Even if you’re not a practicing vegan or vegetarian, chances are you’re aware of the boom in meat-free burger patties that, unlike veggie or black bean burgers, are engineered to look, taste, and feel just like real meat. They’re pink, they bleed; they simulate the experience of being a carnivore for people who have ostensibly chosen a herbivorous existence. And suddenly, these fake meat products are everywhere, from grocery stores to trendy NYC restaurants like The Butcher’s Daughter and Mission Chinese, and even in fast food joints where beef has long reigned supreme. They’re having an impact on the economy, too. Since Beyond Meat, purveyor of the Beyond Burger, went public in early May, shares in the company are up more than 700 percent since it announced its IPO.
As investors clamor to get a piece of the Beyond Meat pie, its primary competitor, Impossible Foods, is struggling to keep up with the demand for its products, which are sold at major chains like White Castle and Burger King. Beyond Meat has already offered to step in and fulfill any orders Impossible can’t fill from restaurants — which means the faux-burger turf wars are officially on. But beyond the hype and buzz, how many people are actually making 21st century meat substitute a staple of their diet?
While vegans and vegetarians are, for obvious reasons, a primary target audience for the products, some don’t seem to like them. It’s understandable — while many in the veg community forgo meat for ethical or health-related reasons, plenty of people just don’t care for the taste of it. So why would they want something that mimics that?
“They are too processed, have a weird chemical taste, and the texture freaks me out!” says Kate Mey, a vegan we connected with through a veganism Facebook group, of Beyond Burgers. “Each time I have a terrible stomachache and the taste of oil in my mouth for a day or so. Hard pass. I'll stick to my bean and grain patties,” agrees fellow vegan Laurie Burk.
(It’s also worth noting that PETA claims that Impossible Burgers are not technically vegan, as they are reportedly tested on animals. No such claims exist about Beyond Burgers.)
But plenty of other non-meat-eaters say they love the patties. “I am so glad that someone is making options for burgers that isn't a black bean or tasteless soybean patty,” says Jocelyn Steward. “As a vegan of two years, the Beyond Burger has given me sanity,” agrees Maile Waite. “Though I try to eat mostly whole foods, there are days where I just need a juicy burger! Beyond Meat has given me the opportunity to continue saving animals' lives, and the environment, while still enjoying the convenience of fast food.”
“My first time having the burger was at TGIFriday’s. Amazing,” adds Curl Ardee, a professional chef and food blogger. “Decided to try and prepare it home after going to Whole Foods and was able to cook it perfectly. Such a great alternative and way less mess than preparing a normal burger. Loved it and will definitely use it again.”
Despite the animal testing controversy, some people say they prefer the taste of Impossible Burgers to those made by Beyond Meats, which some have criticized for their “grainy” texture and “weird” flavor.
“I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years and HATE the Beyond Burger,” says Susan Roth. “I tried it when it first came out and actually really liked it for about a month but then I began to hate it. I can’t exactly say why except that the flavor is just weird. I do love its competitor the Impossible Burger which to me tastes more like meat. I am okay with the Beyond Crumbles which I fry up and throw in chili, spaghetti, etc. and love the Beyond Sausage.”
Would-be fans also point out that Beyond and Impossible Burgers aren’t actually all that much healthier than non-meat alternatives, even though they are presented as such. As vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets are becoming more popular, there’s a growing perception that meat-free equals healthy, and that’s just not always true.
“Just because something is plant-based doesn't mean it's healthier,” notes Sarah Ryan, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “In fact, if you compare the Beyond Burger with an 85% lean beef burger, the calories, protein, and fat are comparable. As a dietitian, I suggest picking a food you'll truly enjoy more. Some people forget that most of the beef case in the grocery store is lean and a healthy burger is definitely attainable, and sometimes more enjoyable, when choosing beef.”
“I definitely think it’s a better alternative to so many out there. As with anything processed, I go to a rating scale: good, better, best! This would definitely fit into the ‘better’ category. While being processed, it doesn’t contain any soy or gluten which gives it a thumbs up,” tempers Jayne Williams, a health and nutrition coach. “It does contain some ‘shelf stabilizers’ which in my opinion aren’t the absolute healthiest."
Whether or not women are eating Beyond Burgers, they’re happily investing in them. “I personally bought stock in beyond meat and glad I did,” says Amy Smolenski, who says there’s no way her husband would have agreed to go vegan without meat substitutes. “I’d rather him be a junk food vegan than not vegan at all.”
And if Impossible Foods should want to go public, they’ll have a ready investor in Sydney Masters, who says: “Beyond Burger doesn't hold a candle to Impossible Foods — unfortunately it is a private company or I'd invest! I'm a fan and even my husband, who is a meat eater, loves it too.”