The Impossible Burger: Good For The Environment, But Not Tastebuds

Two mini burgers with caramelized onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce and Impossible Burger patties. Fries are place on the side, in front of the burgers.
The Impossible Burger, a plant based patty that attempts to emulate the taste and texture of meat, was recently served at Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall. (Mabel Lui • The Student Life)

The Impossible Burger aims to give consumers exactly that — the impossible. Made entirely from plants, the burger patty attempts to emulate the taste and texture of meat, while reducing the use of Earth’s dwindling natural resources.

When Claremont McKenna College’s Sustainability Fund and Collins Dining Hall collaborated to serve this Impossible Burger to students on March 29, I knew I couldn’t miss an opportunity to try “the plant-based burger that bleeds.”

Sam Becker CM ’19 and Alex Brussell CM ’19 spearheaded the event.

After watching the documentary “Racing Extinction,” Brussell became aware of “the effects that raising cattle for beef production have on climate change and ecosystem destruction,” he said.

His interest in Impossible Foods and food technology prompted him to apply for funding to host the event from the Sustainability Fund, which was created by Becker and the Environmental Affairs Committee to provide grants to support student sustainability initiatives.

It turned out that Collins was already serving the Impossible Burger, just not in burger form.

“It was mostly served as ground beef, or they would make a curry dish with it or something like that,” Brussell said.

That’s where the Sustainability Fund came in.

“The Impossible Burger, as it stands right now, is a little bit more than two times as expensive as cheap ground beef,” Brussell said. “So in order to have an event as big as the one we had, we needed to subsidize Bon Appetit on behalf of Collins to buy [the burger].”

The line for the burger was long — it circled several tables in the main seating area of Collins — but that didn’t faze me or my roommates, who are vegetarian and pescatarian.

I enjoyed the style in which the burger bar was presented, as everyone could pick their own toppings. I had my mini burgers with mushroom, onions, lettuce, and tomato, along with a side of fries.

Visually, there was no difference between the Impossible Burger and a regular beef patty. Like regular meat, it was red-brown and nicely charred on both sides.

Taste-wise, however, I am sad to report that the Impossible Burger was impossible for me to fully enjoy.

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t revolutionary. The well-done patty did not taste like meat, though I’m sure some people might beg to differ.

While condiments and toppings helped disguise the Impossible Burger as real meat, the taste of wheat — one of the ingredients of the patty — gave it away for me.

The texture was similar to a traditional beef burger, but being exposed to heat for too long (given it was served in a college dining hall) created a crunchy surface on the patty that was unexpected and somewhat unwelcome.

Gabby Jacoby SC ’21, my pescetarian roommate, went to the event because “the Impossible Burger initiative sounds really cool to me, and what they’re doing obviously is good for the environment, and [that’s] part of the reason I became vegetarian/pescatarian.”

But ultimately, the burger didn’t meet Jacoby’s expectations either.

“To me, it just tasted a bit overcooked, and I find a lot of the times, not just with Impossible Burger, but with most veggie burgers, people will overcook them because they’re not sure how to cook them,” Jacoby said.

In reading other reviews as I dealt with my disappointment, I found out that other taste-testers preferred the burger when it was cooked medium rare as opposed to well-done, because cooking it for less time produced a more mineral and meaty flavor.

While the burger I ate didn’t impress me, there’s certainly a case to be made for the environmentally friendly substitute for meat.

According to its website, the Impossible Burger “uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.” 

These are commendable statistics, and I can only see the success and popularity of the Impossible Burger moving in an upward trajectory.

After all, the event was resoundingly popular. For that meal, 1,069 people ate at Collins, and on the same day last year, the dining hall only had about 450 people swipe in for dinner.

For Brussell, the main goal was to raise awareness, and “to let people know about some of the surprising statistics and the savings you get by eating the Impossible Burger over a traditional ground beef burger,” he said.

For Becker, the Impossible Burger event was also about presenting the notion of choice.

“A choice that doesn’t sacrifice the pleasure associated with meat consumption, but provides one with the peace of mind that they’re eating an ethical food and a food that is not contributing to significant climate change and other environmental issues,” Becker said.

My final verdict? I have to give props to the event organizers, who came up with an original idea that attracted meat-eaters and plant-based eaters alike.

The event was certainly successful in promoting sustainability, and I look forward to seeing more sustainable choices being made in our dining halls. (Did you know that Scripps College’s Malott Dining Hall serves the Beyond Meat burger?)

That being said, I found the burger itself to be underwhelming. I’d love to try it again, if cooked differently or to the equivalent of medium or medium rare. But if it’s going to be well-done, it’s a no from me.

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