Biomimicry is the process of replicating or reproducing organic cells or structures. This process is actually more common than you might think. Biomimicry simply means copying something from nature. Sometimes we are able to take a look at something that occurs in nature and “reuse” or “repurpose” certain characteristics of these animals or plants in everyday life. For example, companies that produce products with spray functions may want to redesign their apparatuses for more efficient containment and disbursement of the liquid. So, these companies will work with environmental organizations who research plants and animals that have the ability to hold and spray liquids very efficiently. They will then take these examples from nature and use them as inspiration for designs.
For some time, scientists have been working on mimicking actual living tissue. These scientists have successfully been able to harvest and “grow” meat for the purpose of eating. However, a fairly new process has emerged which allows scientists the ability to product “meat” from plant matter instead of animal tissue.
Breaking Down Vegan Biomimicry
The most notable and recognizable success of vegan biomimicry has to be “The Impossible Burger”. Winning over vegan and vegetarian customers by creating products that “mimic” the meat-based dining staples has long been a challenge for restaurants. The team over at Impossible Burger spent the last 5 years trying to perfect a tasty burger made out of plants – and they did it! Since the burger is made only from plants, it has an added benefit of being free from hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients. But, it is said to taste almost identical to real animal meat. The burger even “bleeds” and cooks like a traditional burger would.
So, how did they do it? Basically, their team was able to identify and isolate an ingredient called “heme”. Heme is the ingredient in meat that gives it a distinct flavor, consistency, and makes it bleed. Living muscles contain quite a large percentage of heme in order to stay healthy. Surprisingly enough, this ingredient also occurs in plants. With the help of researchers and scientists, the team was able to add more plant-based heme to their burger and achieve incredibly meat-like results; so much so that people aren’t able to tell the difference.
Why is a Plant-Based Burger Superior?
Being able to produce “meat” without the use of living tissue accomplishes a few things. One, no animals are harmed in the making of the product. In the case where animal tissue is mimicked, there still must be a donor of tissue in order for the entire process to work. This means that an animal will most likely be slaughtered for its cells, even if the entire animal is not needed.
Another reason using plant cells in biomimicry is a wonderful breakthrough for science, is the fact that plants are, and always will be, a renewable resource. Luckily, most plants need very little space in order to thrive. They also require much less water than is required to sustain a population of cattle, for example.
Lastly, as a byproduct of growth they also deposit nutrients back into the soil, which can help future plants to grow. Most green plants use the process of photosynthesis to make their “food” which helps them turn sunlight into nutrients and helps them grow. These plants take in carbon dioxide and water and emit pure oxygen – just another amazing benefit of nature.
This what the Impossible team has to say on the matter in regards to their burger, “switching from a conventional burger made from cows to a quarter-pound Impossible Burger saves as much water as a 10-minute shower. It eliminates the greenhouse gases emitted by driving 18 miles in an average car. And it liberates 75 square feet of land for wildlife”. That is how much of an impact just one Impossible Burger has.
What Problems Could We Run Into?
Producing “meat” from plant cells is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, some vegans and vegetarians have raised concern over the fact that this meat is almost identical to real meat. Although much less resources will be spent producing the product, we have to wonder if the meat is actually good for our bodies or not. Many vegans and vegetarians choose to stay away from meat not only because it harms animals and perpetuates a state of cruelty, but it has been scientifically proven that meat is not healthy for our bodies (especially large amounts of meat) for a number of reasons, including heart disease risks associated with the high saturated fat content of red meat. Although, since The Impossible Burger is constructed from only plant-based ingredients it is completely free from cholesterol, hormones, and antibiotics. It also delivers comparable protein and iron to a traditional burger.
Others are concerned that the development of an imitation meat burger simply elongates our dependency on the meat industry. If meat is the heart of our food industry, then the burger is the face of it. Many vegans and vegetarians can attest to the usual “I just couldn’t imagine never eating a burger again” that comes from meat eaters when discussing a plant-based lifestyle. As a result, the question arises, “Does imitating meat do more harm than good?”.
Both of these points are valid, but the fact of the matter is, spreading this kind of awareness about alternatives is imperative if we are to move away from an animal-based diet towards a plant-based one. This isn’t to say that biomimicry is not important – because it is an essential puzzle piece towards progress. Biomimicry has opened up a door that cannot be closed. We now have the ability to make delicious plant-based foods that satisfy vegans and meat-eaters alike. A discovery and invention of this magnitude could be the next thing that makes people realize they can eat all the foods they ever wanted and still save the planet.
[About the author: Trisha is a writer from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan, an avid gamer, cat lover, and amateur SFX artist. You can find her on twitter @thatdangvegan or check out her blog thatdangvegan.com. Image: Impossible Foods.]