We’re away until January 6, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2019. Enjoy your holiday!
Science lifted us out of nature. It tamed the wilderness; it gave us tools to transcend our lousy, fallen bodies; and it shot us to the moon. Now it has produced a hamburger made entirely of vegetables that bleeds like real beef. The packaging of the aptly named Impossible Burger instructs you, as if daring you, to cook the patties medium rare. Three minutes on each side, and the center will remain the fleshly pink color of raw sirloin. This effect is the result of heme, the protein that carries oxygen through our blood and gives it its crimson color, and which food scientists have discovered how to ferment in a lab using genetically engineered yeast. (Pedantic foodies will point out that the red in beef is not blood but myoglobin, but this is beside the point. We call burgers “bloody” to acknowledge a truth that modernity has long tried to obscure: that meat was once, like us, a living thing.) Heme, which is abundant in animal muscle, is also what lends beef its distinctive flavor. The first time I prepared the Impossible Burger at home, the skillet erupted into a fatty sizzle (the patty contains emulsified coconut oil, which melts like tallow), and within seconds the air filled with the iron aroma of singed flesh. But the most uncanny moment arrived when I finished eating and there remained on the plate a stain of pinkish-brown drippings. In that moment, when I should have been marveling at the wonders of food science, I confess I was thinking of the weeping Madonna of Civitavecchia, a wooden statue that was said to shed tears of real blood—the signs of flesh where there is none.