Um ... Burger King?! From an underground, only-local-loving gourmand?!
In many ways, the dining landscape is a lot more challenging to navigate these days, both for diners and restaurants alike. Food allergies, intentional food choices and even politics play out on our forks and our plates. In many ways, we eat what we have time for and what can afford. Call it cuisine classism: Fast food is for working folks while organic, plant-based provisions are reserved for the privileged. Throw in some larger planetary concerns like climate change, the virtue-signalling (real or imagined) of very specific diets and even a cost-benefit analysis of the industrial meat industry, and it seems that sitting down to a meal among individuals with disparate stances can feel fraught—even daunting. As an omnivore, I don't have strong personal feelings either for or against eating meat, but as a person who exists in the world with other people who won't always agree, I believe that being considerate, and giving people options they are comfortable with is a commendable middle ground to seek out.
So why Burger King? Why fast food? Two reasons: The first time I tried an Impossible burger I was utterly convinced they'd gotten my order wrong! Secondly, without wading too far into the politics of climate change, it's a question not of stance but rather of game theory for me. Forget who is right. The better question is what happens if we're wrong? The answer—if you don't believe in climate change and that position ends up being wrong—is destroying the only world we have. That, among other things, has me looking for ways to reduce my personal carbon footprint.
So kudos to Burger King for pulling off what feels like a significant step in a now-shifting paradigm. Because while there are Impossible burgers to be had at breweries and restaurants city-wide, cost can obviously be a barrier to entry. Most folks don't want to gamble on a $12 non-burger when what they're hungry for is a burger. But starting at $5.49, just a touch north of the regular Whopper (as tested, $6.69 with cheese and green chile), its low-cost territory to try out the theory. And it's impact is scalable. Both had me convinced that it was worth some focused scrutiny.
So first up was a double-blind, side-by-side taste test. I had to know. I had to see if, indeed, they got my order wrong that first time. The set-up was pretty simple: Buy an Impossible Whopper and an original Whopper with identical toppings, ordered at the same time from the same spot. Then cut both in half, switch with your partner—keeping track of which of their sandwiches is which. Now both of you try each sandwich, with your eyes closed and a quick palate cleanse between, to note differences—and see if you can identify which ’wich is which. Repeat bites, with eyes open now, with comparative analysis in mind again.
The results? Both test subjects were correctly able to distinguish the Impossible Whopper from the regular Whopper, though both felt that it could truly only be done by tasting each side by side. If you had one, then had the other days later, you'd be hard-pressed to zero in on the differences. Both felt the regular Whopper had a texture—maybe even the slightest bit of gristle—as the main difference, along with a subtle preservative-type umami note. The Impossible Whopper, while a pretty darn spot-on approximation of the leaded version, is obviously made up of more things, adding a touch more interest to track in the overall bite. It also "eats" just the smallest touch "lighter" as a sandwich, despite the Impossible Whopper looking and grilling darker and possibly even remaining thicker. I encourage everyone to try the test themselves because (and I'm as surprised as anyone to say this) I prefer the Impossible Whopper to the regular one.
As an additional test on consistency, I tried Impossible Whoppers from a few different locations, dining in and driving-through. As is typical of the fast-food experience, there was no real difference in the food—with locations delivering the product their giant corporate conglomerate demands—though of course there are human differences in staff. As Joe Pesci’s character in Lethal Weapon 2 is often quoted regarding drive-thrus, "You'll be miles away before you find out" they didn't give you your damn onion rings. Again, as a person who exists in the world with other people, I can't get too worked up over that. We know what we're getting when we choose to eat fast food, and it's typically the ease and the cost that justify the decision. It does bear mentioning that, as far as fresh toppings like tomatoes and onions go, Burger King does them as well as anyone in fast food.
In a larger sense, there are probably folks you love who strictly adhere to plant-based diets. If that's true, then Burger King is offering—in the most unobtrusive way possible—an opportunity to join them. Maybe we don't have to give up meat entirely, but giving it up around loved ones who don't eat meat feels like something worth trying. And how often does doing something good have the potential to impact business practices when it comes to the meat industry and possibly the environment as well? Should Burger King's venture into the plant-based prove profitable, how many more fast food corporate boardrooms will be forced to finally take a serious look at plant-based alternate options as viable menu items—even if solely to compete for those dollars? And how many, when pressed, might deliver items that taste as good or better than what they built their worldwide business on? For those reasons, I see supporting these terrifically tasty replacements, as a win-win—one that might trigger an industry-wide ripple effect. So much so, in fact, I'm willing to risk my underground gourmand credentials on it. So go forth, all ye hungry and curious ... go forth and eat it forward.