To Impossible … and Beyond!
As a health coach, I’m often asked to weigh in (hahaha) on what is the best way to eat: Keto? Paleo? Vegetarian? Vegan? High carb? Low carb? Zero carb? High fat? High protein?
Spoiler alert: there is no answer at the bottom of this post.
The annoying answer is that because we are all bio-individual, the best way for you to eat is the way that makes you feel the best—not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well.
As with many questions that are posed as a black and white choice, there is actually a huge gray area in between: it’s a spectrum, not just the two extremes.
Dr. Bernie Siegel, who speaks passionately about treating cancer with not just medicine and surgery but also love and humor, once joked that the most miserable people in heaven are the vegetarians—they gave up a lot of pleasure in this world only to land in the same place as those who ate meat while alive. Somehow, they really expected to be more exalted….
It’s refreshing to hear some humor injected into what has become a battleground among the privileged—because really, endlessly debating the question of what to eat is what my kids would call a #firstworldproblem: some people on our planet don’t have anything to eat, much less a choice.
But for now, as the Pirate King would say, “We waive that point. We do not press it. We look over it.” (Kudos to you if you know that line.)
fast food vegan
There is a growing amount of evidence that being “plant-based” can increase your chances of not just living longer but living without many of the chronic diseases that plague a nation stuffing itself on the Standard American Diet (yes, SAD is a convenient acronym, for sure).
And yet, as I tell my clients, it’s easy to be a junk food vegan, or, thanks to the creators of Impossible and Beyond meat alternatives, a fast food vegan.
Just as the highly-processed food giants jumped into the gluten-free market, companies (large and small) are scrambling to grab the largest market share of the rapidly growing plant-based market, and our old SAD friends, the fast food giants, are offering plant-based burgers alongside the tired old beef burgers.
a different lens
I find that most people look at being plant-based through one of three lenses: health, animal rights, environment.
All of these are valid, and each one is an excellent reason for moving toward the plant end of the spectrum.
And I’d like to introduce one more: economic (and ethical).
I do recognize that some people just don’t like the taste or texture of animal protein—and I think they are in the minority, so I’m not going to look at that issue. I’ve tried both Impossible and Beyond, and while they do a fair job of imitating the texture of a beef burger, the flavor is definitely not there (which might be considered a plus by this population).
So let’s take a closer look at Impossible and Beyond. (Full disclosure: the food for thought below is completely based on my own opinion—I welcome your comments if you want to have a conversation—and not if you want to spew vitriol.)
While I don’t dictate to my clients what they should and shouldn’t be eating, I try to instill in them a few principles:
- Constantly moving toward the least processed end of the food spectrum: apples, not apple-flavored candy.
- Recognizable ingredients: if you were to make the food from scratch, would every ingredient be readily available to you in your grocery store/pantry?
- Nutrient density: does the food contain a lot of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) in addition to macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates)?
How do Impossible and Beyond stack up?
- On the processed spectrum: highly processed.
- Ingredients: I don’t have pea protein in my kitchen although a lot of people might these days, pea protein being the new “it” powder in smoothies and the like. I also don’t have cellulose in my pantry although if you take Metamucil, you do. I’m also not wild about the fact that canola oil is involved.
- Nutrient density: you can Google Impossible and Beyond “meats” and find lots of articles that compare them to each other and to the animal protein they are trying to replace. (Prepare to be surprised—if you’re watching your sodium, they aren’t the best choice.)What I haven’t found is much information on vitamins and minerals—presumably, the alternatives are plant-based and should have more, but given that they’re highly processed, even those are diminished.
I personally would give them a C for health.
This is a tricky question.
I’m always curious about where animal rights-based vegans draw the line: some define animals as any living creature with a face and/or a mother. I wonder, isn’t it rather presumptuous to impose human-centric definitions of “face” and “mother” onto the animal world, especially if you’re trying to make a point that it’s wrong to raise, kill, and eat other species?
The bad news is that living creatures will die to bring you plant-based foods—fields are full of rabbits, mice, insects, and other collateral damage of harvesting. It’s a hidden cost for sure … and we do need to eat.
The good news is that yes, these meat alternatives probably cost a lot fewer lives in the making than a beef burger. I give them a B.
It’s been pretty well documented that conventional animal husbandry is wreaking havoc on Mother Earth.
And again, we find ourselves on a spectrum: if we choose to eat meat, the more environmentally sound choice is to purchase it directly from small, independent farmers who understand that Nature is a miraculous system of interdependent creatures and plants. The less environmentally sound choice is to buy meat from “big food.”
Aha! So at least here, meat alternatives must get an A?
Well, there is the question of processing. Making those plant-based ingredients into beef-simulating patties and crumbles takes a lot of energy, and while I fully admit I haven’t researched this issue, I’m guessing that the factories making them are not running on renewable energy sources.
So until someone tells me otherwise, another B.
If you’ve followed me for a few years (and thank you to those of you who have put up with my ramblings for this long), you know that I’m a proponent of SOLE food—you can find all the links to a series on that topic in the final post about it.
Once my clients are eating closer to the whole foods side of the spectrum, I sometimes introduce the idea of up-leveling by working toward a SOLE food diet—foods that are seasonal, organic, local, and ethical.
Most have heard about the first three ideas, and very few have ever considered the last.
Admittedly, we could go over to the woo side and talk about food energetics, and since I do that in the SOLE food series, I will skip it here in the interest of brevity.
I will simply say that the moment I saw fast food chains jump on the Impossible/Beyond wagon, I crossed these alternatives off my list. Most of the chains (fast food and casual dining alike) have little to no interest in buying quality ingredients from ethical sources, nor do they have a good track record of treating their employees with respect, so no, thank you.
That these alternatives would work with fast food chains can be viewed two ways: they’re bringing change to the big food system or they’re in it to make fast money.
Personally, they get a D from me.
I’m giving the two alternatives a final grade of C+. Would I eat one of these burgers if it were served to me? Yes. Would I go out looking for a restaurant that serves them or buy them in the store? No.
I think I’ll take some brown rice and mung beans and beets and apples (ooo! and perhaps some of Raisha Love’s magic sauce) and make myself a lovely Buddha Bowl—hold the potato starch and psyllium husk, please. I’ll think of it as a deconstructed burger—très chic in some parts of the culinary world….
make the connection
If you know more about the Impossible and Beyond alternatives in light of the four topics above, I’d love to hear what you know. And drop a line about where you fall on the plant-based spectrum and what you take into consideration when choosing plant-based foods?