Are We Headed Toward an Impossible Future?

The Impossible Burger 2.0, photographed at Hopdoddy
The Impossible Burger 2.0, photographed at Hopdoddy Kathy Tran
May is National Burger Month (yes, that's a thing) and to celebrate, we're spending an entire week celebrating what may well be Dallas' officially unofficial dish: the burger. From April 30 to May 8, writer Nick Rallo will explore every corner of Dallas burgers, from the grass-fed to the uber-greasy and even lab-grown. Grab a stack of napkins and join us.

He has no idea how it’s going to play out. On this particular day, Bryan Crelly is in the middle of a shortage of the plant-based burger that has caused an uptick in foot traffic. It’s unclear if the backup is due to the overwhelming demand of the Impossible Burger 2.0 — Uncle Uber’s Sammich Shop has carried the Mark 1 Impossible Foods patty for less than a year — or the news that around 60 Burger Kings in St. Louis are test-driving an Impossible Whopper.

Either way, Uncle Uber’s is sold out of the infamous plant-meets-science patty. According to Eater, restaurants across the country are dealing with an Impossible shortage, which the company acknowledges to distributors, claiming that "demand was outpacing the company’s manufacturing capabilities."

“If you call me in a couple of months, I might say, yeah, I lost all my Impossible regulars to Burger King,” says Bryan Crelly with a laugh. “I don’t know how that’s going to go.”

Sure, he’s got other vegetarian options: A cheese, cucumber and tomato, and avocado sandwich with garlic mayonnaise or a meatless banh mi with mushrooms are inexpensive and quick. The Impossible Burger, however, is something else entirely: It's made of lab-grown "meat" created using an amalgam of soy and potato proteins suspended in coconut and sunflower oil and laced with a network of heme molecules, which give the faux meat its sense of meat-like juiciness.

Burger King is just the beginning; steak and fish are the next target, the company says. Still, it’s not a nefarious plan — so far. As in any new tech, it raises questions.

Is Impossible Foods the future of burger-eating? We don’t have to give up beef entirely, right? How do restaurants that carry these plant-based patties differentiate themselves from other joints carrying the same burger? The answers are, honestly, unknown to most. Beef isn’t going away any time soon. We’re at the beginning of something.

One thing is fact: Beef production takes a chunk out of the lifespan of the environment if left unchecked. The World Resources Institute released a study last year: By replacing 30% of a burger’s blend with mushrooms (mushrooms do work as an umami swap) would “reduce irrigation water demand by 83 billion gallons per year, an amount equal to 2.6 million Americans’ annual home water.”

Beef, of course, is a natural resource that can be drained. What does this mean for us in Dallas? It means, at minimum, we need to give a shit — a little bit — about our beef. Impossible is providing one Silicon Valley-ready option, and they’re growing. Fast.

“Our current focus right now is on our ground beef product, the Impossible Burger, but we do hope to have a full portfolio of products in the future (including steak),” a rep from Impossible Foods says. Their goal is to replace animals in food production, across the board, by 2035.

The 2.0 burger is at Hopdoddy at the time of this write-up. It has a smokier char, a less squishy mess of juices — it has give and texture and flavor — and a pink blade running through the center when asked for “medium rare.”

Impossible Foods tells us that customers who try the new recipe, the 2.0, prefer it “by more than twice” as much as the original 1.0 recipe. Are they better than veggie burgers? Yes. They’re better than some veggie burgers, and less time-consuming for the chef. They’re definitely a light speed bump better than MorningStar. Beyond Burgers, another plant-based option, also chars nicely and has a smoky, burger-like richness. It’s available at Target, Whole Foods and Tom Thumb.

More importantly, are Impossible patties better than beef burgers? No. Of course they’re not. It’s like spotting the difference between practical effects and CGI in the Star Wars prequels: The mind just knows. Despite these plant-based companies' mission to replace animal tech — in both name and practice — it really can’t be compared to beef other than visually. It’s not a burger replacement; it’s just a new sandwich.

Americans eat 10 billion burgers annually. What if we relieved some of the stress on the pipes? If we lean less on beef every day, the planet can afford to continue to build better the real stuff: the best beef cheeseburgers — made from cows treated humanely — with cheese and all the fixings.
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Nick Rallo
Contact: Nick Rallo