Okay Fine, I Liked the Plant-Based Burger Made by David Chang

The bloody plant burger.
The bloody plant burger.

It’s prudent to disclose bias when you’re a journalist, and I’ll admit it: I wanted to hate the plant-based burger from Impossible Foods. Part of it was my congenital aversion to hype (slash, it’s fun to tear down false idols), but part of it was just confusion as to the goals. To put a finer point on it: Why do we need a fake hamburger that’s so realistic it bleeds?

The burger was unveiled Tuesday at a high-buzz media circus at the Refinery Hotel. The first segment was a talkback with chef David Chang, food science guru Harold McGee and Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown; Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan served as moderator. Next was a demo on how the burger is made. Then we all tried one, with cheese, pickles, lettuce and special sauce, served with a side of fries.

Back to my prejudice. I found it baffling that this company had raised a startling $108 million (with some help from Bill Gates) to fill a void that didn’t—to my mind—need filling. I mean, there are a wide array of veggie burgers out there, some of them quite delicious (paging Lukas Volger). Is it necessary that these burgers function as near-perfect analogs to actual cheeseburgers? Isn’t it enough to eat something that’s delicious but clearly not made of cow?

And then I got the hard sell. At the presentation, Brown discussed the global hunger for beef that is not being satiated by our current meat alternatives. In applying a fleet of top scientific minds—like McGee—to the challenge, plus throwing gobs of money into the mix, Impossible Foods could presumably create something that the average Joe Q. Meateater would throw on the grill.

Impossible Foods is not a nonprofit, though the need for their product was presented as a mission of altruism (surely what got Bill Gates involved). The argument is that it’s going to take more than textured vegetable protein to convince our diehard carnivore population to break their beef addiction. Seeing that cows are so insanely resource intensive (and polluting), a truly viable alternative is vital to our future.

Brown threw around some impressive stats: Namely, one quarter-pound Impossible Burger would cut the equivalent CO2 emissions of a car driving 18 miles, reduce water usage by the equivalent of a 10-minute shower, free the equivalent of 75 feet of land. That’s a serious burger!

But though I was dutifully impressed with these factoids, the taste of the product itself was what made me a believer (clearly what they’re counting on). Sinking my teeth into a juicy, perfectly textured, inarguably delicious cheeseburger, I am 90 percent certain I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t beef if served to me without an explainer.

Before Tuesday, perhaps I just wasn’t visionary enough, or didn’t really process this burger’s potential impact. If Impossible Foods can scale on a level that reduces its price to the level of standard supermarket beef (the eventual goal), this thing does have the potential to effect real change. For now, you can get an Impossible Foods cheeseburger and fries at Chang’s Momofuku Nishi for a cool $12.

My two cents: Do it.


Jesse Hirsch

Formerly the print editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, Jesse Hirsch now works as the New York editor for GOOD magazine.

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