Monday, May 23, 2022

What is Impossible Meat?

From Burger King's Menu, May 2022: Impossible Whoppers.
I have tried them and they are fine.
"Beyond and Impossible meats are two different brands of plant-based meats that taste exactly like real meat—or close enough. The Impossible Burger even "bleeds" like meat, and is made mostly from soy, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavors. Beyond Meat's key ingredients include water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil and rice protein." (Source: Is Impossible Meat Bad for You?)

Home-made Impossible Meatballs.
Some comments last week asked about what they are.

Last week I wrote about preparing and eating Impossible meatballs. I had found the key ingredient, Impossible Beef, at Trader Joe's -- it's popular so they do not always have it in stock. We've also tried Beyond Burgers; however, after using them for a while, I no longer enjoyed them. So far, I do like Impossible Meat, which I find a very convincing meat substitute, and better than vegetarian patties. While some people find just the idea of such products repellant, I am open to experiments!

A less-meat-like meat substitute: veggie burgers.
Not bad, just not like meat.
I’ve written before about our decision to buy less meat, and how we have switched our diet to a combination of plant-based foods, dairy products, some fish, and occasionally chicken. I’ve described how our reasons originally involved concern for human rights violations and inhumane treatment of workers in slaughter houses and meat-packing plants, which were especially abusive during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. We also considered other reasons to eat less meat, including the negative impact of cattle and hog raising on the global environment, the effect of eating meat on our health, and issues of cruelty to animals throughout the industrial meat-farming and slaughtering process. Switching to imitation meat addresses most of these problems.

One thing we try to give up: Fast Food like In-N-Out Burgers.
Shown here with lemonade to share with Elizabeth's blog party.

There are no perfect decisions! Only compromises. But here are some thoughts about the new very-meat-like meat substitutes, Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat.

Impossible Meat or Beyond Meat and Health

Beyond Burgers on our grill, May, 2020.
We decided to reduce our meat consumption two years ago.

The indisputable fact: Impossible Meat is ultra-processed. I've written about industrial food processing dozens of times, and generally explain why I avoid such products -- ultra-processing implies the use of numerous unfamiliar additives, and such foods couldn't be made in a home kitchen. This is all the more true of the lab-grown meat substitute, though the imitations are slightly lower in calories and much lower in fat content. I choose to eat Impossible meat occasionally, though, because the risk isn't high, and our avoidance of meat for ethical reasons is strong. I would especially be pleased if it was more commonly available at the fast-food places where I go when driving cross country! 

I'm not eating this product often enough to worry about whether it supplies the same nutrients as meat, though it has some of them:  

"Impossible Meats have been fortified with vitamins and minerals and do contain some micronutrients, but the reality is that processed foods are not as nutritious as unprocessed foods." (Source: Is Impossible Meat Bad for You?)

A bit more on the question of eating ultra-processed meat substitutes: 

"Critics of plant-based meat have also pointed out that it tends to be highly processed. No doubt, most plant-based meats are not health foods, due to their high saturated fat and salt (though beef and pork, too, are high in saturated fat). But “processed foods” is a vague and often ill-defined term that encompasses everything from high-fructose corn syrup to whole-grain pasta to yogurt, and has little bearing on foods’ environmental impact. As Vox’s Kelsey Piper has written, the term 'processed food' 'can obscure more than it clarifies' when it comes to the debate over plant-based meat." (Source: Yes, Plant-based meat is better for the planet)

I agree with the following statement from an article in Gizmodo: 

"If you’re wanting a nutritious, heart-healthy meal, you can and should eat vegetables and whole grains and fruits and all the other stuff that everyone knows they should be eating.... The nutritional status of the Impossible Burger doesn’t matter, because, like a regular hamburger, it’s a treat. You shouldn’t eat an Impossible Burger every day, just like you shouldn’t eat a hamburger every day." (source: "Impossible Burgers Aren’t Healthy")

What these products are NOT: a more controversial type of imitation meat is not yet available: this extreme method employs cell cultures to grow meat and seafood in a lab (also to grow dairy products). These products are in development, but none of them is yet on the market, and the USDA is in process of considering how to regulate them to protect consumers and avoid misrepresentation of the product. (Cell-based meat and milk: wonders of modern food technology?)

The Health of the Planet

First, the claims for ecological responsibility: "Impossible Foods claims its soy-based burger uses 87 percent less water, takes 96 percent less land, and has 89 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger. Beyond Meat makes similar claims about its pea-based burgers." 

Then some analysis: "But years of research on the environmental impact of food make one thing clear: Plant proteins, even if processed into imitation burgers, have smaller climate, water, and land impacts than conventional meats. Apart from environmental impact, reducing meat production would also reduce animal suffering and the risk of both animal-borne disease and antibiotic resistance. The criticisms against the new wave of meatless meat appear to be more rooted in broad opposition to food technology rather than a true environmental accounting — and they muddy the waters in the search for climate solutions at a time when clarity is sorely needed." 

And a few statistics about meat growing: "Even the lowest-emitting beef from dedicated beef herds (34 kg carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e) and lower-emitting beef from dairy cow herds (15 kg CO2e) came in far above the highest-emitting tofu (4 kg CO2e) and plant-based meat (7 kg)." 

Will highly processed meat substitutes become more common and more acceptable while remaining ecologically responsible? At the moment, Impossible Meat and Beyond Beef are more expensive than ground beef: will the price difference decrease? Can the successes of these small start-up companies be scaled up to feed many more people and actually lead to a reduction in demand for beef? These are ongoing questions and I have not seen credible answers.

Source of quotes for this section: Yes, Plant-based meat is better for the planet.

Ethics: The Welfare of Meat-Packing Workers

Concern about meatpacking workers, especially about the risks that they were forced to take during the pandemic, was our original reason for greatly reducing our meat consumption. The abuses in industrial meat plants, which produce 99% of the country's meat supply, were already outrageous prior to the pandemic. High incidence of injuries and long hours without breaks were consistent, and many of the workers were immigrants (legal or not) or otherwise vulnerable to exploitation. My belief that mistreatment of workers is a central feature of American meat production gives me an incentive to continue avoiding meat. Substitutes like Impossible meat make it easier for me to do so. 

We read in the spring of 2020, as the coronavirus was raging, about how the meatpacking industry giants (virtually the only source of retail meat available) forced workers to stay on the job and risk illness and death for themselves and their families. Abuse of workers is unchanged now, after two years of public awareness of the vast cruelty of the meat industry. A newly published report offers many facts about this:

"How the Trump Administration Helped the Meatpacking
Industry Block Pandemic Worker Protections," May 2020.
An official report on recent Congressional hearings by the
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. (Online version here)

The major finding of this report:

"Last year, the Select Subcommittee found that during the first year of the pandemic, infections and deaths among workers for five of the largest meatpacking companies—Tyson Foods, Inc. (Tyson), JBS USA Holdings, Inc. (JBS), Smithfield Foods (Smithfield), Cargill, Inc. (Cargill), and National Beef Packing Company LLC (National Beef)—were significantly higher than previously estimated, with over 59,000 workers for these companies being infected with the coronavirus and at least 269 dying. Internal meatpacking industry documents reviewed by the Select Subcommittee now illustrate that despite awareness of the high risks of coronavirus spread in their plants, meatpacking companies engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death."

The vile behavior of meatpacking corporations, and the vile corruption of the Trump administration in abetting them, is no surprise, but the facts are still shocking. The report details the existing  abuses of the major suppliers of meat to the country, and how they continue to mistreat workers. And I'm convinced that I want to continue avoiding their products whenever I can.

Blog post © mae sander 2022. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Remembering What We Did Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago this weekend we arrived in Santa Barbara for a month's stay -- a vivid memory. We went to lunch at a little burrito shop in a shopping center, and then bought some groceries for our temporary apartment. A weekly farmers' market was in the parking lot, which we really enjoyed -- especially the piles of ripe apricots. Here's what I wrote back then.


  • You know you are in California when you are smiling at your burrito out in the sunshine.
  • You know you are in California when a farmer at the farmers' market explains that he sells three types of artichokes, and another farmer has two kinds of avocados, some ripe, some hard. And a third farmer says that last year's tomato plants still have some tomatoes on them. 
  • You know you are in California when girls wear short shorts with Uggs. It's hardly worth mentioning the sight of surf boards, but they're here too.
  • You know you are in California when you see flights of pelicans, sea fog, lagoons, tidal sloughs, and rolling waves.
  • You know you are in California when you smell the eucalyptus trees.

Blog post © 2012, 2022, mae sander.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Our Week In Food

Continuing to try Ethiopian recipes.
Above: shiro, recipe by Samin Nosrat (recipe link)
In casserole dish: Chicken in Tej Sauce with Oranges.
From Ethiopia by Yohanis Gebreysus.

Lunch without a recipe:
Fried mushrooms and toasted cheese on English Muffins.

Curried cauliflower with green peas (recipe inspiration)

Outdoor lunch: chips, salsa, salad.

First time grilling in 2022.
Len grilled a sliced eggplant, served with fresh tomatoes and cheese.
Side dish: couscous with parmesan and herbs.

And we are growing herbs for summer meals.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Birding at Magee Marsh


Seeing an owl always makes a birding day into a good birding day.
We spent much of Tuesday at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie.

There were swallows everywhere.

This woodpecker was looking out of his hole.

The woodpecker soon flew away.

A Yellow Warbler: one of many.
Numerous species of warbler migrate through Magee Marsh each May.

A Tennessee warbler.

A family of Killdeer chicks.

A Baltimore Oriole.

 An Eastern Kingbird.

A Magnolia Warbler.

Other birders at the marsh.

 More birders.

All photos © 2022 mae sander

Monday, May 16, 2022

Dining Outdoors This Week

The weather this week has been glorious! Just a bit of weekend rain.

Perfect for eating and drinking outdoors.

A New Patio Table

Inspired, we went to Ace Hardware and bought a new table for the patio:
one that doesn’t wobble!

I made some Impossible meatballs. On a lucky day,
Trader Joe’s has Impossible meat, which I bought.
Impossible meat runs out of stock quickly.

We brought the meatballs outside to eat at the new table.
Now for new chairs...

To Ikea for Chairs

Ikea seemed like the right place to buy some chairs for the patio table.
The sign makes me laugh: surely everyone fills their marketplace cart
with impulse purchases of kitchen toys.

Ikea uses symbols everywhere.

A new Ikea chair at the new table. Also, a new tray: an impulse purchase. 
(The red tray is an older Ikea impulse purchase).
The lunchtime drink is Trader Joe’s sparkling water, in honor of Elizabeth’s weekly blog party.

New wine glasses -- also from Ikea.
While I didn't try any dramatic new recipes this week, we had some very nice lunches and dinners outdoors, and enjoyed several walks in the sunshine (and one in the rain, or at least in the drizzle).

UPDATE: to those who asked what is Impossible Meat -- it's a lab-grown imitation meat. It's vegan, but tastes like meat. Burger King offers an Impossible Whopper which is amazing. Some people might have objections, but I do not.

Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Downtown Street Art


Maybe I’ve photographed this Downtown Ann Arbor building before. I’m not sure.
But it’s a great mural.

This tea shop called TeaHaus is raising money for Ukraine.

The beautiful sunflower and teacup window design is adverting the fundraising effort of this shop owner, who has family in Ukraine. A number of hand-made and donated items are on sale as a benefit inside the shop, along with the shop’s usual tea and pastry. In cooperation with the local Zen Buddhist Temple, they are raising funds and collecting food and supplies for a refugee camp in Western Ukraine. The refugee camp, which used to be a summer recreational camp, is in the region where I believe my maternal ancestors lived until 1905 when they came to the US. All my relatives who didn’t leave the area in time perished in the Holocaust, so I have no direct connection to anyone in the region now.

I learned about the benefit from this item in the local monthly magazine, the Ann Arbor Observer:

Along with selling local artworks (and cookies!) to benefit Ukraine, TeaHaus is working with the Zen Buddhist Temple and United Help Ukraine to organize a food drive for the Rivne refugee camp in Ukraine's midwest. Website goes live Friday. Photo: John Hilton.

Source: Ann Arbor Observer A2View, May 12, 2022.

Original photos and post © 2022 mae sander.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Reading John Cheever Too Late

"Her unhappiness at that moment ... was more than the unhappiness of leaving a place that seemed familiar for one that seemed strange; it was the pain of leaving the place where her accent and her looks, her worn suit and her diamond rings could still command a trace of respect; it was the pain of parting from one class and going into another, and it was doubly painful because it was a parting that would never be completed." (The Stories of John Cheever, p. 230)

"He was followed by the grand piano, the poodles, the Book-of-the-Month Club membership, and the crusty Irish maid." (p. 224). 

"She was always talking about money. It was worse than eating your peas off a knife." (p. 786) 

Class is everything in the stories I've been reading: finally, I'm getting around to reading John Cheever (1912-1982). I might have liked his writing at some time in the past, but I don't particularly like it now. His characters are amazingly vivid, but I find them predictable as well, with their concentration on upscale New York. If there's a lower-class person, he probably works as an elevator operator or a doorman in a fancy apartment building, and defines himself in relation to the rich old ladies and aspiring youngish men who ride his elevator or have him call their taxis. If there's a woman, she usually defines herself by the men she loves, especially by her husband and his aspirations, or maybe by her kids. Women in the stories who express dissatisfaction with their lives are described with condescension and disdain. 

Why did I buy the prize-winning collection of more than 60 Cheever stories (over 800 pages)? I admit it was because it was on amazon's list of VERY CHEAP books: $2.99 and no doubt cheap because it wasn't selling. Usually when I go for one of these sale books, I'm glad I did, but this time I'm not sure. How many not-very-happy but very smug couples living in elegant (but maybe declining) circumstances with a maid who lives in the basement or over the garage, old silver, ancestors, and lots of pretensions do I need to know about? Not very many. How many people for whom “the shimmer and the smell, the peculiar force of money, the promise of it, had an untoward influence on their lives.” (p. 140) How many dilemmas that are never quite resolved because they never can be, so how many stories that seem unfinished? 

Some of the stories are exceptions, For example, there are one are two somewhat paranormal stories, like  "The Enormous Radio" (p. 49) where a woman's radio broadcasts from her neighbors' apartments so she knows about marital quarrels, wife beatings, and other elements of desperation. Or the more famous one called "The Swimmer." But these have the same characters; that is, privileged Easterners who wish they were richer or happier or would prefer to live in Westchester.

Cheever at the New Yorker

Critics seem to agree that Cheever's work exemplifies -- and in fact created -- "the New Yorker story." That meant a lot in the mid-20th century. Now I feel this genre is very dated. The New Yorker could be incredibly snobby! I have admired this style for ages, but reading Cheever makes me reconsider my admiration for what's really a technical skill. Depth? Not really.

“It was ... in the fifties that ‘the New Yorker story’ emerged, quite suddenly, as a distinct literary genus. What made a story New Yorker was its carefully wrought, many-comma’d prose; its long passages of physical description, the precision and the sobriety of which created a kind of negative emotional space, a suggestion of feeling without the naming of it; its well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery; and, above all, its signature style of ending, which was either elegantly oblique or frustratingly coy, depending on your taste. Outside the offices of The New Yorker, its fiction editors were rumored to routinely delete the final paragraph of any story accepted for publication.” (Jonathan Franzen, "The Birth of 'The New Yorker Story," The New Yorker, October 27, 2015)

May 25, 1935. The New Yorker publishes its first John Cheever story:
"Brooklyn Rooming House."

I know that old New England Money and Protestant upbringings weren't the only thing in the New Yorker: they also published I.B.Singer's stories of the Jews of Poland before the war and in New York, the adolescent angst of J.D.Salinger, Philip Roth's stories, and many works by people of other ethnicities. But somehow Cheever defined the style, and described an ideal New York of rich sophisticates and slightly nonconformist immigrants from lesser states (say, Ohio or Illinois). 

Maybe a definition of the Cheever New York is illustrated by one character's thoughts:  “the shared apartment in the Village, the illicit relationship, the Friday-night train to a country house—was what he had imagined life in New York to be, and he was intensely happy.” (p. 122) Or by the beginning of "The Swimmer," one of his most famous stories: "It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, 'I drank too much last night.'" (p. 776). 

Cheever's Protestants seem more dated and now stereotyped even than Roth's Jews. To me. Now. They are exactly the people that I DIDN’T want to be like when I grew up, whenever that was. I still don’t want to be like that if I ever do grow up. I find them annoying or boring or entitled or snobbish or grasping. Sometimes all of those. The husbands work in New York offices and join their wives in rural vacation homes each weekend of summer. Whole families drink much too much (boringly, there's an alcoholic or two in almost every story). Cheever creates men with frustrated ambitions, wives who love jewelry and want fur coats, children who are in danger from their parents’ excesses, successful single women who hook up with losers. Cheever could get you into these people's heads, but is that where you want to be? 

November 27, 1943. This issue contained Cheever's story
"Dear Lord We Thank Thee for Thy Bounty."
The cover is by artist Helen E. Hokinson.

Cheever Was Famous and Admired

March 27, 1964: Cheever on the cover of Time, when being on the cover of Time meant a lot.

Out of the huge number of stories in the volume I bought, I read around half of them. That’s enough Cheever for now. This blog post © 2022 by mae sander, with the cover images from the book and magazines.