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Real pork: Only thing I want to sink my teeth into

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If Impossible Foods CEO keeps going on promise to eliminate animal protein, the BK Croissan'wich will soon be trying to hold together a whole lot of fake.

How's it going on those New Year's resolutions? If your January has been anything like mine — battling a cough/cold and digging out snowstorm after snowstorm, keeping my resolutions to eat better and get more active has been hit or miss, but I'm still working on it.

I'm sure my family prefers when I fall off the wagon from my resolutions, as they have often fallen prey to my low-carb cooking experiments. Cauliflower crust pizza and spaghetti with zucchini noodles are just not the same thing as the real deal. While I will experiment here and there on starch, I know it's a temporary substitute. I love pizza too much to dismiss it from my life.

I thought about those short-term substitutions this week when Impossible Foods launched Impossible Pork Made from Plants and Impossible Sausage Made from Plants, the startup's latest products since the Impossible Burger debuted in 2016.

The company claims the products are "delicious, nutritious, gluten-free, plant-based ground meat that can be used in any recipe that calls for ground pork from pigs." However, the product couldn't be farther from pork.

Impossible Foods' scientists genetically engineer and ferment yeast to produce a heme protein naturally found in plants, called soy leghemoglobin. The company says the heme in Impossible products is identical to the essential heme humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat.

According to Impossible Foods' CEO and founder, Patrick O. Brown, "Impossible Foods cracked meat's molecular code starting with ground beef, which is intrinsic to the American market. Now we're accelerating the expansion of our product portfolio to more of the world's favorite foods. We won't stop until we eliminate the need for animals in the food chain and make the global food system sustainable."

That agenda aside, and the vital role meat plays in diets (providing a rich source of high biological value protein and essential nutrients, some of which are more bioavailable than in alternative food sources), I have absolutely no desire to sink my teeth into heme. I'm curious how many others will feel the same way when select Burger Kings in late-January test market the breakfast Croissan'wich with a plant-based patty. The limited-time-only Impossible Croissan'wich will feature a toasted croissant, egg, cheese and a seasoned plant-based sausage from Impossible Foods.

If Brown keeps going on his promise to eliminate protein from animals, that croissant will soon be trying to hold together a whole lot of fake.

According to a 2017 North American Meat Institute and Rabobank study, 24% of millennials say they aim to eat more meatless meals or eat meat alternatives. However, data from the Nielsen company about buying habits and consumption for flexitarians (a person who consumes mainly vegetarian food but occasionally eats meat or fish), shows that almost all meat alternative buyers (98%) also purchase meat, and they do so more than the average meat buyer ($486 versus $478 per year). Less than a third (27%) of meat alternative purchasers buy meat alternative products five or more times a year.

Simply put, you just can't replace the real deal.

So, while we probably don't need to be concerned about these products taking our faithful pork eaters away, the real threat comes from their marketing claims on health, nutrition and sustainability. As the National Pork Producers Council said this week, plant-based and cell-cultured products designed to mimic real meat must face the same stringent regulatory requirements as livestock agriculture, including truthful labeling standards.

"What's impossible is to make pork from plants. This is a brazen attempt to circumvent decades of food labeling law and centuries of precedence," says Dan Kovich, NPPC director of science and technology. "Any adjective placed in front of the word pork can only refine it, not redefine it. It's not pork. It's not pork sausage. It can't be labeled as such."

It's not the real deal.

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