Could The Mushroom Burger Make “Alt-Meat” Obsolete?

Eating beef is an environment killer. I’ve got nothing against cows, but between their methane emissions and the huge amount of corn we grow to feed them, high consumption of red meat is simply not sustainable.

Some Bay Area companies have gotten notoriety recently for pioneering lab-grown “alt-meat” that tastes like the real thing. But maybe a simpler solution is what fast-food chain Sonic came up with: adding ground mushrooms to the burger to reduce the meat content. As NPR reported:

The idea is that mixing chopped mushrooms into our burgers boosts the umami taste, adds more moisture and reduces the amount of beef required for a burger. And reducing the need for beef has a big impact on the environment. According to the World Resources Institute, if 30 percent of the beef in every burger in America were replaced by mushrooms, it would reduce greenhouse emissions by the same amount as taking 2.3 million vehicles off of our roads.

Meanwhile, a related approach is being tried with the old staple of Mac-n-Cheese. Fast Company documented how Annie’s brand mac-n-cheese is now buying pasta flour from farms that use less damaging agricultural practices:

On the Montana farm, Powell-Palm rotates his wheat crop with golden peas, which are also used to make the flour for the pasta, boosting the protein content. A diversity of crops makes the soil healthier than just growing wheat; wheat takes nitrogen from the soil, and peas help replenish it. Livestock also graze in the field on rotation, adding more nutrients to the soil with manure. The farm also uses cover crops rather than letting the soil sit bare after harvest, so the roots of the plants help hold carbon in the soil.

These are promising solutions to a difficult problem. It’s nice to see innovation, but it starts with consumer awareness about the impact of the foods we eat. Given the scale of the emissions challenge, we should all be hungry for more solutions like these.