons decades ago. For the first few years of my transition, I could not shake my passion for medium-rare steaks, and lots of junk food.

    Moving to California helped a ton. Among my new friends were gourmet cooks and chefs who turned me on to California / Mediterranean food. For my birthday, a friend cooked a wok-fried dish for me. W/ fresh veggies and killer-good seasonings. Tasted way better than my fav medium-rare london broil! And I felt healthier for it. I
    went vegetarian that day, and never turned back.

    Now I eat 3 pasture-raised eggs per week, and almost zero processed food. I cook much more now, and brown-bag almost everywhere I go. I always complain about the time it takes. But at 60ish, I’m healthier than ever, and lose no time being sick. Knock wood.

Leave a Reply