It’s official: Impossible Burger, the much discussed plant-based burger that tastes just like meat, is now easier to find than ever!
Burger King has added it to their menu in all of its US locations. Their Impossible Whopper is the first meat-free burger to be offered nationwide at a major fast food chain. Better yet, this meatless Whopper has been so popular that the BK restaurants are struggling to keep up with the demand!
You’d think vegan community would mark this as a major win. Yet ever since the release of the Impossible burger, I’ve seen some of the most heated debates in the vegan circles since What The Health came out. Now that it’s available at Burger King, the discussions are so heated that the screen of my phone is about to melt.
What’s making vegans so mad? Here’s what’s happening.
On the one hand, what’s not to love about having a meatless burger option available nationwide in a major fast food chain like Burger King? Especially if this option is so close in flavor and texture to the real meat that it can fool meat eaters.
On the other hand, Impossible Burger has issues. It has been tested on animals. It’s far from healthy. It’s sold at a place that heavily benefits from animal abuse. Heck, it’s not even marketed towards vegans!
These issues are making us vegans scratch our heads and ask: Is Impossible burger suitable for vegans?
That’s why today I’m going to take a look at each issue of the Impossible Burger, and try to make sense of them all.
Issue #1. Impossible Burger Has Been Tested on Animals
The founder of Impossible Foods admitted that the company had done some animal testing while developing their flagship product.
What makes the matter sound even worse, they decided to test on animals without the apparent need for it.
Since products tested on animals aren’t vegan by definition, PETA has released a scathing memo denouncing Impossible Foods and advising vegans against trying their burger.
So why did Impossible Foods test their products on animals if they didn’t need to?
Here’s the deal. From the start, Impossible Foods wanted to create a product that would be a true alternative to meat – an alternative that would impress even the hardcore meat eaters, and hopefully lead them to eating less meat, or go completely meat-free.
To make the Impossible burger smell, taste and look like animal-derived meat, the company developed a groundbreaking way to produce heme, the iron-rich component in animal tissues that gives meat its distinctive flavor, entirely from plant sources.
Like in the case of all brand-new food ingredients on the market, FDA requires them to undergo animal testing to receive the status of Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) to ensure the ingredient is safe for human consumption.
While qualifying for GRAS is sometimes referred to as optional, it’s still a requirement for products made with this new ingredient to be picked up by major retailers and restaurants. This article gives a more detailed explanation to the certification process.
So the folks at Impossible Foods were facing a dilemma: to avoid animal testing and have their burgers only available through limited markets, or go through with it and expand the availability nationwide, thus saving more animals in the long run than the 180 rats that would have to die in testing.
In his letter over here, Pat O. Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, explains his decision. He admits that as a vegan of 14 years it was a tough call to go through with the animal testing.
However, he is hopeful that by making his company’s flagship burger easily available everywhere, millions of animals will get a chance to be spared when meat eaters opt for the Impossible burger instead of the regular one.
But why can’t we just stick to buying vegan burgers from companies that haven’t tested on animals, yet still sell their products everywhere? As Lifelong Vegan eloquently explains, no company can boast that their ingredients have never been tested on animals.
Even if those companies are not the ones who’d conducted the tests, every food ingredient they’re using has gone through animal testing at some point in the past, from pea protein isolate (main ingredient of the Beyond Burger) to xanthan gum (a component of many vegan ice creams, sauces and dressings).
So who’s ready to throw that proverbial stone?
Issue #2: Buying Impossible Whoppers is Financially Supporting a Major Animal Abuser
It’s no secret that the fast food industry is a major contributor to the abuse and killing of farm animals. It’s also not a secret that large corporations like Burger King will do anything to boost their sales.
For years, the pragmatic members of the vegan community have been asking fast food chains to add vegan options to their menus. Finally, the demand for vegan products has grown so much in the past few years that fast food companies like Burger King decided it was worth tapping into the vegan market.
Yes, it’s clear that their decision to add the Impossible Whopper to their menu has been motivated by their desire to make more money rather than to save animals from being killed for burgers.
They haven’t gone the entire distance to make their meatless burger fully vegan: the Impossible Whopper still gets regular mayo as one of its ingredients. Of course, vegans are finding a workaround by bringing their own vegan mayo to the restaurant, or just having the burger mayo-free.
So how should we vegans feel about lining Burger King’s pockets with our money?
Ultimately, each of us will have to answer this question for themselves.
In my opinion, things like this are inevitable if we want vegan food options become widely available everywhere. This is an important step: if we want more people to go vegan (for animals, environment, health – you name it), we have to show them that being vegan is easy, and that vegan food is delicious and easy to find.
If we want major food companies that sell food everywhere to add vegan options, we have to vote with our dollar – i.e. to buy their vegan options when they become available. Especially if those products are offered for a limited time, like what Burger King is doing with the Impossible Whopper.
Boycotts by the vegan community may do more harm than good for the big picture. If we don’t buy enough of those vegan options when they are available, companies that offer them may decide that offering vegan menu items isn’t worth their while. As a result, they may discontinue all efforts to develop vegan products that would stay on their menus for good.
So instead of feeling self-righteous about it, go get that Impossible Whopper – just ask them to leave the mayo off.
In case you’re just thinking about going vegan and aren’t sure where to start, check out my post about first steps when going vegan, and another one about 5 common mistakes people make while transitioning to veganism.
Issue #3: Impossible Whopper is Cooked on the Same Broiler as BK’s Meat and Chicken
Fair enough. If you’ve been vegan for a while, you’ve probably lost all interest in eating meat, even in its residual form.
Burger King makes no secret that the Impossible Whopper patty is cooked alongside its animal-based products, but states on their site that “a non-broiler method of preparation is available upon request.” This means that they can either microwave or steam your meatless patty if you ask them.
This may not be optimal if you want the flame-broiled flavor of the regular Whopper patty, but at least that option exists.
But should we even bother?
Once again, each of us will have to decide for themselves.
If the main reason you’re vegan is because you don’t want animals to be killed to become your food, good news: no animals will have to die to become your Impossible Whopper patty regardless of how it’s prepared.
If you’re a vegan who mostly follows a whole food, plant-based diet for health (or is just plain grossed out by meat), then you’re better off having your meatless Whopper patty cooked in one of the alternative ways to avoid residual cholesterol and other meat components.
Speaking of plant-based diet…
Issue #4: What the Health?
Impossible burger is made from plant-derived ingredients, yet it is a highly processed product that isn’t going to boost anyone’s health.
It contains a special type of genetically modified yeast. It has more iron than meat (excessive amounts of iron can wreak havoc on our health). It’s high in saturated fat.
Is it even worth eating it if you’re trying to eat healthy?
In short, no. But we can’t shut the door on it without looking at the bigger picture.
First, a large number of plant-based alternatives to animal products have entered the food market in the recent years. While the majority of these foods are processed, a lot of them taste quite good. It may not be of much importance to us, but we need these good-tasting vegan foods to convince veg-curious non-vegans that they can switch to veganism without feeling like they’re giving up all foods they’ve ever loved.
Second, no one says that we have to eat nothing but Impossible burgers for the rest of our lives. Just like we can chew gum and walk at the same time, we can also eat healthy and have an occasional vegan burger if we want.
Lastly, if we keep talking about how the Impossible burger is beneath our super-healthy diets, we may send out the wrong message to the restaurants who toy with the idea of adding more animal-free foods to their menus, and to the meat eaters who may not know how unhealthy regular meat is, yet will be happy to trash meatless burgers along with you.
The Bottom Line
So is Impossible Burger suitable for vegans? The answer to this question is so heavily steeped in nuances that each vegan will have to decide for themselves.
One thing for sure: if we vegans want to convince meat eaters to join us in ditching animal products, we have to get out of our own way.
Self-righteousness will never make veganism more appealing. Is there even a point in harsh criticism of things that aren’t perfect but are better than almost everything created before?
Plus, crappy attitudes from the vegan community might turn off scientists and entrepreneurs who may just now be thinking of creating new meat alternatives.
Instead of criticizing plant-based meat startups that create groundbreaking products, let’s criticize FDA for its outdated requirements to test those products on animals in order for them to reach mass market.
I personally haven’t missed the taste of meat since going vegan six years ago, but I was thrilled to hear about the release of the Impossible burger. So last weekend my family went to Burger King for the first time in umpteen years and ordered Impossible Whoppers. And I will never regret that.
Now, if only Burger King added a vegan mayo option to their menu…