Impossible Burger On More Menus, But American Beef Industry Is Not Budging

Posted: Feb 11, 2019

“The meat industry has been successful at convincing the government to help it continue to sell its products to consumers,” one expert said.

Located on a bustling corner in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, Saxon and Parole serves a meat-heavy menu with bone marrow served two ways and four different cuts of steak. But the restaurant also serves something called the Impossible Burger.

It's a lab-made patty containing wheat and potato proteins, coconut oil, and heme, a soy-derived protein that is the key to the burger's meaty appearance and flavor. The latest version of the Impossible Burger, released at the Consumer Electronics Showcase in January, has won good reviews from foodies, who say it tastes surprisingly meaty.

Executive Chef Brad Farmerie was eager to take on the challenge of making a meatless dish indistinguishable among its beefy cousins, and was one of the first five chefs Impossible Foods chose to test out the burger in 2017.

“They chose chefs who were known for cooking meat,” Farmerie said. “Because as they say, it’s not something that they are trying to get vegetarians hooked on.”

Impossible Foods created the burger to get the 92 percent of the population that regularly eats meat to try meat alternatives. But despite its initial popularity, the Impossible Burger seems unlikely to make a dent in the demand for beef burgers.

Lab-grown meat may save a lot more than farm animals’ lives
Americans love their beef, and there is no sign of a slowdown in consumption. In 2017, Americans consumed 12,011 tons of beef, an 8 percent increase from the 11,046 tons consumed in 1990.

The bond with beef is preserved by a huge industry marketing machine and fully supported by politicians at all levels. The federal government directly encourages Americans to consume large amounts of beef through a system called the "beef checkoff program," supervised by the Agriculture Department. And this year, lawmakers in Nebraska will consider legislation restricting the label of "meat" to only animal products, making it a crime to label plant-based foods as meat.

Missouri passed such a law in August, and Wyoming, Tennessee and Virginia are considering similar regulations. Such laws would stymie alternative meat companies' plans to start labeling their products as "clean meat."

Roger Horowitz, historian and author of “Putting Meat on the American Table,” believes the American traditions around eating beef go deeper than hot dogs at Fourth of July events. Easy access to beef was appealing to many early immigrants.

“Having that access to meat equally across economic ladders is a part of democracy in America,” Horowitz said. “Critics of the food system need to think about inequality very much and the way inequality maps onto food choices.”

Today, the American beef tradition has allowed for the beef industry to become exceptionally popular and profitable, making $95 billion a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Its place in American culture can even be summed up in one well-known phrase: “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.”

The slogan was the brainchild of a marketing campaign funded by the Beef Marketing Board back in 1992. Recently, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association revamped this old campaign in an effort to use nostalgia to attract millennials who grew up watching that marketing campaign on TV.

The campaign is just one example of how hard the beef industry works to encourage the American beef tradition. In 2018, the meat industry spent $6.52 million total in lobbying campaigns (amounts calculated by combining Livestock and Meat Processing and Products contributions from OpenSecrets). The National Cattlemen's Beef Association contributed the most with $678,100.

In his book “Meatonomics,” David Simon attempts to show how the money from the beef lobbying campaigns affects the federal government.

By Olivia Roos 
February 10, 2019

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