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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

Allan does a taste test: Evaluating Beyond Beef Beefy Crumbles and Beast Burgers

I really wanted to like this stuff. It sounded like a great idea: extract protein and other components from pea and other vegetables, reassemble it in a way that mimics the texture of beef, and sell it as an environmentally friendly alternative to beef that can be eaten exactly the way Americans now eat beef. Beyond Beef is a company that has benefitted from the largesse of the William and Melinda Gates Foundation. And the man did identify a serious problem: beef is a major contributor to environmental destruction. Feed a cow, and you capture only 1-4% of the energy from the photosynthesis of what you feed it. Average loss in going up one trophic level in an ecosystem is 90%, but here we are talking up to 99%. And factory farmed beef produces an enormous amount of cow manure that is stored in liquified manure pools. Aside from being as disgusting as they sound, the worst thing about those is the production of dinitrogen monoxide (N2O), which is one of the worst greenhouse gases known to man.

Now, I like vegetables. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I bought the cookbook from the best Thai restaurant (Cha'am--wonderful place) and learned to cook Thai food from scratch. There's nothing like a vegetable curry cooked with a curry paste made exactly right. When I had kids and all time disappeared, I cheated, but knowing how to cheat right, I can still make Thai food as good as your average Thai restaurant. And there are some pretty good Indian curry pastes available in a jar. And merely roasting the right mix of vegetables with a little olive oil--heavenly. I buy my vegetables from a farm near my house in the season that plant diseases and pests don't make growth impossible in Southwest Florida (November through April) and in the off season from a Mexican flea market where the drivers load the trucks just after midnight as far north into Georgia as they can get and drive down to sell that morning. I could live totally on vegetables, and I almost did when I lived in Berkeley, because when half of your friends are vegetarians, you are socially shunned unless you can cook without meat.

But boy does meat taste good too! I'll wax poetic about the savory melt-in-your-mouth taste of good Indian curry goat, the bite of authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, or garlic/lime heaven that is Cuban mojo pork. However, when I want meat, I most often want a good burger. And I don't even have to cook it: we have an enormous number of burger joints near our home, many of which actually serve good burgers.

So, upon reading about Bill Gates' latest project, I went on the Beyond Beef website and found that my local supermarket, walking distance from my home, now carries their products. I snagged their mock hamburger patties (Beast Burgers) and the Beefy version (as opposed to Fiesta, which the market didn't carry) of their beef crumbles out of the freezer section.

Upon coming home, I decided to do it up truly American. I actually like tofu when it is sitting in a savory sauce, so having something else to go in a savory sauce would not be a priority for me. I reheated the burgers on a skillet with a bit of olive oil, as suggested, and plopped it between fresh baked slices of whole grain mountain bread. I sliced a jalepeño and laid it on top of the patty (I had neglected to buy pickles) and then coated it in a huge dollop of Heinz ketchup. I bit in. Now, the outside had looked sort of like beef, if that beef was cut into strips and fused back together with some weird edge effects. But on the inside, I saw stuff that looked like mini-corn kernels. And it tasted kind of like some off-beany sort of thing. It wasn't terrible, but I'm not going to pay $2.50 a patty for something that isn't nearly as good as the black bean burgers that abandon all pretense of trying to look like meat. With enough ketchup though, it was edible.

That was my opinion. The after-dinner conversation with my son went as follows:

"So, does it taste like beef?"


"Does it taste sort of like beef?"

"It's probably going to make me sick later."

"If it was the only thing on the table, would you eat it again?"

"If it was the only think on the table, I'd wait for Mom to get home and talk her into going to McDonalds."

We'll call this one a fail.

On to the crumbles. For these, I pulled an "Old El Paso Stand and Stuff Kit" out of the pantry that my wife had purchased for some inexplicable reason. It had "stand and stuff tortillas": white flour concoctions shaped like a bowl. It also had the standard yellow crispy taco shells. It had a mild seasonings package. I also whipped out the "Daiya cheddar style shreds," the cheese where no ingredient ever saw the inside of a cow boob. Confession: I did learn to make various sorts of vegan fake cheeses in a class once, and some of them were actually pretty decent, but I wasn't up to the effort. And I still had some of the jalapeño left, to which I added tomatoes from the farm, which I diced up.

The directions here said sauté, so a bit more olive oil than with the Beast. But the stuff was dry as saw dust once it got warm. After I added the Old El Paso seasonings, I added water, so it looked like taco meat. Meat into misshapen tortilla stand and stuff thingy, fake cheese on top, one minute zap in the microwave, and then jalapeños and tomatoes on top. This was a bit more of a success. It actually did taste like fast food Tex Mex. Very similar to something served at Taco Bell: a bean burrito. Way beany. TV commercial talking ratty dog type of beany. And I do like bean burritos, but it ain't meat.

So, Bill Gates has given us the Windows NT of cuisine: meat substitutes that make you go back to the store and get a decent portobello mushroom to grill for your burgers and a can of refried beans for your tacos and burritos. The man who ripped of Apple to give us an entire generation of crappy computers that look good only in comparison to the Chromebooks that are even crappier has failed to deliver anything even a rich vegan could love, despite all the hype and press relations.

I sort of give the man credit for his philanthropies, I mean, pyrethrin-doped bed nets did reduce malaria rates in Africa until they caused massive resistance to the pesticide, leading to a coming resurgence in the disease that will be even worse than when Gates stepped in. And closing the gap between low income/disadvantaged minority students and the rest of the country may have seemed like a great idea to some until it became clear that his standardized tests and Common Core equalized by destroying education across the board.

So maybe Americans should stop idolizing rich people who decide to give back out of a fear, at the end of their lives, of going to Hell or being remembered as a jackass? Yes, they are marginally better than a friendly fascist (stealing Vermin Supreme's line and applying it to one of the other prominent US Presidential candidates) who "loves poorly educated people." It doesn't stop me from wishing the plutocracy will one day languish in jail, the worst ones on death row.

I know what we should serve them for their last meal.

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