How to Choose from the Plant-Based Burger Buffet

Meatless options are mainstream now, but what’s the best plant-based burger out there?
eating a burger
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In 2019, meat alternatives went from a fringe food to a mainstream trend. “Meatless” beef—practically indistinguishable from actual beef—made its way to fast food establishments to appeal to meat-eaters as the climate-friendly burger. But with all these choices, what’s the difference, and are they truly planet-friendly?
We compiled a shortlist of the most popular plant-based meat alternatives out there, looking at environmental impacts, ingredients, and taste. 

Sunshine Burger: The Green American Pick 

The Sunshine burger contains no soy, peanuts, or tree nuts, and is vegan, non-GMO, and the only option on this list that is USDA-certified organic. Unlike other alternative meat companies, Sunshine Plant-Based Foods{GBN} does not claim its burgers taste like beef. It is also the least processed compared to other options on this list, offering “whole food ingredients” like sunflower seeds and brown rice. 

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Beyond Burger: Non-GMO Peas, Please 

The Beyond burger is made with a variety of plants, from pea for protein to fatty coconut oil to imitate that classic grill sizzle. Beyond Meat’s entire line of products are non-GMO. A peer-reviewed Life Cycle Analysis published by the University of Michigan in 2018 revealed that the Beyond burger uses 99% less water, 93% less land, and produces 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a quarter-pound beef burger. 

Morningstar Farms: Cheap, Easy, Everywhere 

Morningstar Farms are stocked on grocery shelves across the nation, making it accessible for many people. The company, which is owned by Kellogg, carries a wide variety of flavors when it comes to vegetarian burgers, but these were never intended to taste like real meat. Ingredients can vary widely between options, but all contain some form of soy, and only some are non-GMO. A 2016 Life Cycle Assessment notes that the spicy black bean burger produces 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger of equal weight, making it a solid alternative for reducing your carbon foodprint.

Impossible Burger: Fast Food Goes Vegetarian 

The Impossible burger made headlines in 2019 for tasting just like beef. According to the company that makes it, the process uses 87% less water, 96% less land, produces 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger. Its ingredients include soy and potatoes, but would-be eaters should know that the component that makes the burger meaty—heme protein—is produced with genetically-modified yeast. As one of the few food companies to create lab-grown proteins, more research is needed to understand the scope of potential health and environmental concerns caused by creating those proteins.

What’s the Scoop on GMOs? 

In the 70s, GMO foods were created to work in tandem with synthetic pesticides and have resulted in high pesticide use on crops and fertilizers. Atrazine, a component in pesticides, is linked to severe health issues like birth defects. Overuse of nitrates, found in synthetic fertilizers, is responsible for eutrophication and mass marine animal die-offs in the Gulf of Mexico. Glyphosate, also called RoundUp, is linked to cancer. Green America is dedicated to educating consumers and businesses about the impacts of GMOs, shifting corporations away from a reliance on toxic herbicides and GMOs towards organic and regenerative farming practices.

What's going on with GMOs?

{GBN} signifies a Green Business Network member. Green America's directory of certified businesses are small and micro-businesses that have passed rigorous standards for social and environmental responsibility.

Going meatless can sometimes feel like a real sacrifice, especially if you grew up with cookouts and barbecues, but today's plant-based burger buffet has so much to offer. Try out the various meatless brands to find the one that works for you!

From Green American Magazine Issue