Meatless burgers offer a sustainable alternative, ‘impossible’ to ignore



The ‘Impossible Burger’ is a burger which is plant-based and contains no meat. It is lauded as a way to enjoy burgers while still protecting the planet.

Sustainability has been ‘in’ for decades, but recently sustainable foods have become a trend themselves., Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat have released meatless hamburgers that can feed carnivores, but also cater directly to vegetarians and vegans.

As concerns about climate change increase, companies like Impossible and Beyond are attempting to advance environmentally conscious measures and have focused their impacts worldwide. In laboratories in California, both companies have created an innovative way to contribute to sustainable development by creating products that do not use harsh agricultural practices.

Impossible Foods has invented a process that includes heme, a molecule discovered in plants and animals that makes the meat taste the way it does. Through fermentation, they create heme, which has been verified by America’s top food safety experts. The burger they created tastes, smells and has virtually the identical texture of a regular hamburger.

Similarly, Beyond Meat produces its product with a process involving heating, cooling, and pressure. Then the plant-based fats and flavors are layered in.

Both of these burgers have the meaty texture of a regular hamburger in each juicy bite. Traditional veggie burgers crumble much more easily, yet these products hold together like basic beef. Impossible Foods has even recreated how a hamburger bleeds, thanks to the discovery and inclusion of heme.

The Impossible Burger has been added to many menus recently, including well-known fast-food restaurants such as White Castle, Red Robin, Qdoba and Burger King. Countries around the world have added this additional option for their clientele, as well. Beyond has been making an impact on the food market in a different way, distributing its products through Target, Dunkin’, and TGI Fridays.

“Since our 2016 launch, demand for the ‘Impossible Burger’ has exploded,” Impossible Foods stated on their website. “The next generation of global influencers, food lovers, and activists have spoken: they’re mobilized and hungry for change.” The goal of the food company is to create a more sustainable food future as well as produce a burger that is available to the masses.

“It needs to be here to stay,” said Barbara Willard, associate professor of communication studies at DePaul University and environmental communications researcher. “I think that climate change will not let us forget. There are certain practices that we need to move away from and one of them is our addiction to meat and animal-based products.”

Netflix and other streaming services have given access to films such as “Cowspiracy” and “Okja.” Films like these are some of the reasons Willard believes awareness has been raised so successfully. The young people of Generation Z have become some of the largest consumers of vegan foods, and companies are gearing their products towards this emerging market with the plant-based burger.

Molly Sutton Kiefer is a mother of two children, six and eight, and a dedicated English teacher in Red Wing, Minnesota. She has been a vegetarian off and on.

“I got tired of my darling, sweet husband not eating meat leftovers,” Kiefer said. “It made me more upset to see the meat go into the garbage disposal and not get eaten than my making the choice not to eat meat.” If she chooses a plant-based substitute, she prefers the ‘original’ companies like Boca Burger.

“We have such a huge meat-eating culture that options at restaurants use meat as a centerpiece to build around,” Kiefer said. “That doesn’t have to be the case.”

Animal welfare was the reason Maya Parekh, 19, was raised vegetarian in her home town of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. As a fourth-grader, she knew, however, that being vegetarian was not enough. Though her attempt to go vegan was unsuccessful then, she tried again her senior year of high school, and it became a permanent fixture of her lifestyle. 

The animal welfare movement has brought a lot of attention to the treatment of livestock on factory farms – through articles, documentaries, and social media.

“Just because the animals aren’t killed doesn’t mean it’s like the happy farmer on the box,” Parekh said. Documentaries were one of the ways Parekh researched animal welfare – a contributing factor to her veganism and her interest in meatless alternatives.

Sustainability and climate change movements have also boosted awareness of unsustainable food practices, encouraging people to be conscious of what they choose to eat. Three goals of sustainability are considered to be environmental protection, economic health and equity or social justice. Plant-based burgers seem to address all of the above.