Is Vegan Protein That Looks, Smells and Tastes Like Meat Unethical?

The other day, I watched a video from Wired about the Impossible Burger, the plantbased protein patty that looks, smells, cooks and “bleeds” like a beef burger. The science behind the creation of the Impossible Burger is fascinating by itself (you should read the article and watch the video), and we should know as much as possible about the provenance of our food. What got me thinking and raised an eyebrow for me was the intentionality of marketing the Impossible Burger as the “burger that bleeds” even though it’s not made with animal flesh.

To establish some background about my life’s journey to plantbased eating, I grew up eating most meats -beef, chicken, turkey, etc. – and to this day, I will freely admit that bacon is delicious and Popeye’s spicy two-piece would be my last meal if I was on death row. However, one of the reasons I no longer am able to eat meat (with some exceptions) is that I don’t like the look and mouthfeel of meat. I tend to find it greasy/oily and the texture of flesh bothers me. While not all people who eschew meat do so because of animal welfare concerns, I have mixed feelings about such true-to-life formulations of plantbased proteins. Sure, I’ll eat a “nugget” or a black bean patty, but I’ve yet to find a strip, steak or crumble made from plants that authentically presents itself like animal meat. And I prefer that!

Ethics in Vegetarianism

As the Impossible Burger has earned success, raising more than $250 million from investors, and distribution throughout the country at restaurants and grocery stores, questions have been raised both about the ingredients and the ethicality of life-like meat substitutes. Impossible Foods, the maker of the Impossible Burger, bases the meat-like nature of the Burger on heme, which gives ground beef its color and metallic iron taste. The ingredient soy leghemglobin, derived from the root of soybeans, does this for the Impossible Burger. However, the FDA has not approved the compounds as safe or unsafe for consumption, which concerns some food safety advocates.

In addition to the ingredient safety concern, some strict vegans question the need for plantbased protein that recreates the smell, taste and texture of the very animals they’re trying to save from slaughter. For advocates of the Impossible Burger, this is a ploy to get more carnivores to consider the products as an alternative to their usual beef or turkey burger. Others cite a need for a diversity of protein sources, which, with the advent of technology and genetic modification of plants, is becoming much easier than in years past.

My Experience with “Bleeding” Burgers

Over the Labor Day weekend, I got the chance to try another “bleeding” plantbased burger: The Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat. I missed the chance to have it straight off the grill at the cookout so I had to pan-sear it a skillet at home. To my surprise, the Beyond Burger was the single best veggie burger I’ve had, and I’ve tried a lot of cardboard, bean-filled veggie patties. Seriously, I am bringing these to every cookout I’m invited to from here on out.

Make room on the grill!

While the faux bleeding of the burger didn’t initially register with me – Beyond Burgers use beet juice to replicate the effect – it wasn’t until I listened to the description of the complex science behind the Impossible Burger that I began to question my desire to eat burgers that look like meat.

Verdict: Live and Let Live

I say if approximating meat brings more people into the concept of going from #MeatlessMonday to meat-free every day, I’m here for it. As long as we can keep the needle moving downward for the number of animals killed annually for our consumption, I’m here for it. You may never see me in a PETA advertisement, slathered in fake blood, but I will support “radical” methods if that’s how someone wants to characterize The Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger.

Next up for me: trying the Impossible Burger at Hopdoddy Burger Bar!

Share with Me!

What do you think? Are you comfortable with such lifelike veggie burgers, or do you think that plantbased diets should not include meat-like substitutes? Also, have you tried the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger? If so, tell me about your experience.

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