In my essay The War on Hamburgers: A Practical Alternative to World Veganism, I posited that the way to create a more environmentally-friendly food system would require us to consume less meat but that a majority of people would not do so if it felt like a sacrifice. As such, I touted alternatives such as Burger King’s Impossible Whopper as a means to make such a “sacrifice” easier to digest. This was seen by some as me advocating for the practice of ethical consumerism. That could not be further from the truth of the matter.
If my previous writings such as Agorism vs. Ethical Consumerism: What’s Worth Your Money? and others have not made it apparent, let me clarify that I do not believe that any sort of ethical consumerism exists within this current economic framework. I advocate agorist alternatives and tactics such as black and grey market entrepreneurship, targeted mass boycotts and divestment campaigns, and grassroots syndicalism as a means to navigate the market, not ethical consumerism. And the Impossible Whopper is an unsurprising example of exactly why ethical consumerism does not work.
I already knew that purchasing vegan alternatives does little to nothing to change the underlying core of this capitalist system of industrial agriculture but rather just serves to be co-opted by capitalism’s creation of niche markets to fill such demand. I already knew that in order to save the environment we would have to transition away from industrialized agriculture entirely and towards a system of decentralized local organic food production, permaculture, and responsible GMO use. I already knew that we would have to transition away from factory farming and towards a system of decentralized local livestock farming and cultured or lab grown meat. I already knew that we’d have to shift our diets away from heavy meat consumption and towards more plant-base options, while also understanding that a call for world veganism is an impossible one. I had forgotten to take into account, however, that while plant-based options are usually less environmentally costly than meat-based ones, not all plant-based options are created equally.
So what’s the issue? What did I overlook? Namely that the Impossible Whopper is made with soy. And not just any soy, but specifically genetically modified soybeans, which is used to make the heme which gives it the meaty flavor that is so impressive. While genetic modification is not a danger in itself, a majority of genetically modified soy in the so-called united states, including that used to make the Impossible Burger, is RoundUp ready soy, which is patented and owned by Bayer (who more recently merged with Monsanto), and sprayed with the harmful pesticide known as glyphosate or RoundUp.
While studies have shown that washing your produce thoroughly helps remove a majority of the glyphosate remaining on your produce before eating, thus reducing possible negative health effects associated with consumption, glyphosate is still harmful to the environment and potentially our health more broadly. It is sprayed onto our food, seeps into our soil, washes into our water, and is ingested by wildlife, all of which we may interact with and/or consume. So the real question is, is the supposed environmental benefit of the Impossible Whopper being vegan outweighed by the fact that it is made with patented genetically modified soybeans sprayed down with glyphosate, likely in tandem with other environmentally harmful practices such as monocropping?
Honestly, I’m unsure. I don’t have the right studies to look at or the numbers to crunch. I’m just a concerned citizen trying to figure out how to cause slightly less harm to the world that houses us. No, Burger King will not save us. No, ethical consumerism will not save us. But let’s lower our meat consumption, eat more whole foods, eat organic when we can, grow our own food if possible, and support local farmers in our community when we can afford to. That’s about the best we can do in the meantime while we work to dismantle and replace our current destructive system of factory farming and industrial agriculture.