Industries in Depth

If Americans swapped 50% of the beef they eat for vegan proteins, it could save a lot of land

A burger named President's burger is seen in the kitchen of Rondo restaurant in Melania Trump's hometown of Sevnica, Slovenia January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

The meat-to-vegan protein swap also saves water. Image: REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

Marissa Higgins
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Many of us eat meat, dairy, and eggs on a regular basis. Unfortunately, these dietary choices are not without harm to the environment. Luckily, you don't need to cut burgers and eggs from your diet entirely. Even just reducing the amount you eat makes a big difference when it comes to the planet's health. For example, a survey conducted by Impossible Foods recently found that if Americans swapped 50 percent of the beef they ate with vegan proteins, it would save about 72,000 square miles of land.

Image: FAO

In their 2018 sustainability report, titled "Mission: Earth," the vegan brand suggests that using vegan proteins would have a seriously positive impact on the environment. For example, they suggest that the beef swap would reduce our carbon footprint by up to 45 million metric tons. What does that look like? It's roughly the same as removing emissions from 11 million U.S. drivers in one year.

The meat-to-vegan protein swap also saves water. Impossible Foods estimates that it could save up to 3.2 trillion gallons of water. For perspective, this is the amount of water that is used by 90 million Americans each year.

Making the Impossible Burger requires less resources than raising traditional beef. The company notes that their vegan burger uses 75 percent less water, 95 percent less land, and creates 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases compared to beef.

The data is the the result of a partnership between Impossible Foods and researchers at the Technical University of Denmark. Quantis, a third-party life cycle analysis, then verified the data. The purpose of the research was to measure the environmental impact of their vegan burger, the Impossible Burger.

Image: Impossible Foods

That's also where a caveat in their research comes in. The data is specifically about people swapping animal-based meat for their specific vegan beef substitution. While one might assume the data would still be accurate when looking at non-Impossible Foods vegan proteins, the data doesn't actually investigate that claim.

“Until today, the only technology we’ve known that can turn plants into meat has been animals — but cows, pigs, chicken, and fish are terribly inefficient at turning plants into meat. We now know how to make meat better — by making it directly from plants,” said Impossible Foods founder and CEO Pat Brown.

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Without a doubt, however, Impossible Foods is doing a ton to change the public perception of meat-free proteins. Unlike the stereotypical dry or plain black bean burger of the past, these vegan burgers eagerly appeal to beef lovers. Their most famous and unique variable is that they "bleed" just like real beef. This "bleeding" is accomplished by using heme.

The Impossible Burger is pretty widely available, and overall, people love it. You can find it at major fast food chains, like White Castle, where a slider version is available for as low as $1.99. Select locations of The Cheesecake Factory and Applebee's also offer the patty. Bareburger is another popular chain that offers the bleeding vegan burger. Outside of the U.S., you can also find the Impossible Burger in Hong Kong.

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Related topics:
Industries in DepthNature and BiodiversitySustainable Development
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