When Impossible Burger launched quietly at upscale restaurants a few years ago, coverage was largely positive, with some reviewers even calling it the future of meat.
Now, impossible products have hit Qdoba, Burger King and supermarkets. Another plant-based meat company, Beyond Meat, is featured in Carl's Jr., Subway and now McDonald's. It is a sign that the new wave of meatless meat is approaching mainstream status – an encouraging development if you care about changing the meat-centric food system .
But if the emergence of meat-free meat a few years ago was hailed unanimously as a good thing, the response to mainstreaming has been embellished with skepticism. The adoption of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products from fast food chains has not exactly been welcomed in some quarters, even among those you would think would be more supportive of this development.
Call it the backlash against the rapid increase of meatless meat.
For example, the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle announced that they would continue to provide products and impossible products, noting that the products are too highly processed. Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long urged Americans to eat less meat, criticized "the new high-tech vegan meat" for failing to address "resource use and hyper-processing" (though he have paid tribute to them in the past). His website, Heated has also provided plant-based meat with some favorable coverage, but recently wrote nostalgically that "not too long ago … Veggie burgers did not masquerade as something they were not." Meanwhile, many articles questioned the health effects of the products.
To be sure, the new plant-based burgers have also received a lot of positive coverage – and some pragmatic reviews more focused on describing their tastes (quite meaty, though some reviewers insist they can still tell the difference). But this is a beginning industry, and any pushback can have an impact.
There is certainly some truth to the criticisms. Burgers beyond and impossible are not exactly health foods (something I have written about before), even though they are no more unhealthy than the meat products they displace. The Impossible Whopper can help save the planet, but it will not save you from all the common problems of living on hamburgers.
But the criticism goes further than simply observing that fast food is not a health food. Often, critics end up despising the whole process of producing large-scale food in the way it must be produced to feed hundreds of millions of people. As Breakthrough Institute's Alex Trembath has argued, the plant-based meat movement reflects how much classism and elitism is creeping into our national conversations about our food system – and how they can get in the way of fixing it.
Plant-based meat has the potential to be great for the world. It can end factory farming, be more sustainable, address global warming and offer a way to feed a growing middle class their favorite foods without destroying the planet along the way. As it matures as an industry, the offerings can become cheaper, healthier and more varied as well.
But for plant-based food to change the world it requires producing huge quantities of it and selling it where consumers want to buy it. And that in turn requires confronting the reality that consumers like fast food, and that there is real value in giving them fast food that is better for the world. The backbone of plant-based meat, when you look carefully, is a setback to our food system in general – erroneously directed to one of the more promising efforts to make it a little better.
Plant-based meat myths, debunked
There have been many criticisms directed at plant-based foods. They all boil down to four broad criticisms: 1) they are heavily treated; 2) they contain GMOs; 3) they are not as healthy – or even dangerous to your health; and 4) they are aesthetically critical as "fake" foods.
Plant-based burgers, which many critics claim, are "ultra-processed junk food." Whole Foods CEO John Mackey warned customers "they're super, highly processed foods." Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said: "We have talked to those people, and unfortunately it would not fit into the principles of "food with integrity" because of the treatment. "
What does" processed "itself mean? There is no perfectly unified meaning of processed foods, but the term can refer to all modified foods – to preserve it, to enhance its taste, to add nutrients or to get plant proteins added to it. to taste like a hamburger.
Both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger are certainly produced in a factory with many different plant ingredients, but that word – "processed" – can hide more than it makes clear.
" It's this really confusing nomenclature that is going around right now, with this idea that we can classify food as good or bad based on its processing rate, "said Ruth MacDonald, a nutritionist at Iowa State University to Wired." And it makes no sense from a nutritional perspective, and it really doesn't make sense from a food science perspective either. "
Pasteurization is a form of processing. Adding extra vitamins, which have been lifesaving, is a form of processing. Yogurt is a highly processed food. Although processing can make food unhealthy, not all processed foods are unhealthy. You have to look at the ingredients and what processes in particular the food went through.
When it comes to ingredients, dozens listed in Beyond and Impossible burgers are often cited as evidence that the products may not be healthy. But even a salad can have many ingredients, and ingredient lists of products are often more a product of labeling laws than an objective measure of how many things go into the food.
This point was made elegantly by Impossible Foods & # 39; Rachel Konrad:
If we had to list the ingredients for beef as we list the ingredients for beef options, it wouldn't look so good. The takeaway is not that beef is bad for you (scientists are still fighting for it), but ingredient counting is not a way to find an answer.
Another concern is the spectrum of GMOs. The Anti-GMO Center for Food Safety is campaigning against the impossible citizen, and many figures in the anti-GMO community have joined.
The Beyond Burger, to be clear, contains no GMOs. The Impossible Burger uses modified soy and a special ingredient derived from a genetically modified plant: "heme" that makes burgers "bleed" from soybean roots, but Impossible Foods produces it from yeast to produce the quantities they need. This is cleared by the FDA.
The Impossible Foods team explained their decision to use modified soy instead of importing GMO-free soy by pointing to the environmental impact: GM-soy is grown in the United States while GMO-free soy would have needed carbon-intensive imports from Brazil.
Furthermore, there is no good evidence that GMOs pose a health hazard. Billions of people around the world have been eating genetically modified crops for decades, with no harmful effects yet proven. For thousands of years before, humans were genetically modifying crops through the slower selection process for their favorites. Some naturally occurring plants are unhealthy to humans, or even deadly; some GMOs are denser with nutrients, require fewer pesticides or are otherwise better for us. But most are just neutral. After extensive testing, the FDA has agreed that impossible foods are good.
The fact that the new plant-based burgers are so processed and suspected of containing GMOs leads straight into the main criticism: that they are not so healthy. And certainly, one should not be mistaken for eating an impossible burger to gab at a salad. Plant-based meat does not work that way.
But nutritionists who have performed analyzes have pretty much found that the meat-free meat burgers are, well, fine – nothing better for you than a beef meat burger, but no worse, with the specific details depending on your health priorities. (The Impossible Burger has more sodium than a beef burger, but beef burgers are usually salted during cooking; Impossible Burger has less fat and slightly fewer calories, but if you cut it with mayonnaise on a Whopper, you add that fat and those calories straight in again.)
"If you want a nutritious, heart-healthy meal, you can and should eat vegetables, whole grains and fruits and all the other things that everyone knows they should eat," Ryan Mendelbaum wrote in Gizmodo about the plant-based burger health controversy.
A more serious burden is that these products are dangerous to your health. A May press release from the advocacy group Moms Across America, for example, received attention by claiming that Impossible Burgers tested positive for a herbicide called glyphosate. Impossible Foods immediately pointed out that the "positive test" found "nearly 1,000 times lower than the level without significant risk of glyphosate intake (1100 micrograms per day) set by California Prop 65." And California sets some of the strictest guidelines in the world; guidelines from the World Health Organization and EPA say that even higher daily rates are safe.
It is important that the environmental benefits of beyond and impossible hamburgers have remained under the blaze of new investigation. Plant-based meat really emits less CO2 and other greenhouse gases than meat, uses less water and uses less land. The fact is that many people want, well, a burger. So why not offer them a burger that is good for the environment, good for animals, and that is positioned to solve huge problems with our food system?
Counterfeit Fake Unit
Another component of the setback is not about health at all. Instead, it is a vague sense that there is something noble about eating dead animals that are simply absent when eats plant-based, factory-mounted inventions.
In a Heated piece, Danielle LaPrise tells the story of how her community gathered to slaughter a pig: "With every animal that is sent out, every crop that is harvested," she writes, "I realized that our time on earth is temporary, and everything on it is a gift. I could plant seeds or raise animals from birth, take care of them, feed them, and later I would depend on them to nourish and maintain them. " Of meatless meat, she writes, "these foods will never succeed in mimicking the humiliating intimacy of meals where the animal's death is deeply felt."
But that's not how most Americans eat meat. Over 99 percent of meat produced for human consumption in the United States comes from animals reared on factory farms, where they often never see daylight and do not have enough space to turn around. kill a hundred pigs of pigs per minute. (And the situation is getting even worse for pigs.)
Our food system is not natural. It has not been natural for a very long time. Criticism that plant-based meat fails to promote the joy, gratitude, and connection of raising your own pig and then slaughtering it communally with your neighbors is not wrong – but they have very little to say to the typical American.  When Niche Goes Mainstream
The Impossible Burger started as a niche product at upscale restaurants. Coverage was almost entirely positive: commentators hailed that a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan added it to the menu. As for Silicon Valley, local newspapers eagerly reported that they would be served in Palo Alto "with sun-dried tomatoes, cavolo nero (or lacinato kale) and a sun-dried tomato mayonnaise on a poppy seed bowl."  But The impossible burger is now in Burger King. And it's much less appealing to the latest boosters.
As Breakthrough Institute & # 39; s Trembath argues, mainstreaming of meatless meat collapsed as the food world lit up the burger. Food critics who had praised it now complained about it .
"I can't help but notice," Trembath wrote in an analysis of the plant-based meat premium, "that when fake meat was matutopias and visionary cooks, thought leaders were enthusiastic about it. But as soon as fake meat hit the plastic magazines at Burger King, they were worried about how over-processed it was. "
Did the impossible burger become more processed? Hardly. If anything, it looks better now that Impossible Foods has secured the FDA's stamp of approval on the signature ingredient, heme.  But that burger was mass produced. From a restaurant in 2016, Impossible Burger is now available in more than 10,000 locations around the world.
Math historian Rachel Laudan argues "It's easy for ultra-processed to mean & # 39; industrial machined & # 39 ;, & # 39; low grade & # 39; or & # 39; not to my taste. & # 39; Soft drinks are ultra-processed, wine is not. Snack cakes are not ultra-processed, homemade cakes. "And the impossible citizen, a while back, was not considered ultra-processed, while we could enjoy the" wine exception. "
There's a lot wrong with our food system, and there's nothing wrong with saying that. But unlike any mass market, mass produced food is elitist and classic – and in this particular case, it's also stupid.
Three of the major damages caused by our current food system are the damage to the environment, public health through antibiotic resistance and to animals through factory farming. To address all of these, plant-based or lab-produced alternatives to meat must be mass-produced. And if we are not comfortable with mass production itself, we cannot solve any of the problems it is currently causing.
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