Every once in awhile, a dumb food science story comes along that’s so compelling basically everyone has to cover it. Soylent! Superfoods! Whether or not wine is good for you (I think it is right now but don’t quote me).
This summer, that story has been The Impossible Burger, a wheat-based fake meat product from a Silicon Valley company called Impossible Foods that’s trying to disrupt meat. In the Wall Street Journal, its founder called cows “an inefficient technology,” which sounds funny until you remember that cows have four stomachs and fart pollution that’s killing the planet.
The thing about the Impossible Burger is that it’s not just like some dumb veggie burger for assholes. No! It’s a veggie burger for people who like meat! It “replicates the taste, texture and smell of beef without harming a single cow,” as Engadget wrote, through some kind of weird science/magic. A bunch of photos even show that it’s pink in the middle, which idk how that happens and it makes me feel rumbly in my tumbly but in a bad way. Why meat eaters would want to eat a burger that isn’t meat isn’t entirely clear.
Anyway, making a delicious veggie burger is a great goal! Being a vegetarian is great, and it’s something I kept up for about 7 years until I went to Germany and thought I should try sausages. Everyone supposedly loves this thing!
Only one restaurant in America has the Impossible Burger on the menu: David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi. Since it’s right here in the city (on that weird stretch of 8th Avenue in the 20s you’d only visit for The Gap or The UCB Theater), some of us from Brooklyn—Natalie Rinn, Jane Bruce, and Chris Chafin—went to see just how this super fake meat is.
Chris: So, right at the top I’ll say that while I’m a lapsed vegetarian, beef is the one thing I have not started eating and have no plans to eat. Steaks have grossed me out basically my entire life, and while I did love a good hamburger for a long time, I haven’t really been able to eat them since coming back onto meat. Except for that one time I accidentally ate one at a Burger King in a casino. Maybe I am destroying my credibility!
[Natalie and Jane entered the restaurant, and found Chris bored out of his wits.]
Chris: I’d just like it on the record that I got there 15 minutes before both of you, and I very patiently waited for you, like a saint, because I am a good person. I only texted you once!
Natalie: Well, Chris, we tried to Gchat you and let you know we’d be late, but you were so insanely early that you’d already left.
Chris: I’m highly punctual! YOU’RE WELCOME. So, on the menu they say you’re getting an Impossible Burger “Nishi Style,” and none of us knew what that meant.
Natalie: We asked our server, and he explained how they could call it whatever they wanted because they are the only ones doing it. It means nothing.
Chris: Basically, it’s their version of a Big Mac. He even called its ingredients “lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce” which I think is how that old Big Mac commercial went.
When it comes, it looks like a child’s drawing of a hamburger. It sounds gross to say “when it comes” but you know what I mean. Don’t be coarse.
Natalie: It’s also presented like that, with the peach placemat underlayer, and the fries—it’s all very cartoony.
Chris: I mean, I’m on board with that. It had a little flag on top!
Natalie: Very fucking Instagrammable. That was the first thing we all did!
Jane: Not me, you children.
Chris: I mean, I was doing it for journalism. But that’s just me, I’m focused on work. So, but on to the actual food. The fries were weirdly unsatisfying.
Natalie: They were bad.They were like how, in Japan, they make a lot of Western foods, pastries and stuff, that look perfect but taste very Wrong.
Chris: I do like going to Chinese bakeries in the city where they package loaves of bread like they’re cakes. It’s very endearing, and I picture the bakers being mildly confused about bread like even as they are making perfect loaves of bread.
Natalie: Fun to look at, but unsatisfying.
Chris: The fries were like someone saw a picture of fries and thought, ‘yeah, I can reproduce those,’ without ever having eaten them. The actual burger was . . . odd. It was an odd experience. Like enjoyable? But also insubstantial.
Jane: It doesn’t taste like anything. If you pull the patty out? It has no taste.
Natalie: Just texture?
Chris: Its main taste is: crispy.
I’m just looking at the AMAZING pictures Jane took, and, honestly, they make the burger look a lot better than it tasted. It’s very photogenic!
Natalie: Whoa, the burger does look significantly tastier than it really tasted
Jane: I’m very talented
Chris: YOU ARE. It’s like our word pictures and your picture-pictures are in a fight. Even in the little chalkboard drawing on the wall, they make it look like it’s two inches thick, which it definitely is not.
Natalie: And it’s not like we had defect burgers, because they were all equally thin. Here’s the question: is there a reason you would seek out this burger?
Jane: I will never, ever come here again.
Chris: If I was at a show at the UCB, and I had half an hour to kill, and I felt like I could spend $12 on a small sandwich, then yes.
Jane: One time I saw Scott Adsit at UCB.
Chris: This brings back fond memories of me Googling Scott Adsit and almost making you both listen to stories about ‘when I was at UCB.’
Natalie: Ok, anyway, knuckle heads—honestly, when would you feel like you could spend $12 on a slight burger?
Chris: Maybe if I found a $20 on the ground?
Natalie: Yeah, but then I’d just get four beers.
Chris: And the thing is, a $12 sandwich in New York City is a big category where you can get a lot of amazing stuff. I would take the Zucchini Parm Hero from No. 7 Subs over this any day. Plus it’s table service, so you’re not really getting out of here for just $12.
Jane: This is not a sandwich, it’s a fucking sideshow.