By Chere Di Boscio
It’s been praised by the media of the next big food trend, and vegan magazines have even lauded the Impossible Burger and other forms of bio-engineered ‘meat’ as being a great vegan protein alternative.
But you know what? You couldn’t pay me to eat any of the new biotech foods, vegan or not. Here’s why.
What the heck is heme?
As a vegan, the biggest criticism I get about my diet is that it’s ‘not healthy’. For some, that may be true. Although plant based diets are generally healthier than carnivorous ones, I knew a strict vegan woman who was so obese from a steady intake of fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, candies, sodas, breads, cakes, chips, and vegan nachos, her doctor said she’d die from a heart attack by the age of 35 if she didn’t drastically change her diet.
Basically, vegan doesn’t always mean healthy – and biotech meats are just another form of vegan junk food that could potentially do some serious damage to your body.
The biggest potential harm could come from what’s called heme, a genetically modified protein used by Impossible Foods and others that imitates the beefy taste and bloody colour of real meat. The company has claimed that an independent panel of ‘food experts’ found heme to be safe, but since this is a relatively new compound, no one can say with any certainty what the long-term health effects of consuming it could be.
Think of it this way: aspartame was passed by the FDA as being GRAS (generally regarded as safe) when it first came out. It seemed fine at the time, but over the longer term, it was discovered that aspartame can actually cause myriad serious health issues, from liver damage and weight gain to brain tumours. But hey, there was a load of money to be made, and a dodgy multi-millionaire (Donald Rumsfeld) was partly responsible for green-lighting that crap.
No humans had ever eaten what’s in the “Impossible Burger” (GMO soy leghemoglobin, or SLH) before it came out. No long term safety tests of the stuff have been run by the FDA. Impossible Foods claims an independent panel of food experts has found its heme to be safe, yet at the time of writing, it hasn’t even submitted a GRAS application to the FDA, and even if it had, all GRAS means is that a substance is generally regarded as ‘safe’ because it hasn’t killed anyone. Yet.
Oh, and guess what? The safety tests for heme were done on animals. Rats, to be specific. How vegan is that? And that’s not all – the company has also been accused of putting dairy-based cheese into their Impossible Meatballs – and then lying about it. Seems this company doesn’t get what being ‘vegan’ means, at all.
Because heme hasn’t yet been proven to be 100% safe for human health, consumer and environmental groups have called for greater oversight and testing than the loose requirements currently requested by the federal government.
The key issue here is that any genetically engineered substance should be required to go through a long-term safety assessment, since there’s zero indication about how our bodies will react to these GMOs over time.
Beyond junk food
But heme isn’t the only concern.
Impossible Burgers also contain textured vegetable proteins, which are not great for your health. Not only are they often mostly made of GMO soy and cotton seeds, but they’re also part of the MSG family of excitotoxins that can destroy your brain cells. In some studies, MSG has been shown to cause health problems like hives, upset stomach muscle tightness and fatigue, and migraines. And, according to Food & Wine, the burgers also have more than twice the amount of saturated fat of an 85 percent lean beef burger and seven times as much sodium.
In short, the burgers are bad for you – possibly even worse for you than a meat burger.
With major investment pushing marketing and distribution, fast food joints like Burger King are now carrying Impossible Burgers – in fact, they’re spreading like wildfire throughout the States, and they’re being heavily promoted by vegan publications (hmm…gotta wonder who is funding those articles…?)
While some vegans praise this, saying it will make veganism more mainstream and save the lives of animals, what they are not taking into consideration is the fact that these burgers are likely so bad for human health, they’ll give veganism a bad name in the long run.
Another major issue I have with this is that if you eat an Impossible Burger at Burger King (or Taco Bell, or McDonald’s), you’re putting money in the pockets of one of the planet’s biggest polluters and slaughterers of cattle, vegan burger offerings or no – but I digress.
More reasons to just say no
It’s often said you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone, and it may be the case with fresh food. How sad would it be if future generations are only mainly fed heavily industrialised, processed ‘food’?
Our food is already way, way, over industrialised. Just about everything we eat and drink – from almond milk and ketchup to veggie burgers and bread – comes from one major corporation or another, which over-processes and packages a product that barely resembles actual food.
This was not the case at all even 50 years ago, when most people bought fresh produce to create all of these foods themselves – yep, that’s right: people made their own ketchup, cereals and breads!
The move away from natural food to processed garbage has resulted in loads of health issues, including obesity, diabetes and cancer. It’s also well known that processed food destroys gut bacteria, causes inflammation, and is low in nutrition, but we are so used to eating it, we barely even recognise it for the junk it is anymore. I mean, Ronald Reagan even suggested ketchup be included as a serving of vegetables in schools!
We need to get back to basics with what we eat, and we need to recognise that biotech food is industrialised food on steroids. And all the arguments for pushing more biotech foods on the public are, frankly, ridiculous.
No good reasons
For example, despite what the corporations tell you, biotech food will not solve any food crises. Any shortages of food we experience on this planet are much more likely due to monoculture production that depletes soil, poor governmental policies regarding distribution and subsidies, and skewed consumer expectations that demand all-year seasonality instead of eating local, seasonal produce.
Secondly, vegans argue biotech meat like the Impossible Burger will tip more people over the side to veganism when they see that vegan burgers are just as tasty as meat ones. That may be true, but surely there are healthier, more holistic alternatives to the Impossible Burger? I mean, vegan burgers have been around since the 70’s, and frankly, a decently made black bean, quinoa or lentil burger is not only simpler and less processed, but it’s just as tasty as anything you’d find on a bun.
Finally, it has been argued that biotech meats will ‘save animal lives’ in the long run. That also may be true (if the main consumer of the product is non-vegans, rather than vegans that wouldn’t eat meat burgers anyway) – but it could well needlessly come at the cost of human health. Are there not hundreds – if not, thousands – of ways to prepare amazing vegan burgers without having to bioengineer genetically modified organisms to make them?
In short, taking control of food production away from people and putting it in the hands of corporations has rarely, if ever, benefited human health or the planet. To be healthy, humans need food that’s as natural as possible, and the Impossible Burger is about as far from nature as you can get.
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