I recently came across a video about the Impossible burger and the Beyond burger. As so often happens with vegetarian propaganda it starts out with reasonable things that are probably true before it gets into really weird, obviously dishonest things.
The documentary begins with looking at how the burgers are made. I really liked the one with the presentation of only 6 bowls of ingredients, and one of them is water! Of course, one of them is potato protein, one of them is soybean protein, one of them is plant-based heme, and one of them is cellulose-based binder. Just for fun, here’s how Wikipedia describes how plant-based heme is made:
Impossible Foods, producers of plant-based meat substitute, use an accelerated heme synthesis process involving soybean root leghemoglobin and yeast, adding the resulting heme to items such as meatless (vegan) Impossible burger patties. The DNA for leghemoglobin production was extracted from the soybean root nodules and expressed in yeast cells to overproduce heme for use in the meatless burgers. This process claims to create a meaty flavor in the resulting products.
In terms of the reasonable things that are probably true, I believe that the fake-meat burgers do actually taste and feel like ground beef, once cooked. That’s impressive, but I’ve heard it from enough sources that it seems plausible. They are massively engineered foods and modern engineering methods can accomplish a lot, especially when it comes to color, texture, and taste.
The video does, of course, then go downhill rapidly when it gets to why on earth you would want to eat such a thing. (Note: if one is vegetarian for religious reasons, including some monastic traditions for a vegetarian diet as a penitential exercise, this is unrelated to the video and my criticisms of that video.)
They start with some mention of how this is healthier for you, as for example it has no cholesterol in it. This doesn’t actually make the food healthier as it turns out that (1) cholesterol isn’t bad for you and (2) dietary cholesterol has, outside of rare exceptions, no effect on serum cholesterol. (There are various kinds of lipoproteins found in the blood which use cholesterol as one component in them, so for historical reasons blood panels which measure lipoprotein content of the blood are sometimes called “cholesterol” though they in fact are not.) The idea that cholesterol is bad for you is junk science from 70 years ago.
Later on, when they get to impact on the planet, it goes downhill rapidly. For example, they claim that it’s inefficient to feed plants to animals then eat the animals because we could just eat the plants. If we fed cows avocados, coconuts, peanuts, beans, etc. this would be true. We don’t. Better meat comes from cows raised on fields where they eat grass, worse meat comes from cows fed grain not fit for human consumption. (There’s often a hybrid where cows are raised on grasslands then “grain finished” because grains promote more intramuscular fat making the meat more tender.) Human beings can’t live on grass. As an acquaintance of mine who was a vet student put it: a cow is an extremely efficient way to turn grass into food.
Later on, they do a comparison of water usage. They present twenty hamburger patties and say that the equivalent water can produce far more loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter. None of this is cited, of course, so they could just be making it up. Moreover, water consumption is, within reason, unimportant in much of the country. It’s a weird metric to use when it’s very important in New Mexico and meaningless in New York.
Worse, though, it’s very little beyond red flags. They include:
- No one except those on low-carb diets eat just burger patties, and peanut butter sandwiches are not low-carb so not comparable. Presumably, if they included buns, lettuce, tomato, cheese, etc. the comparison would not be nearly so favorable.
- They don’t specify whether the water for 20 burgers is for the entire cow or just that fraction of the cow that the burgers would come from. Also no mention of leather, bone meal, etc. that you also get from the cow.
- Why on earth are they talking about peanut butter sandwiches rather than the fake meat burgers that the video is actually about? This shift in what they’re comparing to without extensive justification suggests they’re trying to pull something over on us. If I tell you that walking is better than driving then compare a diesel truck to riding a bicycle, you know something is up.
- If they can shift from a fake burger to peanut butter sandwiches, why not switch to chicken instead of burger patties? Chickens grow much faster than cows and almost certainly need far less water.
- Almost no one eats peanut butter sandwiches. Far more common is a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. The numbers for that wouldn’t be nearly as good, however, and also have more sugar and less protein. That they went for the unrealistic option that gives better numbers is a bad sign.
- If water consumption is so important, wild fish uses even less (fresh) water than peanuts do. Why isn’t the conclusion, “therefore ditch plants and land-animals and eat mainly wild-caught fish”?
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising how often vegetarian propaganda is dishonest. The vegetarian’s fundamental problem is that human beings are not herbivores, we merely can get by on a herbivorous diet (with enough supplementation). None of this is important if one is vegetarian for religious reasons, of course, especially if those reasons are penitential. It’s just trying to sell an impractical idea as being more practical that isn’t compatible with honesty.