An Impossible response

| 18th June 2019
Impossible Burger
Impossible Foods responds to Vandana Shiva on the industrialisation of fake foods.

-

For decades, Vandana Shiva has been an outspoken activist against genetic engineering and the products that result from it, such as crops that could greatly reduce the incidence of blindness and help farmers feed their communities in an era of uncertainty due to climate change.

Impossible Foods is transparent about its use of genetic engineering, so we've grown accustomed to reflexive attacks from anti-genetic engineering absolutists. But this latest call for a boycott of the Impossible Burger is particularly illogical and ironic, given that its author seems to genuinely share Impossible Foods’ mission -- to make the world’s food systems sustainable.

Ms. Shiva, a long-time vegetarian, also seems to agree with Impossible Foods about how to save our withering natural ecosystems: we need to eliminate animal agriculture, the leading threat to our planet’s health and our own.

Different strategies

Environmentalists, including Ms. Shiva, have been begging people for decades to reduce or eliminate animal meat from their diets, replacing it with garbanzos, lentils and other plant-based foods. They’re fighting righteously for a noble cause. But using guilt and eat-like-me rhetoric to reduce consumption of animal meat is simply not working.

Despite increasing calls from activists for a more plant-based diet, worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades, according to Worldwatch Institute.

Global meat production is projected to double again by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. This is a global catastrophe, and it won’t be averted by extolling the virtues of tofu and dal.

Impossible Foods has a different strategy - one that has a shot at working. Instead of expecting people to give up meat, we accept that people will continue to crave it. And instead of vilifying meat and its consumers — a tried-and-failed strategy that divides communities without slowing the destructive impact of animal farming — we want to provide omnivores with a better choice: uncompromisingly delicious, nutritious, safe and affordable meat made from plants, with a vastly reduced impact on climate and biodiversity.

Instead of telling people what to eat, we offer them a better option and let them make their own choice.

Meat industry

The use of animals to produce meat is by far the most destructive technology on Earth today. The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocketship combined. Animal agriculture pollutes and consumes more water than any other industry.

The global meat, fish and dairy industry is overwhelmingly the primary driver of the ongoing meltdown in diverse wildlife populations and ecosystems on land and in oceans, rivers and lakes.

To avert ecological disaster, our most urgent priority must be to reduce or eliminate the use of animals as technology in the food system. That’s Impossible Foods’ mission -- and it’s one that we think Ms. Shiva and her fans wholeheartedly embrace, despite our tactical differences.

At the same time, we need to set the record straight about a couple things Ms. Shiva gets wrong about the Impossible Burger. Impossible Foods is working to satisfy the global demand for meat by producing meat for meat lovers, from plants, with a tiny fraction of the resource consumption and environmental impact of today's animal-derived meats.

We love vegetarians and vegans; compared to omnivores, their impact on climate and biodiversity is already tiny. Frankly, if everyone were eating virtuous tofu and dal in place of meat, Impossible Foods wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t need to exist.  

Climate change

The Impossible Burger is for omnivores, not vegetarians. More than 90 percent of Impossible Burger consumers regularly eat meat from animals. They are not choosing between an Impossible Burger and tofu; they’re choosing between meat made from plants and meat made from a cow. 

If you like tofu and dal and are happy to avoid meat from animals, by all means keep it up!  But if you love meat and intend to keep consuming it, then please try Impossible meat in your beef tacos, pork dumplings or meatballs.

Impossible’s plant-based meat has similar nutritional value to animal-derived meat - without the destructive impact on public health and the environment.

And if you care about avoiding catastrophic climate change and preserving biodiversity and healthy natural ecosystems, we should be allies, not enemies.

Preserving biodiversity

If you care about the impact of pesticides on wildlife and biodiversity, as we do, you will applaud the fact that the Impossible Burger has a pesticide footprint 8-fold lower than the same, conventional burger made from cows. The Impossible Burger also has a 25-fold lower land footprint, 8-fold lower water consumption, 12-fold lower water pollution and 9-fold lower GHG emissions than a burger from cows, based on a life-cycle analysis conducted by a respected, independent auditor.  

The overwhelming majority of the corn and soybeans in the United States and the world is fed to livestock to produce meat. It's precisely our appetite for meat that drives most of the mono-cropping and pesticide use that Ms. Shiva blames as the biggest threat to biodiversity. 

Since making meat from plants is vastly more efficient and less wasteful than feeding crops to cows, pigs and chickens and consuming their flesh, the success of Impossible Foods mission would actually greatly reduce demand for corn and soybeans and the pesticides and fertilizers that are used to promote their growth.

Aside from those corrections, we applaud Ms. Shiva for a career spent campaigning to get people to be more conscious about their food.  We understand what she’s trying to convey with her latest mantra, “Boycott the GMO Impossible Burger. Make tofu. Cook dal.” Two-thirds of it is spot-on. But if she were to take the time to understand Impossible Foods’ mission and the benefits to our planet, its climate and biodiversity every time a consumer chooses meat from Impossible instead of meat from an animal, she’d replace that mantra with: “Make tofu. Cook dal. And if you want meat, eat Impossible.”  

Like the Impossible Burger, tofu and dal are products of human ingenuity -- brilliant ways to transform ingredients from plants into delicious, nutrient-dense foods. The Impossible Burger isn’t a threat to tofu or dal; it’s a 21st century addition to the same plant-based cornucopia.

Tangible impact

Activism alone has not dented consumption of animal meat. By contrast, the Impossible Burger is already making a tangible impact. And by welcoming consumers instead of shaming them, we’re on track to accomplish our shared mission.

If you’d like a deeper understanding of Impossible Foods, read more in the What IF? blog, which answers all your questions about the extraordinary safety record of our key ingredient, our use of genetic engineering, and our mission to replace the use of animals as food technology.

After you digest all that info, we’re sure you’ll want to find the closest place to try a delicious, plant-based Impossible Burger.

This Author 

Rachel Konrad is chief communications officer at Impossible Foods.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here