If 2019 was the year of the Impossible Burger and 2020 is the year of Impossible Pork, then 2021 might be the year of the Impossible Woolly Mammoth. This week on the Vergecast podcast, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown mentioned his company’s plans to make up new meats. That is, not only to replicate existing meats (like beef and pork) with plant-based protein, but to create new kinds of “meat” we’ve never tasted before.
Brown made the interesting point that we eat the animals we do—beef, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, the occasional bison when we’ve been playing too much Oregon Trail—not because they’re the tastiest meats, but because we could domesticate them. At some point, humans realized domesticating animals was way easier and more reliable than hunting them, so we got our spices together and made chicken taste good. It’s a compelling idea, if not exactly evidence-based, that other kinds of animals are secretly way more delicious than our standard meats. Per Brown, Impossible Foods’ mission is to replace the meat industry altogether: “A sale to us has value from a mission standpoint, only if it comes at the expense of the sale of an animal-derived product.” So perhaps drawing in new customers with a new meat could do just that.
This begs the question, though: is made-up meat meat? The Impossible Whopper is burger-like enough that I understand its appeal as a meat substitute, and it could possibly replace a burger purchase. But if Impossible “beef” is a photocopy of a photograph, then Impossible “mammoth” is a photocopy of a crude drawing of a photograph. (To clarify: Brown never said anything about mammoth meat; I’m just using this as an example.) Impossible Mammoth isn’t even fake meat, because we’ll never know what mammoth actually tasted like. Thus, Impossible Mammoth is a plant-based protein patty with vaguely meat-like texture that does not resemble any identifiable meat. It ain’t meat.