Impossible Or Evil Burger?

Daniel Humm has a three Michelin Star restaurant in Manhattan called Eleven Madison Park. It’s kind of a big deal restaurant, and diners pay dearly for the privilege of eating there. Dinner for two can easily cost $500. More if you get wine. Humm announced that when he reopens, it will be meatless, fishless, animalless food. He will forego the ingredients upon which his fame and fortune were established in favor of veggies, and he needs to let his future patrons know why.

It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community. A restaurant experience is about more than what’s on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet.

There’s nothing wrong with a veggie restaurant, and nothing wrong with people who prefer to eat veggies rather than meat. To each his own. Whether diners will pay $500 for meatless entrees has yet to be seen, and whether his new menu merits the three stars he earned serving foie gras has yet to be determined. But his risky shift isn’t a matter of mere preference for vegan cuisine, but an attempt to “redefine luxury” and turn dinner into a “higher purpose” rather than an excellent meal.

In other words, good people don’t eat meat.

At the lower end of the food chain, this has become a culture war battle, invoking political fringiness and even the First Amendment.

I want to be clear that meat has been a “culture war” issue for a while. The meat industry relentlessly associates the consumption of animal flesh with masculinity and patriotism. But today more people are recognizing the catastrophic environmental consequences of meat and these folks tend to care about the climate crisis, which means they’re disproportionately progressive, which means people like Hotline Josh pick up on meat’s culture war valence because it falls along traditional partisan lines and becomes woke-adjacent Fox News fodder.

Do people eat meat out of masculinity and patriotism or because they prefer, enjoy, desire meat? No doubt there are some who see red meat as a manly thing to eat, but are all, even most, Dems vegans? If you look in their fridge, will you find a burger? And if you do, what will that burger be made of?

Nowadays, many summer cookouts may feature veggie burgers and vegan hot dogs along with the more traditional meaty offerings. But a new law in Mississippi threatens to destroy the market for these meat alternatives by making it illegal for vegetarian and vegan food manufacturers to use the name of any meat or meat product in their labeling.

That’s right: Mississippi wants to stop businesses from calling a meatless patty a veggie burger.

Is this a First Amendment problem, a definitional problem or a likeihood of confusion problem? It’s one thing to call a plant-based product meat, defined as the flesh of an animal used for food. If it’s made from alfalfa, it ain’t meat. But then, does that mean it can’t be a burger, a patty made of ground food material?

So we have reached a curious place: Republicans want to turbocharge meat as a culture war issue at the same time that they seek to gag companies from exercising their First Amendment rights to say “plant-based meat.” Insert joke about cancel culture here.

This isn’t wrong, as much as it’s disingenuous. Progressives want to “turbocharge” eradicating meat for the sake of the environment and ridicule meat’s defenders as right wing nuts, as if those Dems, and, dare I say it, progressives who want meat don’t exist. And the cancel culture jab is gratuitous nonsense. Is there a First Amendment right to say “plant-based meat”?

As commercial speech, excepted from full free speech protection, it isn’t quite as simplistic as presented. No, there is no right to mislead consumers as to the nature of a product. Then again, is anybody being misled by a product called the “Impossible burger”?

Although pitched as a consumer protection measure, nobody who buys Upton’s Naturals products thinks they’re buying meat. Instead, they seek out these products because they want to enjoy a tasty burger without compromising their health goals or ethical values by eating meat.

The real reason for Mississippi’s law is obvious: Meat producers and the cattle lobby are feeling the pinch of competition as consumers seek out alternatives to beef and pork, and they want to insulate themselves from their competitors. But the government has no business keeping consumers in the dark—or prohibiting the use of terms that consumers actually understand—in order to protect special interests from honest competition.

This argument, too, is both correct and disingenuous. For now, plant-based burgers (note that I don’t call them “meat,” but burgers) are pretty clearly not made of meat. That’s true now, largely because it’s a core component of marketing the product. They are selling to a particular cohort of buyer who wants to “enjoy a tasty burger without compromising their health goals or ethical values by eating meat.”

But if there are no limits, will that be true in the future? Will the veggie part slide off the front of the package, only to be found in the small print on the back should people figure out that these burgers are, indeed, impossible and can’t mange to compete with the real deal?

As for “meat producers and the cattle lobby,” why wouldn’t they fight to protect their brand, their product? This is how they make their living, how they survive. Is that not a reasonable thing to do? Why would they not be concerned about another product poaching their turf?

But the really disingenuous aspect to this argument is that if Team Veggie was sincere about its product, why not come up with its own unique language for it rather than desperately seeking to free-ride off Team Meat? What’s wrong with veggie patties rather than Impossible Burgers™? Why hide what they are at all if what they are is healthy, ethical and delish?

And yes, this is happening with milk as well. There are no teats on an almond, so why not call it “almond juice” rather than milk? Orange growers never tried to call their beverage “orange milk” and have done pretty well with it.

The reason Humm’s big announcement that his restaurant is going meatless made a culture war splash isn’t that there’s any problem with his decision, which will either work or Eleven Madison Park will go the way of Bouley, but because of the “redefine luxury” contention, turning meat into the food of evil, heartless, climate-destroying Republicans. It’s not about whether you prefer veggies for health or ethics, but whether only bad people (and cute progressive doggies) eat meat.

48 thoughts on “Impossible Or Evil Burger?

  1. DaveL

    It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community.

    So luxury is… work?

    Reply
  2. Guitardave

    Nothing like being the living proof that displays the fact that ones brain won’t function correctly without a certain amount of clean saturated animal fat and protein.

    Malfunctioning brains also appear to be blind to their own hypocrisy. They most certianly still crave meat, or they wouldn’t go through all the culinary contortions in trying to turn putrid pea soup into something that looks smells and tastes like meat.

    But let em’ have at it because, more steaks for me.

    Reply
  3. Rxc

    It is ironic that it was the progressive movement that pushed hardest for clear, complete labeling laws, and their health activists push the meme of eating natural, minimally processed food, prepared at home. But when it comes to veggie burgers, they want to play games with the words on the packages, and obfuscate all the unnatural ingredients that are mixed into these burgers in the factories where they are manufactured by machines.

    Transform every aspect of our lives, By Any Means Necessary.

    Reply
  4. Raccoon Strait

    There are a few cities in Germany that will probably be devastated by this trend, from Wikipedia:

    “The term hamburger originally derives from Hamburg,[2] Germany’s second-largest city. Hamburger in German is the demonym of Hamburg, similar to frankfurter and wiener, names for other meat-based foods and demonyms of the cities of Frankfurt and Vienna (in German Wien) respectively.”

    Then again, Beantown (a.k.a. Boston) may throw a party.

    But it really comes down to seductive, seductive power. For those who do not possess other weapons, words become ammunition (power of the pen and all that). An ammunition that is readily available with little cost (at least until more words and a bit of sanity emerge). And properly (not necessarily rationally) wielded, as powerful as any army or bomb or gun. The goal, more power! And then still more.

    Reply
  5. MIKE GUENTHER

    Eat a cow…save a vegan’s meal!

    You can pry that juicy rib eye out of my cold, dead hand.

    You know how someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

    Reply
    1. alanlaird

      If god meant for us to be vegetarians he wouldn’t have made animals out of meat.

      Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

      Reply
  6. Hunting Guy

    Vegetarian. A Native American word that translates as “poor hunter.”

    Yeah, yeah. An old joke but maybe appropriate for this post.

    Reply
  7. Jeff

    On the one hand, claiming only animal products can be classed as meat is a little false, witness ‘coconut meat’.

    That said, conflating everything one doesn’t like as evil and representative of ‘the other side’ is bullshit. I went through four years of this during the Trump presidency; apparently wanting to be accurate and clear with the facts made me a Trump supporter.

    I have a medical condition which prevents absorption of iron through any means other than red meat. It would appear that I can either be Republican, or dead.

    How woke.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Does coconut meat materially change the definition of “meat” or is it an exception that contributes nothing to the issue at hand?

      Reply
      1. Jeff

        Oh it’s a red herring, its purpose to obfuscate and confuse.

        Or, it’s an example of the common parlance, an exception that can be used to push back against a monopolization of the term.

        Pick your poison. I’ve no steak in this.

        Reply
        1. David

          No, Jeff. There is an FDA definition of meat, and your nonsensical “common parlance” bullshit contributes nothing and is just pointless crap thrown in because you feel compelled to be an asshole. You’re an asshole.

          Reply
          1. SHG Post author

            It was pointless and unhelpful, but Jeff is usually a decent commenter, so he gets a pass on being a bit of an asshole this time.

            Reply
        2. Miles

          And then there’s the “meat of the issue,” which doesn’t involve food at all. What about that? That’s meat too, so the fact that the primary definition of meat, as well as the legal definition of meat, is animal flesh means nothing.

          HAH!!! I am intelligent!!!

          Reply
          1. Guitardave

            Yeah!…I think I’ll go kill me an issue tonite.
            Grill it up real nice, with a side of word salad.

            Reply
      2. Charles

        You sound like the kid who says, “But tomatoes are a fruit.”

        Botanically-speaking, they’re a fruit. Fine. But when you’re talking about cooking, they’re a culinary vegetable.

        So, yes, the edible part of a nut is the “meat.” But this post is about food categories, not food structures.

        P.S. Sorry for piling on. Didn’t see the other comments before I hit “submit”.

        Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Only my cultural advisers Howl and GD have youtube authorization here (except under TT rules). But I’ll give you this one.

      Reply
      1. Guitardave

        I thought it might be funny…but cows weighed in kilograms?
        From a guy with a fake southern drawl…
        I can’t even!

        Reply
    1. Morgan O.

      Forget meat is murder. I’m sad (but not surprised) that neither GD nor Howl saw the opportunity to share “Carrot Juice is Murder” by the Arrogant Worms.

      Reply
      1. Guitardave

        Thanks for your vote of confidence. (not)
        …but you are correct, the “meat is murder”song is as unlikely as me consuming a fake burger.
        Sometimes I wish Scott would ease up a little on the vid posting rule. I got turned on to some good stuff from some of the other posters…like your choice here. Excellent and hilarious…Thanks, M.O.

        Reply
        1. SHG Post author

          You remember what happened before I shut it down. Bear in mind, this is still a law blog, even if that wouldn’t be obvious from most of the comments.

          Reply
          1. Guitardave

            Ay-ay, Admiral.
            I was going to mention that you’ve been more frequent in letting others post stuff lately….but I didn’t want to say something that may cause you to clamp back down….oh, crap..

            Reply
  8. ron

    “But the really disingenuous aspect to this argument is that if Team Veggie was sincere about its product, why not come up with its own unique language for it rather than desperately seeking to free-ride off Team Meat? What’s wrong with veggie patties rather than Impossible Burgers™? Why hide what they are at all if what they are is healthy, ethical and delish?”

    Because they are specifically emulating the biochemistry of meat to produce the meaty tastes without the animal flesh. That’s the entire point. It’s not just a name slapped onto normal vegetables pressed into a patty shape. Impossible burgers use engineered and compounded leghemoglobin molecules from soy that are homologous to the hemoglobin in animal blood which gives it its meaty taste. It works partially because its like soy’s version of oxygen-carrying blood. It’s not all that far from animal blood in terms of physiology and chemistry.

    Like pleather, fake fur, etc, it’s an attempt at innovation on an existing natural thing that tries to mimic the benefits of that thing (in this case our hardwired taste for meat) without as many of the downsides. Not everything is an insincere virtue-signaling scheme.

    If the concern were truly some confusing false advertising in the future surely its makes more sense to mandate some “not real meat” label on the front as opposed to banning something from referencing what it was designed to imitate on its own packaging.

    Reply

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