Burger King is introducing a plant-based version of its famous Whopper sandwich. It’s the latest fast food company to take a gamble on meat alternatives, a trend that could have significant benefits for the global environment.
The new Whopper will be made with an Impossible Burger patty, which food engineers at Impossible Foods created out of soybean roots to closely resemble beef.
The fast food chain announced the decision on April Fool’s Day to underline how much the new burger is a break from tradition. The company also released a commercial in which incredulous meat enthusiasts express disbelief that the Whopper contains no meat.
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Burger King is initially rolling out the Impossible Burger in 59 restaurants in and around St. Louis to see how it fares on the menu. It’s unclear when or if the company will expand the new offering to other stores.
Either way, Burger King’s decision signals the shifting zeitgeist of the food industry as more people become aware of the environmental and ethical consequences of meat consumption. Other giants in the meat industry, including Tyson Foods, have begun to invest in meat alternatives.
In recent years, countless studies have linked meat production to catastrophic environmental harms. Meat production releases enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, drives deforestation, and depletes water sources.
One study found that Americans need to consume 90% less meat and 60% less milk in order to ensure the planet can sustainably feed the growing population. Although the meat and dairy industry takes up 83% of global farmland, they only provide 18% of all calories. If this farmland was handed over to the production of crops such as beans and legumes, then more people could be fed in an environmentally regenerative manner.
Another study found that going vegan is the single best way to help the planet. The United Nations has found that climate change is causing more people to go hungry, which makes it all the more urgent to adapt food production systems to be less environmentally impactful.
Burger King has no plans to take its original beef burgers off the menu, but introducing a plant-based alternative is a step in an environmentally friendly direction.