Will the Saint Louis Impossible Whopper Save the World?
A plant-based burger patty that doesn’t taste like it’s, well, plant-based? They said it was impossible, but Impossible proved them wrong! When Burger King audaciously teamed up with Impossible Foods in April 2019, their miraculous Impossible Whopper was born and the world took notice.
Test-marketing of this unconventional love child burger was conducted throughout all St. Louis Burger King locations. And when the numbers came in, the burger behemoth’s CFO realized they’d struck gold. Unsurprisingly, the chain soon announced they’d launch their new menu item nationwide by end of year.
What happened in STL didn’t stay in STL.
But what does it all mean, Basil? What’s in it for the economy, for the environment...and for us as consumers? To find out, let’s take a quick close-up of Impossible Foodsand the invention of their Impossible Burger!
Founded by Stanford biochem professor Patrick O. Brownin 2011, Impossible Foods started making waves five years later with their very first “meat analogue” patty. As yummy as that does not sound, Brown’s product tastes remarkably like bovine beef...so much so that he staunchly promotes the idea of labelling it as—you guessed it—meat!
“What consumers value about meat has nothing to do with how it’s made,” Brown stated in an interview with Quartzy. “They just live with the fact that it’s made from animals.”
In other words, if it looks like a meat burger, tastes like a meat burger, and quacks like a meat burger, then it probably is a meat burger! It just doesn’t rely on butchering a living creature to create it. That’s great news for cows. And us!
Animal agriculture bears a massive environmental footprint—almost half our land is used for it. It wreaks havoc on the ecosystem and sucks up a fourth of our fresh water. That’s not only wasteful, but outlandishly expensive. Studiesshow it takes 1,847 gallons of water to produce a pound of bovine meat and 13 pounds of cattle feed for a quarter-pound patty. In what world is that remotely sustainable? Or economically viable?
Plant-based alternatives offer a solution, with the market set to growto over $6 billion by 2023. But some estimates are far, far higher. The trick is that meat substitutes only work if people buy in. The St. Louis-launched Impossible Whopper proves that under the right circumstances, they will! Statewide, Burger Kings reported an overall 18% increase in sales after adding the new burger to their menu.
See, it’s not just for vegans! Professor Brown’s mission is to get everybody on board with his revolution against eating cows for sustenance. Realizing the only way to do that was to make patties that don’t remind you of chewing a pencil eraser, Impossible Burgers found the secret of what makes meat taste so meaty. The flavor of beef comes from high-levels of heme, the same iron-rich molecule found in blood. Ironically (no pun intended), some legumes are juicy with heme, too. And that was Brown’s “Eureka!” moment.
But instead of pulling up acres of soybeans to extract their delicious heme, Brown’s team works a bit of food science magic to transfer the protein-producing genes into yeast instead. This let’s them produce boatloads of the blood-like substance, with far less impact to the environment. In fact, the entire processof making one of their burgers uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and emits ~ 87% less greenhouse gas than your average cow patty. Er, cow burger patty, that is!
Will eating Impossible Whoppers truly save the world from economic and environmental catastrophe? It might if enough of us try it. And that is your mission, should you choose to accept it!