By Bruce Naegel, June 2017
This year, a new and delicious burger received an award at Acterra’s 2017 Business Environmental Awards. This new burger is from Impossible Foods, a company in Redwood City that makes “the Best Burger with No Cows.” The burger is entirely made from plants, but looks and tastes like a real burger made from beef. With this innovative burger, Impossible Foods has found a delicious way to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Definitely NOT a veggie burger
The typical veggie burger is made from ground-up vegetables or legumes and shaped into a traditional hamburger patty. Veggie burgers are delicious, but for those who prefer the taste of meat, they can miss the mark in terms of flavor and texture.
In contrast, the Impossible Burger looks and tastes like a real hamburger. It is the result of over five years of research, led by founder, chief scientist, and president Patrick O. Brown. The question that started the process was “What makes meat taste like meat?” The answer is heme, the substance that is the major component of hemoglobin in blood. Impossible Foods developed plant-based heme by tricking yeast into producing it. Other key components of their burger include coconut oil, wheat protein, and potato protein. With a bit of artistry and science, the Impossible Burger was born.
At the Acterra awards ceremony, Impossible Foods provided samples of the Impossible Burger to try. They were all eagerly eaten by the audience.
Why do we need a better burger?
We cannot get to a state of climate stability without addressing agriculture, especially meat production. There are several ways to look at animal agriculture’s impact on the environment. For one, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of global GHG emissions. We can reduce GHGs by decreasing the amount of animal protein and burgers we eat.
Another way to look at beef and burgers is how much carbon is released in making and delivering a single burger. For a beef burger, it is over 6 lbs of carbon. A veggie burger generates just 0.5 lbs of carbon and a turkey burger produces 1.5 lbs.
Both Sustainable Silicon Valley and SunWork have featured burger demonstrations at community events, with burger replicas that are weighted to demonstrate the amount of carbon in each type of burger. The veggie burger is a light lift. The beef burger surprises every time when people work to lift it. See the picture below.
How many burgers do we eat?
So how many burgers do Americans eat? According to a PBS report and this Huffington Post article, we consume 50 billion burgers a year. With America’s population of 326 million people, that’s an average of 153 burgers per person per year.
So, if we could kick our burger habit (or at least moderate it) we would do a lot to minimize the impact on the planet. The Impossible Burger could be a promising way to achieve this, because it tastes great.
How is Impossible Foods scaling up so more of us can have Impossible Burgers?
Impossible Foods is building a large production facility in East Oakland. This new facility will be able to produce 1 million pounds of Impossible Burgers per month.
What else is next for Impossible Foods?
With the large demand for burgers, Impossible Foods has chosen a target market with a lot of room for growth. As things expand and demand builds, they will be looking at meat and other animal products beyond the burger, such as chicken, fish, pork, and yogurt.
OK, where can I eat an Impossible Burger?
There are several restaurants in the Bay Area, LA, and New York that can serve you an Impossible Burger. Check Impossible Burger’s website to find a location near you. One Bay Area location is Vina Enoteca, located in the Stanford Barn on the Stanford campus. The price is $16, which is in range of a premium burger elsewhere.
Where can I learn more?
If you go out and have an Impossible Burger, tell Impossible Foods what you think. If you’re interested in learning more about animal agriculture, see Cowspiracy.com and the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide. The PBS report and Huffington Post article cited above also have helpful information.