Tag Archives: Impossible Burger

The Uncanny Valley of Faux Meat

Americans love hamburgers.  Let me amend that because the world seems to love hamburgers.  I have seen people—not just tourists, mind you—chowing down on hamburgers on at least three continents.  However, the United States takes it to another level.  The saying may be “as American as apple pie” but you could easily substitute a hamburger and no one would bat an eyelash.

That love of hamburgers has a big environmental impact.  How big?  Consider that it is estimated that Americans eat approximately 50 billion hamburgers per year or enough to circle the Earth 32 times if laid next to each other. That is a lot of meat in disc form.

Assuming that each hamburger patty is 4 ounces—the literal quarter pounder—that equates to 12.5 billion pounds of hamburger.  Consider for a moment that one pound of beef represents an average of 1,800 gallons of water or close to 16 pounds of released carbon dioxide.  That is a lot of impact, which still does not take into account factors like antibiotic resistance from feedlot operations, land use considerations, or just general animal welfare.

The odds that Americans would be willing to give up their hamburgers is low, so why not just have them give up the beef patty?  Let’s be honest and consider that for a lot of people the patty is just a vehicle for the toppings and accoutrements.  Just replace those beef patties with veggie burgers…

Oh yeah, most veggie burgers are wet cardboard masquerading as a viable alternative to an American favorite.  No thanks.  That sad patty may have been acceptable for Carl the guy from accounting who does not eat meat that Susie invited to the work function for some reason, but for the rest of the red blooded Americans in the backyard this is a no go.

Enter the start-ups, dreamers, and just plain ambitious people who think that there is way to enjoy something that is much more burger like without the stench of sadness that is a traditional veggie burger.  I would love to tell you all about the much hyped Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, but it has been impossible—sorry, I could not help myself—to find locally or in any of the places I have been on a trip recently.  The reviews have been trickling in online for a while and it seems to hold a lot of promise.  There is a location in Nebraska that I will pass by in four weeks that is supposed to have the item on the menu, so there is a chance.

Locally, I can find the other much hyped faux meat burger from Beyond Meat: the Beyond Burger.  The concept behind this burger is that it is a “plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and tastes like a fresh beef burger.”  Beyond Meat wants you to think of this as a direct analogue to regular ground beef patties so much that it had placed the patties in the meat cases of grocery stores rather than with the Tofurkey.

On a plate and ready for the grill these sure do look like a regular beef patty:


Off the grill and on a bun with all the fixings…I am not so sure.  I think it comes down to expectations.  This is, hands down, the best non-meat burger I have ever eaten.  However, if I come at the evaluation purely from the viewpoint of an all-beef patty I am left underwhelmed.  That is why I feel that this new generation of faux meat patties is potentially stuck in an uncanny valley.  It’s better than any faux meat that has come before, but in coming so close to the real thing it falls considerably short in some way.

The Beyond Burger did grill like its animal protein cousin…kind of.  It sizzled appropriately when introduced to the hot grill plates and there were even a few flare ups as combustible juices flowed down onto the heat shields.  The patties developed an appealing crust and cooked in about the same amount of time as a dead cow patty.

Covered in some American cheese—the appropriate choice for melty nirvana—and the other typically American cornucopia of condiments—onion, ketchup, and mustard—resulted in a satisfying burger-esque experience.  It was not a half pound of fresh ground Pat La Frida beef, but I did not expect it to be either.  Upon further review I might change how I cooked the patties moving from an outdoor grill to a flattop.

The biggest downside of these patties?  The packaging:


Hamburger buns come in packages of eight and I always make extra because leftover burgers are a lunch time staple in my house.  Four plastic trays, four cardboard wrappers, and some trash plastic film is a little much.  How about a sleeve of these bad boys available at Costco?

It appears that Beyond Meat is bullish on the future of its approach.  The company recently announced a major expansion of its research capabilities.  


Friday Linkage 8/11/2017

Heading out on vacation in a few hours because nothing says relaxing like Orlando in August with your extended family.  There is absolutely nothing quite like late summer Florida heat and humidity to really bring people together.  At least there will be Dole Whip.

On to the links…

Utah Commission: Keep “Negro Bill Canyon” the Same—Between the zealots who cannot stop fighting the Civil War by idiotically flying what they assume is the flag of the Confederacy—when in truth it is bastardization of a battle flag flown by either the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee—to maintaining symbols of hate like this we will never grow as a nation.

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico—It will never happen with the current White House and most of the governors being Republicans, but there should be a national program to pay farmers to deploy cover crops.  No single action would be better for the health of the Gulf of Mexico and our nation’s water quality.  It is a proven solution.

How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Change Denial the Word of God—Be wary of the man who claims to be godly, but spends his time talking about earthly matters.  It usually means that he is hiding an agenda and using a veneer of piety as a shield against criticism.  As I tell people all the time, “I do not remember a single passage in the bible where Jesus talks about the rights of oil companies to drill on public lands.”

Americans Are Using Less Electricity Today Than A Decade Ago—The key caveat here is per capita.  There are more people, but we are using less electricity per each person.

Thanks To Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar—I went to a wedding this summer just outside of Kalona and the solar panels were all over the place.  Ground mount arrays were at almost every farm that was not owned by an older order Amish or Mennonite family.  If everyone could embrace solar like the customers of Farmers Electric Cooperative the world would be a better place.

Dirty Energy’s Quiet War on Solar Panels—They can try and stem the tide but solar panels will win in the end.  The guys who put the panels on my house this week were booked solid with jobs for the rest of the summer and fall.  Solar power is real and it is here.

To Solve ‘Duck Curve,’ Missouri Utility to Pay Bonus for West-Facing Solar Panels—It’s not just about south facing roofs anymore.  As someone who has installed a west facing array—270 degree azimuth baby—I cannot wait to see how my peak production lines up with the duck curve.

Shell Oil CEO Stunner: ‘My Next Car will be Electric’—The worm has turned.

More New Yorkers Opting for Life in the Bike Lane—Bikes are amazing and can be a major component of the mobility solutions puzzle we, as a nation and species, are trying to solve.  Seriously, if people are willing to bike in New York City you should be willing to bike in Cedar Rapids.

A Perfect Illustration of the Spatial Inefficiency of the Automobile—Remember, if you work in a cubicle your parking space is bigger than your office.  What do we truly value?

Pedal Power: How Denver Bike Crews are Rescuing Food from Landfills One Ride at a Time—I love this business model.  Collect scraps—for a fee—with a no-emissions bicycle and create wonderful compost to nourish the soil.

Here’s Proof the Average U.S. Household Isn’t the ‘Dumb Money’—I spent twenty one months in business school listening to the icons of “smart money” tell aspiring investment bankers how they were the masters of the universe and what not.  The financial crisis in 2008 was a total nut punch to these guys, but it obviously did not make them humble.

Papa John’s has Made a Gluten-Free Pizza that Gluten-Intolerant Diners can’t Eat—Here is proof that the gluten free trend is not about people with celiac disease and more about marketing.

Impossible Burger’s ‘Secret Sauce’ Highlights Challenges of Food Tech—Soy leghemoglobin may be an allergen, but I love the government’s concern.  I also find it stunning that the FDA has acted so quickly when other problems in our food system are persistent and pernicious going on for years and decades without any government intervention.  Do you think big meat is behind this?  Oh yeah…