The Impossible Meal

Founder of Pasture-Raised Meat Farm Tries Plant-Based Fast Food Burger and Reflects

Posted on Jan 30, 2020 by Jack McCann
Tags: Newsletter

I recently ordered a fast food meal. To most, this probably isn't a big deal, but to me, it was surreal. It had been well over a decade.

I literally didn't know how to order, I felt like a fool.

Here is the story of how I got to this point and what an impossible journey it was.

Like a lot of things in life, the intersection of two fairly minor things caused a major thing to occur:

I was asked to be part of the annual conference of the Sustainable Farmers Association in Minnesota on February 8th (come watch!). The topic of the panel is scheduled to be "Keeping Meat on the Menu" - specifically talking about the pros/cons of meat alternatives. This forced me to really think about the Impossible Burger that was gaining so much media attention.

Before I was a TC Farmer, my job was a consultant for heavy industry. I worked at power plants or refineries all over North America to help make them safer, more efficient and generally support the growth of our economy.

My last client before I semi-retired to start up TC Farm asked if I'd come back for a short project this winter. Since I'd get to basically live in California for a few months during a cold MN winter, I was all ears!

Here I am working at a Geothermal Power Plant before starting TC Farm

I decided that on my drive to California, I would stop at a Burger King and try the Impossible Whopper, a plant based burger being sold by the fast food chain.

Did it really taste like "meat"? Was it good?

First the good things:
It tasted fine. I doubt I would have noticed the difference from a regular Whopper. If you or someone you know is eating regular fast food burgers, I'd highly recommend eating the Impossible Whopper instead. In comparison to even the best hamburger you can find at pretty much any restaurant or grocery, the Impossible Whopper is going to be WAY better for the environment. Hands down.

For clarity, the conventionally grown and massively processed Impossible or Beyond Meat burgers are NOT good for the environment. It is just less 'bad'.

I still will agree with them that the vast majority of "local'"and "happy" beef is significantly worse. Most of that marketing you see at natural food stores? It is just greenwashing.

If those "local farms" don't publicly share their full standards, it is probably safe to assume that the modern veggie burgers are notably better for the environment - no matter how fancy the store is that sells it.

Now the not so good:

  1. It was really expensive. The 'value' meal was nearly $10 and since I really had no interest in a soda, I upgraded to a shake... so my lunch was over $12 (!)
  2. It HAD to be unhealthy - I mean, my "lunch" was a whopping (you see what I did there?) 1700 calories --- and it sure didn't seem like enough food to last me an entire day. All that ultra-processed food, just doesn't seem like something my body really needed.
  3. It still was terrible for the environment. Consider that well raised beef like ours actually combats climate change with NEGATIVE greenhouse gas emissions. This ultra processed food isn't even pretending that it is helping the environment, it is just "not as bad" as conventional meat we all should be avoiding anyhow.
  4. It didn't taste good. Honestly I was kind of surprised at this. I mean, there have been countless millions of dollars spent to get just the right texture and chemicals added to make this 'burger' taste good. At best it was food.

While I understand that TC Farm hamburger can be sometimes be inconsistent in flavor, I usually find myself happy to eat plain browned hamburger with a bit of salt and maybe some thyme. Even eating parts of the Impossible Whopper by itself to avoid all of the excessive bread felt really 'flat' to me.

The Bottom Line?

It was food.
I was hungry.
Thanks to the 1700 calories, I didn't have to eat for many hours on my drive. But that's about it.

I didn't feel nourished.
I didn't feel connected to nature.
I was simply full.

Walking by the cooling towers over a decade ago....

Comments (2)

  1. Emily:
    Jan 31, 2020 at 10:33 AM

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am confused after reading your post though. Are you saying that local, grass-fed beef is not better for the environment than a mass produced "veggie" burger? Or that a lot of products that you see at your local grocery store aren't as "good" as they seem because of marketing?

  2. Jack McCann:
    Jan 31, 2020 at 09:00 PM

    Thanks for asking!

    The short answer is: Marketing and Greenwashing

    The longer answer is that beef can be either the best option for the environment by sequestering so much carbon in the soil that it more than offsets the methane released OR it can be the worst option.

    This 'good for the earth' beef only happens if the soil is managed really well…. The beef has to be rotationally grazed (i.e moved to fresh grass on a frequent basis)… Just being ‘grass fed’ doesn’t mean good for environment or healthy.

    Sadly, few grass fed beef are raised like you read about in a Michael Pollen book… practically none of that is in a grocery store or co-ops.

    A lot of 'grass fed' beef is raised on feedlots just like the regular beef. It isn’t going to be better for the environment and I suspect there is an argument that is could even be worse.

    A few examples: There were several lawsuits or complaints alleging that Grass Run Farm was feeding distiller grains to their beef.

    A friend of mine toured a Whole Foods feedlot operation for their grass fed beef. According to him, they were feeding all kinds of stuff that isn't grass, but is allowed under the loose definition of 'Grass Fed'.

    One of the largest 'local' beef operations is frequently marketed as 'grass fed' in restaurants or grocery stores even though they are finished like regular conventional beef getting a normal ration of grains and their website clearly lays out that they feed the GMO corn byproducts from ethanol plants which will also be full of antibiotics or other chemicals from that process.

    In fact, a local co-op recently tagged this brand as #grass-fed in their marketing social media posts and their full page article about the beef was wildly misleading. It implied the beef was non-GM by saying the beef was fed non-GM silage. The article totally ignored the other GMO items and grains the beef is fed.

    It isn't clear if the marketing staff are misleading their members on purpose or if they are just not doing their job properly (all they had to do was ask a few questions or read the brand’s website)

    The beef that is ‘good’ for the environment is unlikely to be found at a national chain or even a fancy local co-op.

    Sadly, yes, from a purely environmental perspective, plant based alternatives are probably better than what you will regularly find in a grocery. Now… it doesn’t taste as good and probably isn’t as healthy, but from an environmental perspective… the science seems clear to me.

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