If there’s one thing we know for sure, it is that our mainstream, mass-scale meat industry is bad for the planet. Huge swaths of land filled with cattle are not only taking up crucial space for agriculture, but our favourite animal to eat, the cow, namely beef when it’s on the shelf, is a huge emitter of CO2.
In response to the global call to reshape our meat-eating habits, the last few years have seen major players crop up in the alternative meat industry, and the biggest among them are competitors Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Yes, they both have very similar names, which can sometimes make things just a tad confusing. They were both founded in California, US, around the same time, with Impossible Foods founded in 2011 by Patrick O. Brown, and Beyond Meat founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown (no, the two founders are not related).
Now both the gigantic, heavily venture capital-funded and pumped companies are making a lot of noise around the world, but we’re here to clarify exactly what their story is all about, what their products have inside them, if they really are better for us and the environment, and what we should expect over the coming years from the booming alternative meat industry.
The ultimate question that everyone is asking at the moment is which company has the best meat products, and probably because we all love burgers so much, the Impossible Burger vs the Beyond Burger is all the hype.
While it’s impossible to answer that question, as it’s largely a matter of taste, there is some information about what each company stands for, what ingredients it uses and how it produces its alternative meat that can help you decide whether you are an Impossible Burger devotee or a Beyond Burger fan.
Looking online, it seems that most search queries are about which alternative meat, and burger, is healthier for you. So we decided to break it all down in the chart below and take a little deep dive into each of the meat’s ingredients.
As Impossible Foods state on their website, “Impossible Burger is made from proteins, flavours, fats, and binders, like almost every burger you’ve eaten in your life. The key difference? Our ingredients are derived from plants.”
The protein in Impossible Foods’ alternative meat products is made largely from soy and potatoes. The flavouring is made from Heme (also called haem), which is the molecule that makes meat taste the way it tastes and gives it that distinct flavour and smell. In order to make the meat as deliciously fatty and oily as meat often is, Impossible Foods use oils from coconut and sunflower. And finally, in order to bind the ingredients together in that juicy consistency that is nor too dense or fluffy, Impossible Foods use Methylcellulose and food starch.
Want the full ingredients list? You got it.
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamins and Minerals (Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12).
You bet it is. One of the missions of the founder of Impossible Foods is to create a world of alternative meat products that are second to none to real meat. Understanding full well that meat lovers will never compromise on their meat quality and experience, Patrick O. Brown engineered the perfect vegan, totally meat-free alternative meat.
Beyond Meat writes on its website, “Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat. We source these building blocks directly from plants, to create delicious, mouthwatering plant-based meat.”
Very much in the same light as Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat also uses similar components to create its alternative meat products: protein, flavouring, and fat, but unlike its competitor, Beyond Meat also includes carbohydrates and minerals to the mix.
For its protein, Beyond Meat uses a mixture of peas, mung beans, fava beans and brown rice. Its fat components are made out of cocoa butter, coconut oil, sunflower oil and canola oil. In order to recreate both the taste and also the nutritional value of meat, Beyond Meat adds minerals, including calcium, iron, salt and potassium chloride. Completely free from GMOs, the meat product’s flavouring comes from beetroot juice extract, apple extract and what it calls “natural flavours.”
To hold all of the ingredients together in a meat-like texture, Beyond Meat uses potato starch and Methylcellulose, which is a plant fibre derivative.
As a US-based and born company, North America is the current stronghold market of Impossible Foods. The company’s meat products, and specifically the Impossible Burger are sold across the US at food chains and restaurants, including Applebees, Red Robin, The Cheesecake Factory and Burger King.
Impossible Foods products are also sold throughout supermarkets and local food shops. While it did take a few years for the company to roll out across grocery shops, as of September 2019, it can be found at Gelson’s, a southern California grocery chain, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and Wegmans.
Unlike its competitor, Impossible Foods has not yet rolled out in Europe as it currently awaits approvals from the EU’s food safety authority to market its soy leghemoglobin (the Heme flavouring ingredient it uniquely manufactured), which is the iron-containing molecule made using genetic engineering yeast.
Beyond Meat is easily accessible today, with its raw alternative meat products, including mince mix, sausages and burgers selling on the shelves of supermarkets across Europe, the US and Asia. You can also find Beyond Meat at many restaurants and fast-food chains, including Wendy’s in the US, and Honest Burgers in the UK.
Giving it a massive competitive advantage over Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat is already selling its alternative meat products in Europe and has, on 10 June, announced it will be expanding its production to Europe amid a massive meat shortage due to COVID-19, with a Dutch plant due to be opened toward the end of 2020.
As Beyond Meat does not use any genetically modified ingredients but creates its flavours from the minerals and flavourings, it has beaten its competitor to the European market.
“Don’t waste cucumber skin and seeds—turn them into a cooling summer drink”.
“How to make the most of ripe tomatoes”.
“Is it safe to eat mouldy jam? Theresa May thinks so”.
These are just some of the titles of the many food waste articles that have recently been flooding the media (with some interesting articles, and others less so). In the U.K., brands and people have all been pledging to reduce their food waste. Even the Victoria and Albert Museum has an exhibition about food and our relationship to it called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate.
So why all the fuss? Because not only is food waste morally unethical, but also our food consumption habits must undergo huge transformations in order to stop the planet from crumbling down or burning up. To lift the mood on that heavy but urgent topic, I wanted to have a more careful look at what’s happening around food waste, who are the people actually changing the game, and what’s next technology-wise.
The first step toward a world where food waste is not an issue is changing our attitude and approach to it. This concept is not recent (during wartime wasting food was out of the question), but today, the urgency surrounding that matter is added on top. We’re not going to transform the problem of the huge quantity of food wasted only by drinking beer made from surplus bread or by learning how to properly peel off the trickiest aliments. But what these ideas are about is exactly what needs to become common thinking: approaching food with a different mentality and being aware of how much food we waste for no justifiable reason at all.
In London, the Brixton Pound Cafe is doing just that and more. This pay-what-you-can surplus food cafe is a radical space with radical ideas where anyone can enjoy veggie and vegan food. Screen Shot talked to environmentalist and the cafe’s chef Sean Roy Parker about food waste and why making surplus food look sexy is the way to go. “The issue is that food waste is shrouded in secrecy because supermarkets’ habits are criminal, why would they want you to know how much food they throw away every day?” Parker notes, adding that “By turning surplus food into affordable meals, we are solving two problems simultaneously: reducing food waste and tackling income inequality. The bonus is that the food is fantastically healthy and tasty”. This attitude is one that local communities should adopt concerning food waste, because every little helps (even Tesco’s ‘reduced’ items).
But what about the rest of the U.K.? The rest of the world? Too Good To Go is an app operating in twelve countries, with its main goal being to save some food—food that is ‘too good to go’. The app allows you to see what food you can pick up in your vicinity before it gets thrown away at the end of the day from restaurants and food shops. This way, you can support your local businesses while contributing to a better environment. Simultaneously, the businesses get to reduce their waste and get potential new customers to try out their food. Still feeling sceptical? Too Good To Go’s website states that since 2016, the company saved over 746,760 meals in the U.K. alone.
Talking to Screen Shot about Too Good To Go’s early days, marketing manager Anoushka Grover said, “When we first started, the concept of food waste wasn’t really understood. Once you show people the consequences of their actions, everyone is a lot quicker to take a stand and make a change. Conscious consumerism has been on the rise for a number of years, but we’ve definitely seen it snowballing over the last few years”. So what’s next for Too Good To Go? “We have set some goals for 2020 which include inspiring 50 million people to take action against food waste, partnering with 75,000 food businesses, impacting legislation in 5 countries and supporting 500 schools in educating about food waste, ultimately saving 100 million meals from landfill”, Anoushka told us.
The last element that could make a big change in this food waste cycle is technology. We frequently use it to solve other problems, so why not try implementing it here as well? IKEA is attempting to cut food waste in its kitchens (think about all those meatballs) with an AI bin designed to recognise and monitor what gets thrown away. This ‘intelligent’ bin was made by U.K. technology startup Winnow Vision and uses a camera and smart scales to keep track of what types of food end up in the rubbish bin. Winnow estimates that it has saved almost $30 million worth of food so far.
Awareness of food waste is definitely there and on the rise, but the global response it has received so far is inadequate considering the size of the problem. We need to understand that food waste is not only happening on our tables, it’s also happening with farms and food companies, meaning that all the resources that went into making your food go to waste as well.
There is currently a lack of data and research that are needed in order to accurately estimate the full social, economic, and environmental benefits of food waste reduction. That said, let us be mindful of the bigger picture and make a change—whether it’s by scraping off mould on your jam like Theresa, contributing to the Brixton Pound Cafe, or using apps like Too Good To Go.
This article is a result of our Screen Shot workshop held at the V&A on Friday 28 June during the FOOD: Bigger than the Plate exhibition. In this participatory installation and therapy session, participants gave us the ingredients for the perfect food waste article.