I haven’t eaten a burger—and I’m talking a real burger—in almost twenty years. It sounds crazy, even to me. I used to love them—my dad made a killer burger, and there’s just nothing like the smell of ground beef on the grill. I stopped eating meat in high school, and while you might catch me lingering next to a barbeque with my eyes closed, I don’t regret it. In fact, I feel loads better and don’t have to feel guilty about participating in one of the most disgusting and arguably unethical industries humans have ever come up with. But sometimes, veggie substitutes for meat foods are lacking, or even straight-up nasty. I think it’s a mistake to try and make something vegetarian taste like the real thing. I’ll happily eat marbled strips of soy, but if you tell me they’re soy bacon, or “fake-on,” then I have a whole different expectation. Hence the problem with veggie burgers: they don’t taste like real burgers. Sure, when you drown them in mustard, ketchup, onions, etc, you can trick yourself into forgetting what is all too evident. I’ve had some damn tasty veggie burgers in my day, but the best ones were inventive—lentils, quinoa, and walnuts, or some combination of things you’d never find on a real burger. It’s best not to beg the comparison. But I may soon be eating my words—a Stanford biochemist claims to have made a totally convincing veggie burger with “plant blood.”
In addition to being a scientist—and in addition to being one of the folks responsible for the PLOS (Public Library of Science) journal—Patrick Brown has been vegetarian for over 30 years, and has been vegan for 7. A couple years ago at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, he called animal farming “the biggest environmental catastrophe.” He’s not wrong. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN, livestock—or more accurately, their methane emissions (read: farts)—comprises 37% of human-caused methane and 65% of human-caused nitrous oxide. These two gases contribute to the greenhouse effect far more than carbon dioxide does, and, overall, these emissions amount to more than those generated by cars and airplanes combined.