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Lab meat is a hit, Impossible Whopper sells out

in Food and Beverage

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

ST. LOUIS – Well folks, it’s official. Burger King announced April 29 that it shall make the impossible possible. Not only has the fast food institution managed to create a vegetarian burger that tastes nearly indistinguishable from the original beef Whopper; but the plant-based patty doppelganger has managed to win the hearts and minds of Burger King’s initial test market and will be making its way to a franchise near you by year’s end.

Just in time to sync up with the Blade Runner timeline, too.

Initial reviews of the Impossible Whopper — made with the faux hamburger known as the Impossible Burger — have been so positive that Burger King has announced the sandwich will be made available at 7,000 of its locations.

The expansion of the offering, along with Impossible Foods’ deals to provide other fast food restaurants with its Impossible Burger, have contributed to a shortage of the plant-based meat, according to online food magazine Eater.

The development points to a growing demand for meat-free dining, as does the fact that Impossible Foods’ main rival, Beyond Meat, saw a 170 percent gain in its stock value on the day last week it first offered stock for sale.

I was fortunate enough to find myself in Burger King’s initial Impossible Whopper test market, having moved from Cheyenne back to my hometown of St. Louis in the spring of 2017. And so, I decided to see whether the Impossible Whopper really lives up to its ambitious moniker. Over the past week I’ve sampled two of them, one for comparison’s sake alongside its meatier predecessor, the other as a standalone lunch.

Going in, I suppose it’s only fair that I make a few things clear: First off, I’m neither a Burger King loyalist nor a detractor. Subjectively, if we’re ranking fast food chains, I suppose I’d consider it second to McDonalds in the “generic ubiquitous burger restaurant now known more for its ubiquity than its burgers” category of burger joints. But in all honesty it’s just one of those fast food places I never really get around to very often, even when I am in the mood for fast food. No prejudice against the place, it just sort of worked out that way.

So in judging the flavor of the Impossible Whopper against that of the genuine article, I didn’t expect either sandwich to meet some pre-conceived Whopper flavor profile I’ve concocted over years of experience. So if you’ve eaten a Whopper every week for the last 10 years, there’s a chance you’ll bite into this thing with somewhat different taste expectations than I did. 

That said, having tasted the Impossible Whopper twice now, I must admit Burger King did a great job in mimicking the overall Whopper experience. 

Taken with an assortment of standard toppings and a side of fries, the Impossible Whopper eats like a burger. You bite, chew, swallow, and everything feels the way it’s supposed to feel; nothing rubbery or spongy. As for the taste, the only telltale signs you’re not eating a standard Whopper are a distinct lack of greasiness and a faint, vaguely peanut-like undertone to the flavor. I found it subtle enough that if you didn’t know you weren’t eating a meat patty, you likely wouldn’t notice.

Now, none of this is meant to imply that plant-based burgers are going to knock meat off the menu anytime soon. But having sampled my fair share of meat substitutes over the years, it feels like the Impossible Whopper is something different, something that’s managed to claw its way up out of the far end of the uncanny valley. And I’m apparently not the only one who feels that way. 

Eric Bohl of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization, sampled the Impossible Whopper himself shortly after the St. Louis pilot program began. Like me, he noticed only subtle differences in taste compared to the traditional Whopper, prompting him to warn ranchers not to dismiss the Impossible Burger as a one-off fad.

“This is not just another disgusting tofu burger that only a dedicated hippie could convince himself to eat,” Bohl declared, in an April 3 post to the farm bureau website. “It’s 95 percent of the way there, and the recipe is likely to only get better.”

An opportunivore, vegetarian and reformed omnivore walk into a veggie bar…

in Food and Beverage

This is part two of the Impossible Burger food fight with our tasters first impressions and candid conversation on the ethics of lab-grown meat versus farm-raised meat. Find part one here.

But once the cameras quit rolling, our deep discussion into the merits of meat vs. vegetable patties began in earnest.

IKE: Do you think the Impossible Burger is a more ethical option than a traditional hamburger?

JEFF: Yes. Nothing died to make this burger.

IKE: A cow didn’t die, sure. But the farmlands needed to produce these ingredients are often acres of monoculture where wildlife species are suppressed. On a ranch, you have biodiversity. Wildlife is allowed if not encouraged to thrive.

JEFF: That may be so, but most the meat this country consumes aren’t the cows you see on the side of the road. They are cows that were raised in a box somewhere else.

IKE: Understood. I’m not crazy about the process of mass producing meat, but unfortunately my pocket book dictates that if I want to eat meat, I have to buy what’s cheap.

JOEL: There’s no question there’s a lot benefits to eating plant-based foods vs. industrially produced livestock. Unfortunately, it does come down to economics. There are a lot of people whose diets would suffer significantly without access to that cheap meat. 

IKE: I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask an entire populace to embrace an “ethical” diet at the risk of poverty. 

JEFF: I’m vegetarian, but I don’t believe everyone needs to be. As a nation, we do consume way too much meat, however.

IKE: So what’s the solution? 

JOEL: Like anything else in a capitalist market, you can’t expect the producers to bear all the weight, nor the government, nor the consumers. All change needs to be driven by all those sectors working in concert. Until consumers decide to eat less meat, until the producers respond to that decision, until the government devises a plan to incentivize healthy diets and production practices, it’s hard for me to claim one diet is more ethical than the others.

IKE: I’ll be honest, I like the Impossible Burger as a sandwich. I don’t see anything impossible about it as it fails to provide a believable substitute for meat, but I would be willing to replace a couple meat sandwiches a week with something like this. The problem is research. Every time science provides us a “healthy” alternative, research seems to prove the alternative is worse than what it replaced. Look at diet soda, sugar substitutes and margarine.

JOEL: I can’t believe it’s not butter.

JEFF: I can’t believe it’s not murder (before finishing the last bite of his Impossible Burger). For me, it’s about being more ethical. I don’t believe in killing animals, so I don’t eat them. While that may not mean my food is produced as ethically as possible, I believe it’s more ethical than meat.

JOEL: I think what the Impossible Burger symbolizes is more ethical, and that’s having more plant-based options for our nutrition.

IKE: If the problem with meat is the death of animals, do you see lab-grown meat as a viable and ethical option?

JEFF: Absolutely. I think it’s the future. 

JOEL: I’m down. Sure. Why not?

Food fight: ‘Impossible Burger’ taste panel debates meat vs. veggie burger

in Food and Beverage
Food fight: ‘Impossible Burger’ taste panel debates meat vs. veggie burger

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If you’re going to pick a fight, it might as well be a food fight.

When Cowboy State Daily charged me with assembling a taste-testing panel for the Impossible Burger, I knew just the guys to get the dialogue rolling: Joel Funk, the Laramie Boomerang managing editor and former vegetarian; and Jeff Victor, a University of Wyoming grad student and fanatic disciple of vegetarianism.

Both Joel and Jeff know me to be an unrepentant meat eater, or “blood mouth” as Jeff would later say. So, under the guise of diversity, I was able to entice my friends to the table for a debate about ethical edibility. 

It didn’t hurt I offered to pick up the tab.

The impossible 

On April Fools’ Day, Burger King rolled out a game-changing announcement — a partnership with Impossible Foods to provide a vegetarian burger patty dubbed the Impossible Whopper.

I’m not sure if they chose the date so they could retract the statement depending on the public response, or because they thought offering a meatless hamburger was a good prank, but come April 2, the fast food franchise stood by their claim — sort of.

The Impossible Whopper is only available in select cities for the time being, and it comes as no surprise none of those cities are in Wyoming.

According to the Washington Post, however, the faux-burger did quite well in St. Louis, where it’s being tested at 59 locations — many of which sold out of the sandwich the first day.

Now, I’ve been called a lot of things, but patient isn’t one of them. Luckily, I didn’t need to look far for an opportunity to try out the Impossible.

Sweet Melissa Cafe in Laramie offers the original Impossible Burger, Impossible Foods’ precursor to the Impossible Whopper.

Food fight

Joel, Jeff and I kicked off the feast with the intended testing panel and for the most part, the Impossible Burger was a winner.

“I don’t think this could compete with a gourmet burger,” Jeff said. “To me it’s good. But, it makes me think of a trashy fast food burger, and I mean trashy in the best of ways. That’s actually what I like about it.”

Joel turned the Impossible Burger over in his hands almost as if he were judging it by weight alone.

“It’s got good substance,” he said. “It feels like a burger in my mouth. As far as veggie burgers go, it’s probably one of the better ones out there.”

My favorite kind of food is whatever is in front of me, so I dived in.

“I like it as a sandwich, but I don’t see anything ‘impossible’ about it,” I remarked. “It’s definitely got that mouth feel, but it’s lacking the flavor of meat. My tastebuds notice a definite absence.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for video with the tasters first impressions and ensuing conversation on the ethics of lab-grown meat versus farm-raised meat.

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