Commentary: Veggie burger vs. dog food

Which one is more ‘savory," which one offers ‘the most complete nutrition" and which one has ‘the taste and flavor your loved one [pet or person"] will enjoy the most? You be the judge.

Lately, there has been plenty of publicity swirling around the various techno-projects aimed at creating the ultimate pseudo-burger: A meat-like faux hamburger patty made with some concoction of plant proteins, synthetic nutrients and functional ingredients designed to simulate the natural flavor, mouthfeel and nutritional value of ground beef.

The latest example of the online hosannas which, let's make it clear, are all about creating wealth, not creating veggie entrees involves a company called Impossible Foods. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company, the brainchild of Patrick Brown, a Stanford University professor, is following in the footsteps of several other entrepreneurial start-ups in developing a non-meat meat patty. Here's what the Wall Street Journal Business online website began its profile:

"In a small conference room a giddy Mr. Brown is prodding me to poke what looks like a raw, bloody beef patty, proud to show off his company's creation to the press for the first time. The burger . . . is made entirely of plant matter. In the Impossible Foods lab, amino acids, fats, and nutrients are all carefully culled from plants, hand-picked for their contributions to texture, color and most importantly, flavor. Even the blood of cows, the key to unlocking meat's flavor, is recreated through the addition of heme, an important molecule in hemoglobin and found in certain plants."

Sounds pretty high-tech, pretty cutting-edge, right?

In fact, Prof. Brown has dubbed his creation (fake) burger "version 4.0." Get it? A burger that's right up there with the latest iPhone, phablet or other techno-toy created by the geniuses in Silicon Valley.

Brown told the WSJ reporter that he's "still tinkering with the flavor, though he believes it's close to consumer ready." Although the taste testers agreed that his faux burger "doesn't quite hit the mark," with a texture that's "slightly lighter, perhaps even fluffier, than a typical burger," eventually Brown said he won't be limited to making beef-like burgers. Why be restricted to only making the best "cow-burger," he suggested. Why not something even better than cow?

"There are limits to what a cow can be a cow can only be a cow," he said. "We can make anything."

Hubris aside, Brown is insistent that his Impossible Burger and his Impossible Cheeseburger made with fake, plant-based cheese is more than merely a stepsister substitute for the real deal. Here's an excerpt from the company's website (

"Impossible Foods is developing a new generation of meats and cheeses made entirely from plants. Our mission is to give people the great taste and nutritional benefits of foods that come from animals without the negative health and environmental impact.

"We looked at animal products at the molecular level, then selected specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the wonderfully complex experience of meats and dairy products. For thousands of years we've relied on animals as our technology to transform plants into meat, milk, and eggs. Impossible Foods has found a better way.

Brown told the Wall Street Journal that he founded Impossible Foods because "He knew that people would never give up the foods they love until new choices were even more delicious and satisfying." That's why his team of more than 50 scientists, chefs, farmers and engineers are "driven to make the best meats and cheeses you'll ever eat from plants."

Pups vs. patties

Okay, here's my question: Which is more "scientific," more "nutritionally superior," more "mouthwateringly appealing?" Impossible Foods" pseudo-burger which is a formulated combination of essential nutrients plus serious culinary appeal or high-end brands of dog food, also scientifically formulated for optimal nutrition and maximum flavor appeal?

We've heard from Prof. Brown. Now let's review the marketing language of several best-selling brands of dog food:

  • "Made with a delicious chicken-and-brown rice recipe specially formulated with the enhanced joint health of glucosamine, chondroitin, GLM (?) and sea cucumber."
  • "A special formula that starts with deboned chicken, plenty of whole grains and fresh vegetables."
  • "A savory mixture of high-quality ingredients, offering 100% complete and balanced nutrition with a textured blend with real chicken, beef or lamb."
  • "Contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for wholesome nutrition, a delicious and nutritious meal boasting a wholesome blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants delivering balanced nutrition."

Regarding that last one, did I mention that it's wholesome and nutritious?

Honestly, is there a huge difference between the positioning of these fake burgers and dog food?

In scanning the Impossible Foods" website, the tone and feel is impossibly upbeat, considering that Brown's pseudo-burger currently costs about at $20 a patty to make.

But as a review of the firm's "bloody plant burger" on the news aggregator website noted, "[Brown's] three-year-old venture has $75 million in venture capital at its back from the likes of Bill Gates."

That kind of walkin" around money tends to put a smile on person's face, a bounce in their step and a song in their heart.

If not the bite in their burger.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.