The Truth About Impossible Foods, Meat Alternatives, and Feeding The World
The New York Times calls it the $325,000 burger.
National Geographic calls it the petri-dish burger.
Impossible Foods calls their vegetarian "meat" the Impossible Burger.
These pioneering burgers go by many names and they have mainstream media in a frenzy, clamoring to feature lab-grown "meats" from companies like Memphis Meats and the Impossible Foods "plant burger" in numerous articles all over the internet recently.
With all due respect, I felt like those articles were one-sided fluff-pieces regurgitating press release marketing speak and lacked a journalistic due diligence.
I wanted answers to questions those publications weren't asking.
So we brought Chris Davis, Director of Research and Development at Impossible Foods on the OPP.
Meet Chris Davis and Impossible Foods
On their website, the Impossible Foods mission statement reads:
"The world loves meat. But relying on cows to make meat is land-hungry, water-thirsty, and pollution-heavy. That’s why we set out to do the impossible: make delicious meats that are good for people and the planet."
Impossible Foods has a great marketing message for the general public.
But to the discerning Optimizer, or anyone who has given thought to the issue of feeding the world, there are gaps in the Impossible Foods mission.
My Takeaway From This Interview
First, I'm grateful for Rosie and Chris's willingness to set this up and allow me to press them deeper on this conversation about the future of the world's food supply.
It's clear to me that I'm at a different point on the purist-pragmatist spectrum than Chris and Impossible Foods.
I'd like to think I'm not a naive idealist...you be your own judge.
Here what concerns me:
In a recent interview with The Guardian, the CEO of Impossible Foods stated that they want to control 100% of the $807 Billion meat market. Right away, that statement is all about profit, not about solving the world’s food problem.
Despite the audacious claims of their CEO, Chris agrees with me in our interview that the world’s food problem is one of distribution, not production.
So what is Impossible Foods doing to get their product to those who had distribution problems (read: third world areas)?
Nothing. I was told that is "not their focus". I find that strange for a company claiming to look for a solution to feeding the world.
Instead, they’re focusing on the US market, specifically restaurants and people who have disposable income to eat out.
They're currently in 33 locations, including Hopdoddy Burger Bars in Texas where a faux-meat burger will cost you $14.
To further complicate the potential distribution of the Impossible Burger to food poor countries, the product is a perishable “raw meat” that requires refrigeration and cold transportation.
Chris admits, this does nothing to solve the distribution problem to impoverished and less fortunate areas of the world who need the food we think of when discussing “feeding the world”.
Sounds to me like Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods is more focused on talking a good game and taking it to the bank rather than digging in and helping effect real change.
Here’s another example of that mindset:
One of the benefits mentioned by Chris is that Impossible Meats require 1/20th of the land that a cow requires to produce the equivalent amount of meat.
Sounds great, right?
When I asked what Impossible Foods was doing to ensure that the extra 19/20th of land goes to the environmentally beneficial uses that Chris mentioned, his answer was “nothing, that’s not our responsibility.”
I disagree. As leaders in any movement, it’s up to us to lead by example from start to finish. True leaders take 100% responsibility for their actions and the repercussions of those action.
My guess is that land will be used to produce 19X more Impossible Meat, thereby increasing their revenue. We shall see.
The Impossible Burger will remain off of my plate - for the reasons listed above - and for the fact that this "lab-grown meat" is really just another veggie burger made from conventionally farmed commodity plants (covered in pesticides and likely Glyphosate) that perpetuates the broken, government subsidized factory farming complex combined with genetically engineered soy proteins to produce a $14 burger sold to American restaurants in food secure locations rather than distributed to food-poor people in impoverished, hungry nations around the globe.
Not exactly solving world hunger... (sound more like feeding the bottom line)
To me, it sounds more like Impossible Foods is feeding their own bottom line by talking a good game and doing very little effect the change that drives their emotionally compelling marketing message.
Those are my choices. But they're also facts that many other media outlets did not disclose, so in the interest of complete transparency I want to get that information to you so you can make an informed choice for yourself as to whether or not you want to participate in the lab-grown meat movement.
Chris is right about a few things:
- We waste too much food. Globally, as much as 50% of edible food is wasted. See below for statistics and a great video from John Oliver on HBO's Last Week Tonight.
- The factory farming model for animals is seriously flawed, inefficient and harmful to the environment.
- We need to have this conversation about course-correcting and exploring alternatives sooner rather than later.
Here's the entire interview:
And The Video:
Impossible Foods Press:
Red Bull article on Impossible Burger
Links and Resources:
3 Myths of Modern Farming (75% of the world's food is produced by family farms)
Austin, TX plans to have "zero food waste by 2040" (Austin has several Hopdoddy locations, establishments that serve the Impossible Burger)
John Oliver Food Waste Video: