Impossible Food: Impossible Burger

overall rating:

2

planets

Hilary Lai
7/1/2021
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Established in 2011, Impossible Food is an American company that produces plant-based meat alternatives, including the Impossible Burger, Impossible Sausage, and Impossible Pork. In this review, I am focusing on the Impossible Burger.

Impossible Food likes to boast about its burger’s low greenhouse gas emissions and low water consumption, however, its ingredients are not organic and are criticised for being unhealthy. The packaging and transportation emissions are not disclosed, which prevented me from giving Impossible Burger a higher score. In terms of cost, Impossible Burgers are more expensive than conventional meat. At Target, an 8oz Impossible Burger retails for $5.50, while regular beef patties of the same weight average at a lower price of $3.50. Impossible Burger is still considered a luxury to a majority of people. While Impossible Meat provides consumers with a small step for an easier transition to a more plant-based, whole food diet, a lot more has to be done to achieve sustainability. Simply switching beef steak to Impossible patties is not enough to substantially decrease our environmental damage.

What it's made of:

1.5

Environmental Aspect
As more and more people grew concerned about climate change’s irreversible damage, beef became one of the first food products to be targeted. Cows produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and the creation of pasture for cattle ranching is the main culprit for Amazonian deforestation. The Impossible Burger provides an alternative for people who would like to eliminate meat from their diet.

The Impossible Burger’s main ingredients include soy, potato protein, coconut oil, and plant heme. Impossible’s website includes a 2020 Impact Report, which concludes a smaller environmental footprint of the Impossible Burger when compared to traditional meat. Its production uses 96% less land by eliminating pasture size for cow grazing and cropland demand for cow feeds. 86% of greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by eliminating methane-inducing cows while reducing irrigation for cow feeds cuts 87% of water usage.

These statistics paint a rosy image of the Impossible Burger benefiting the environment. However, many of these statistics come from Quantis, a consulting firm commissioned by Impossible Food. In fact, the sustainability report fails to mention that plant-based meat alternatives produce the same amount of emissions as chicken. Impossible Burgers may not be as sustainable as they appear to be, hence more independent researches are needed to reflect their wider environmental impact.


Health Aspect
Impossible Food markets its burgers as a healthy version of beef patties. Indeed, the Impossible Burgers have slightly lower levels of cholesterol and higher amounts of protein, yet their saturated fat and sodium content are significantly higher, leading to increased risks of heart diseases and high blood pressure. Moreover, Impossible Burgers are highly processed, mixed with many artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives to imitate the looks and taste of meat. The product is so processed that even the fast-food chain Chipotle refuses to use Impossible patties. We have to be aware that just because Impossible Burgers are vegan doesn’t automatically make them healthy. The Impossible Burgers are fun to have on special occasions but are something we should consume in moderation. 

How it's made:

1

Ingredients
Impossible’s Burgers are not organically sourced, which implies that lots of agrochemicals are used in the soybean farming. Chemical herbicides contaminate soil and groundwater, while chemical pesticides breed superbugs when harmful pests develop resistance. Impossible Food also does not publicise how sustainable their soybean farming methods are. Currently, 40% of atmospheric carbon comes from destroying soil through tillage and agrochemicals. If not cultivated properly, just like cattle ranching, soybean farming would not be free from guilty of severe environmental degradation and global warming.

Plant heme is added to allow the patty to ‘bleed’ and taste like real meat. The heme is made by fermenting genetically modified yeast. Despite being approved safe to consume by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some food safety groups slam FDA’s approval as a rash decision that “supports genetically engineered chemicals without conducting any long term health studies.” Genetically modifying food genes also raises ethical controversies. While I lean towards embracing food innovations, some people may find GMOs to be ‘unnatural’ or potentially harmful to the environment.


Packaging and Transportation
It is undeniable that Impossible Food’s website is full of information that exemplifies how sustainable Impossible Burgers are compared to conventional beef in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land occupation, and water consumption. However, customers are kept in the dark about exactly how many emissions and how much pollution packaging and transportation of Impossible’s products are responsible for. The only relevant information Impossible Food discloses is that all of the burgers’ plastic packagings are recyclable. Nevertheless, the act of recycling relies on consumers. Uninformed customers may still dispose of the plastic in landfills, which takes over 450 years to decompose. As a company that uses buzzwords such as “sustainable” and “positive environmental impacts” to market its brand, I expect Impossible Food to carry a greater responsibility in ensuring sustainability within the product chain. One suggestion is to switch its packaging materials to something more biodegradable, such as bio-plastics or molded fibre. Impossible Food should also increase its transparency by quantifying the exact environmental impact of the company’s operations. This would be a good way to enhance its credibility and provide meaningful comparisons against conventional meat competitors. 

Who makes it:

2.5

Impossible Food has ambitious goals to transform the global food system into a more sustainable one, including “replacing animals as a food production technology by 2035." To support these aims, investors such as Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures provide steady funds for Impossible Food. A quick search on the internet reveals that these big companies also invest in many other green industries, including sustainable energy and dairy alternatives. I find it encouraging to see these big companies supporting green businesses since without these venture capital boosts, small to medium firms would not be able to make huge impacts.

In recognition of Impossible Food’s effort and progress in providing practical and effective solutions for combating climate change, the company won the 2019 United Nations Global Climate Action Award. That same year it also joined the UN Global Compact to pledge corporate sustainability. Impossible Food has shown Impossible Burger’s potential to restore biodiversity and reverse climate change, yet still, be nutritionally and functionally similar to its meat counterparts. I am hopeful that vegan meat alternatives can bridge us to a greener diet, and more importantly, a more sustainable future.

Sources:

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190926005828/en/Impossible-Foods-Wins-UN-Global-Climate-Action-Award-in-%E2%80%9CPlanetary-Health%E2%80%9D-Category

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/02/beyond-meat-uses-climate-change-to-market-fake-meat-substitutes-scientists-are-cautious.html

https://gfi.org/resource/environmental-impact-of-meat-vs-plant-based-meat/

https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/impossible-foods-wins-legal-battle-over-heme-ingredient-powering-bleeding-plant-based-burger/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/impossible-and-beyond-how-healthy-are-these-meatless-burgers-2019081517448

https://impossiblefoods.com/hk-en/sustainable-food/burger-life-cycle-assessment-2019

https://www.rd.com/article/downside-of-alternative-meat/

https://sustainabilityx.co/why-companies-like-beyond-meat-are-important-for-the-world-1629dcdd3a18

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/10/7/20880318/meatless-meat-mainstream-backlash-impossible-burger