Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Not Sure I Want What’s Beyond Meat

I’m pretty worried about the environment. Ticks don’t die over the winter anymore. I haven’t been off of Allegra in eighteen months because allergens don’t ever take a break. Weather is more extreme, more weird.

I’ve been looking for ways to do my part. The family switched to cloth napkins. I’m cleaning the house with baking soda, vinegar, and Dawn dish detergent. We’re trying to buy less single-use plastic. I even went “no-poo” for at least partly environmental reasons.

Every measure seems to have a litany of unintended consequences, not the least of which is the feeling that it doesn’t make any difference. Even if I could succeed at zero waste, aren’t I just prioritizing the elimination of garbage over the preservation of clean water? It’s pretty easy to turn in climate change anxiety circles.

A Beyond Meat burger fixed up with American cheese,
ketchup, and pickles.
Even so, I was intrigued this spring by Beyond Meat. It’s made of peas. Since I don’t do well with soy, I figured I’d never succeed with any plant-based burger alternative. But here was this miracle “meat” at my very own local grocery store with rave reviews filling my Google news feed.

I bought a two-pack of burgers and a bag of “meat crumbles” just before Beyond Meat’s IPO. The crumbles were already marked down with a little sticker indicating the product had been discontinued. I’d have bought more than one pack at $1.37, but there was only one bag left. The burgers set me back $5.99.

Both products were already frozen. I popped the burgers into the freezer at home and used the “meat” crumbles in a lasagna that very night.

The lasagna was not good. It was edible, but both the texture and the taste of the “meat” was nothing like the real thing. It had a foul aftertaste and put a note of chemical or maybe mold into the dish.

The experience made me less than excited to try the burgers.

Memorial Day weekend is made for burgers. Even in experiencing our own isolated lazy weekend we could smell grilled meat wafting by from neighborhood cookouts. A look in our own freezer revealed one frozen Angus patty and those two Beyond Meat burgers.

My husband grilled them. He manages all of the cooking on our propane grill since I fight for women’s equality while simultaneously fearing death by backyard grill explosion. I stayed inside and peeled potatoes, doing an admirable job of timing batches of fries in the Fry Daddy to be ready when the burgers were done.

Tim brought in the Angus patty first. We’d decided that my un-foodventurous daughter should have the “normal” burger just in case.

“I think you’d better come look at these,” he said.
“Is it going that well?”
“Are they done? They’re sort of gelatinous.”
“Maybe they’re taking longer because they were frozen.”

The Beyond Meat burger patty was at odds with our propane grill.
The grilling experience was nothing like preparing a slab of Angus.

We decided they had to be done. They looked on the verge of burning into hockey pucks. Are they even flammable? It was then that the smell hit us. Burning rubber with a note of industrial chemical, not the delightful odor our neighbor’s cookout was producing.

Here the patties demonstrate how they don't retain enough heat to
melt the cheese.
“Well,” I said. “That smell has done in my appetite. If we can’t eat it I don’t think I’ll need anything else for dinner.”
“Try yours first and let me know if it’s edible,” my husband said.

My hero.

The first bite wasn’t bad at all. It felt like ground meat in my mouth and what does beef even taste like? Nothing really. I forged ahead. Tim bit into his burger.

“Not inedible,” he proclaimed.

He finished his burger, but as I approached the three-quarter mark of my own I began to taste that smell.

That smell does not taste good.

My progress slowed and suddenly I could hear all the times I’d told my finicky daughter to “just eat it like it’s medicine.” But I couldn’t get it down. It might be the medicine to save all of humanity, but I couldn’t finish it.

This is a picture my daughter insisted should never have been taken.
Contemplating Beyond Meat
(Not how I look when I'm enjoying my dinner.)

There’s some debate amid the glowing Beyond Meat reviews that hyper commercialized super processed almost meat is a detour down the wrong road. I thought about that a lot in the days between eating a crummy lasagna and struggling to get the taste of burnt tire out of my mouth. We’re trained from a young age as Americans to be good consumers. Not that we vote with our dollars for particularly good causes but that we perform an almost patriotic duty by shopping as much as possible. And now that eco-friendly movements are entering the local supermarket in the form of these new-age veggie burgers we can do our duty to God and country and feel like we’re eating Angus while playing at being Vegan.

If only it were so simple.

In the end, my experience with Beyond Meat was a personal call to consider how often I really need beef. Local beef raised on the farm down the road must be better overall than a processed, overpackaged patty.

We've had actual burgers that came from cows about once a week since Memorial Day. My daughter, even after being spared a personal Beyond Meat experience, won't eat them anymore. She is now totally disgusted by hamburgers. So perhaps Beyond Meat has done something to help the planet, it's causing us to grill at least one beef patty less.

**Note: I did a lot of Google searching to determine what went wrong with these patties. As far as I can tell, we followed the package instructions, you're supposed to be able to freeze the patties, and these things just aren't going to work for us.***