Leave it to a bunch of smart young Silicon Valley food-tech pros to come up with a deliciously hot, innovative product aimed directly at addressing climate change. At Redwood City–based Impossible Foods, where the researchers are developing plant-based meat and dairy products, one “mission impossible” is to find a road forward on mitigating the high carbon footprint of beef in a culture where people love that meaty, juicy grilled patty-on-a-bun and lots of it. How about a really tasty burger that removes the cow from the equation?
Yes, yes… hippies started slapping veggie burgers on the grill way back in the middle of the last century, but how many of those items ever looked like beef, tasted like beef, or, heaven forbid, bled like the real thing? Molecular gastronomy has shown us that you can make anything look and taste like anything, but most of that food is served in gourmet pleasure palaces at high sticker prices. The Impossible Burger, which is made from wheat, coconut oil, potatoes, and heme (a fermented plant product that yields meat-like characteristics), is aimed squarely at your everyday pub or burger joint. The Public House at AT&T Park and KronnerBurger on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland already have it on their menus, but if you want to eat it at a place where they’ll set it down on a white tablecloth, try acclaimed San Francisco restaurants Jardinière and Cockscomb or Chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in NYC. But things are only getting started with this morphing of the classic American treat, and Oakland is key to the expansion.
“We are currently close to max capacity in our pilot plant, which is a super small facility in Redwood City, so you won’t see a huge expansion push until after the Oakland plant is up and running,” says Impossible Foods CCO Rachel Konrad regarding the goal of producing a million pounds of meat-like product (or four million quarter-pound Impossible Burgers) per month within a year. “We anticipate the first burgers from Oakland this summer, with a deliberately slow ramp up to ensure quality.”
Company literature states that the new plant in East Oakland will create 80 new jobs, presumably aimed at applicants from the local community, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf certainly is happy about that, as she indicated in March at a dedication ceremony for the site.
“As a city with a long and rich manufacturing tradition and a proud history of leading social, environmental, and economic justice movements, I’m thrilled to welcome a leading-edge company like Impossible Foods to Oakland,” said Schaaf. “Their new facility will add to the fabric of Oakland’s industrial corridor in East Oakland, bringing job opportunities for our residents and greater sustainability and innovation to our local and global food systems.”
Plus, it’s great to see investor seed money from the likes of Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures, UBS, and Viking Global Investors—many of whom started backing Impossible Foods at their start early this decade—getting funneled through to benefit Oakland.
The growing contingent of East Bay foodies fighting climate change will likely hop on board with this burger, but someday soon, even red meat lovers at backyard picnics may be happily cramming their mouths full of plant material that looks, tastes, and feels like good old-fashioned cow burger. ♦
—Cheryl Angelina Koehler
Cheryl Angelina Koehler is the editor and publisher of Edible East Bay and author of Touring the Sierra Nevada, published by University of Nevada Press.