Somewhat to my surprise as a dedicated carnivore, I enjoyed a delicious Impossible Burger for the first time last November at Farmers and Distillers in Washington, D.C. The burgers have the texture and mouth feel of a beef patty. They even had some delightful, off-the-grill crunchy charred bits. I have since happily munched a couple of more times more on these vegetarian burgers that bleed.
Produced by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up, the burgers are made of textured wheat protein, potato protein, coconut oil, and leghemoglobin, the key ingredient. Leghemoglobin is an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every plant and animal. It is the abundance of this heme in animal muscles that gives meat much of its distinctive deliciousness. The heme in Impossible Burgers is derived from soybeans and produced by fermenting yeast genetically enhanced to make it.
It is apparently the fact that the leghemoglobin in Impossible Burgers is produced by, gasp, genetically enhanced yeast that has outraged Friends of the Earth (FOE) activists. Various hemoglobin molecules are ubiquitous in nature, occurring in most organisms, including bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals. Impossible Foods checked with numerous food safety experts, who agreed that leghemoglobin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). The company has voluntarily filed a GRAS notice with the Food and Drug Administration summarizing the safety science behind that conclusion.
Without any significant evidence, FOE suggests that "animal replacement ingredients produced through genetic engineering" in products like the Impossible Burger may "pose unforeseen health risks." Impossible Foods Chief Communications Officer Rachel Konrad hits back hard: "The US wing of FOE is an anti-science fundamentalist organization that wants to eliminate genetic engineering at any cost, including the lives of people, the health of the planet, and even FOE's own credibility. This is an organization on the wrong side of history, doomed to irrelevance for failing to acknowledge and embrace reality."
That characterization of FOE sounds about right to me.
As I reported earlier:
Other than trying to placate vegetarians and vegans, why bother creating Impossible Burgers? Founder Patrick O. Brown says that the company is on a mission to make the global food system more sustainable. The company claims that compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.
Assuming that Impossible Burgers and other future plant-based meat competitors catch on with consumers, they will be another happy example of how human ingenuity is continuing our withdrawal from nature. These may be good reasons for people to eat Impossible Burgers, but I will happily do it because I enjoy the taste.
Come to think of it, I may take my wife out to lunch over the weekend to see what she thinks of the Impossible Burger.