The Impossible Food Budget

Have you tried a “Impossible Burger” yet?  It’s a burger made from a new plant-based meat substitute that’s been taking the world by storm this year.  The ingredients are mostly soy and potato proteins.  Apparently there’s over 9,000 restaurants in the U.S. that now serve some form of the “Impossible Burger”.  Pretty neat, right?

Plant based meat substitutes have been the stuff of science fiction for years.  There’s hardly a scifi book in existence that doesn’t have the main characters eating some kind of synthetic steak or burger.  It’s the stuff of the future that has mankind eating less real animal products, living longer, and having less of an environmental impact on the world.

Outside of science fiction novels, everybody knows that eating less red meat is supposed to be far better for you.  Furthermore, producing an equal amount of protein from soy beans costs less and generates far fewer greenhouse gasses than a cow farting-up a methane storm.

Synth-meat is the kind of innovation that makes complete sense when trying to feed a world population soon numbering in the tens of billions….

Except that in almost every way, eating one of these impossible burgers is worse for you than eating an actual burger.

I’m not kidding!  An Impossible Burger has more calories, more salt, and more fat (more saturated fat too) than a similar size cow burger.  It’s all right there in the cold-hard nutritional facts.  Depending upon how you feel about genetically modified food, you might even take additional issues with “impossible burgers” (Genetic modified yeast are used to produce one of the ingredients).

Here’s the worst part for a money nerd like me — It’s expensive!  An Impossible Whopper (from Burger King) costs $1 to $2 more than a traditional beef burger! (The amount varies depending on your location)

What?!?  My dreams of a meat substitute that costs less, is healthier, and better for the environment have been completely shattered.  I guess it was impossible after-all.


The Secret To Low Grocery Bills

You know what else I’m told is impossible?  People getting their grocery bills under $800/month.  I get questions all the time about how our family manages to spend so little on food.  (We usually spend under $500/month on food for a family of four)

Well, I’m here to tell you the secret… and it’s really NOT a secret. The most expensive items on your grocery bill are going to be process foods and meats.  The easiest way to lower your grocery bill is to cut out the process food and eat less meat.

Oh, I can hear the protests and angry comments already!  It’s the truth though.

I don’t mean “stop eating meat”, I mean just eat smaller portions of meat and less frequently.  For example, the Tako family probably eats red meat two times a week.  Maybe we make burgers or spaghetti, and the kids love it.  Then, we eat chicken or turkey twice a week, fish or shrimp one night a week, and two nights per week we eat a vegetarian meal.

It’s a balanced diet that has us eating a wide variety of the delicious foods we love.

(Note:  If you’re curious, I try to post as many food pictures as I can in my monthly expense and dividend income posts)

spring rolled
Spring rolls are a great example of a low-cost meal I really like — delicious, healthy, full of lots of vegetables, and cheap!

Most importantly, it doesn’t feel like we’re depriving ourselves of the traditional red meat dishes we love.  We still get to eat “all the delicious things” like steaks and burgers. We just do it less often.

As a result, our grocery budget is far lower than what many people believe is possible.  I’m here to tell you it’s not impossible!  We just eat less meat and process food, and add more vegetables and tofu.


Tofu Is A Super Food?

Even though my dreams of soy-based synthetic meat future have been crushed by Impossible Foods, they don’t have the facts wrong — soy based protein really is a better protein.  Soy has no cholesterol, no saturated fats, and very few carbs.  It’s also pretty low in calories for how much protein it contains.  Somehow Impossible Foods screwed it up.

Tofu is my favorite form of soy-based protein.  Not only is it super healthy, but it’s also super cheap.  I can buy a one pound block of tofu like this for $1.59.

house tofu

Meanwhile, a pound of hamburger has 12.9 grams of protein and costs around $2.99/lb.  (For comparison: A 1lb block of tofu can have anywhere from 5 to 15 grams of protein depending upon the type.)

Tofu really is the “super food” of the future that Impossible Foods wanted to create.  The only trouble is getting people to eat it…


Super Food That Makes Millionaires

The biggest problem with tofu isn’t the cost or the environmental impact… it’s the fact that western culture doesn’t have a long tradition of eating or cooking with it.

Impossible Foods solved this problem by making their soy-based protein look and taste like real meat.  Then, they placed it into all the greasy burger chains across America (almost as a challenge to the die-hard meat eaters of America).

Meanwhile, tofu is seen as a “hippy food” or just for vegetarians.   Which is an unfair stigma — If you pop over to Asia for vacation, you see the local cuisines use it everywhere. (I might also add that obesity is far less of a problem in Asia.)

Personally, I’d like to change this stigma.  Tofu should really be seen as “Millionaire food” — powering lower food budgets and making millionaires like myself.  Unlike Impossible Foods however, tofu doesn’t have billionaires funding a multi-million dollar marketing campaign for it.  It only has the food to speak for it…

The simplest way for me to promote tofu is to just showcase good tofu recipes.  I’ve posted one such recipe on this blog already — Japanese-style Mapo Tofu.  It’s absolutely delicious.

Today I’d like to show-off another of my favorite tofu recipes.  We eat it in the Tako household all the time.  It’s low cost, healthy, delicious, and doesn’t even require cooking!  The best part?  It only takes 3 minutes to prepare!

It’s a Japanese dish called “Hiyayakko”.  There’s literally thousands of variations of this simple dish that exist (the Japanese recipe website Cookpad has over 9,000 different versions)

Today I’m featuring three of my favorite Hiyayakko variants.  The first of which is the most traditional form of Hiyayakko…

hiyayakko traditional

It’s the easiest thing in the world to make — A small block of silken tofu, chopped green onions, a little bit of grated ginger (which I forgot to add in my photo), and bonito flakes.  Then, pour over a little soy sauce.  Delicious, flavorful, fresh, and healthy!

The next variant is a spicier version using kimchi…

spicy hiyayakko

The kimchi version is just as easy.  Chop-up fresh kimchi into thin strips, place on top of the tofu along with some green onions, and then pour over a little soy-sauce or Japanese tsuyu sauce.  Boom!  Easy peesy.

The final variant is more of a “Western fusion” variety that uses tomatoes and cucumbers…

hiyayakko fusion

Just mix some sliced cucumber, tomatoes, bonito flakes, some oyster sauce, and a tiny bit of sesame oil together in a separate bowl.  Then plate the mixture over the tofu and drizzle with a tiny bit of soy-sauce.  My kids love it!

There you go!  I literally made these three versions in 10 minutes as part of tonight’s dinner.  Super-easy, healthy, and they taste nothing like “bland hippy food” commonly associated with tofu.


Meaty Final Thoughts

To be fair, I’ve got nothing against Impossible Foods and their impossibly fake meat. I wish them the best.  They’ve got a great corporate mission to make ‘meat’ in a environmentally sustainable way… but paying extra for less healthy “meat” doesn’t sound like a win to me.

We already have a super food that can make you a millionaire and keep you healthy at the same time.  It’s called tofu.

I say “let meat be meat” and “plants be plants” instead of overcharging people for soy-based protein with costly marketing budgets.  Instead, we should put more effort on learning how to cook healthy food instead of marketing fast-food garbage that’ll keep us all in the poor house.

You can love tofu for what it is AND love a good burger too.  Just love it a little less often.  It’s definitely not impossible.


[Image Credit: Flickr]

13 thoughts on “The Impossible Food Budget

  • September 14, 2019 at 4:31 AM

    Awesome post Tako! I saw the writing on the wall with these fake plant-based meats a while ago. Some great nutrition podcasts that I follow called them out right away. I do hope that they can make these things non genetically modified and healthier going forward, but they’re just not there right now. Everyone’s red flag should have been raised right away when Burger King adopted them.

    Eating healthy isn’t hard. The very simple rules from Michael Pollan are all you need – “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Along with copious hard exercise, that has made me healthier by far in my late forties then I was in my 20’s.

  • September 14, 2019 at 1:04 PM

    We’ve definitely got to start eating more like you guys do – you’re always posting some delicious looking food! That said, I still feel obligated to try the Impossible Whopper when we get back to the U.S. – what can I say, I’m weak! 😉

    — Jim

  • September 14, 2019 at 8:54 PM

    Great post. Yeah, I’m surprised people can’t get their grocery bills under $800 a month too. For a good while, we were able to get our grocery bill to under $200 a month mostly eating rice, beans, chickpeas, oatmeal, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Now we don’t care so much about the budget, but our average is still about $400-500 a month for our family of three. I think it is a lot easier to spend less on groceries (even organic ones) as a whole food plant based vegan.

    Just for kicks I tried the Impossible Whopper at Burger King. I had to do a double take because it tastes exactly what I remember a beef Whopper to taste like. I regretted it because I felt totally sick and inflamed afterwards. I didn’t like it. It’s totally debatable whether Impossible meat is healthier than animal meat. In my opinion it depends on the source. I’m pretty sure that beef sourced from concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) factory farms (typical of fast food and a lot of commercially available meat) is still unhealthier than Impossible plant based meat. While Impossible meat is processed and has quite a bit sodium and saturated fat, factory farm meat still contains a lot of antibiotics, hormones, dioxins, and other environmental pollutants that you may not want to put in your body. Now if you’re talking grass-fed organic beef, that’s a different story. Impossible meat is likely unhealthier.

    The best thing is to avoid processed food and factory farm meat altogether.

    Oh and I agree. Eat more tofu… I definitley love me some tofu!

  • September 15, 2019 at 7:47 AM

    Mmmm looks good. I used to love tofu and noodles, but for some women it messes with their estrogen. Mimics estrogen? I have been told to stay away from it by naturopath. Sigh, miss it sooo much

  • September 15, 2019 at 8:19 AM

    I haven’t tried the impossible burger and probably never will, as long as it’s more expensive than a real burger. What’s the point?
    As for tofu, I eat them once in a while. It’s healthy, but nowhere as delicious as meat. In Thailand, there are lots of places that sell vegetarian meals. There are different kinds of tofu there, not just the bland white blocks. I’ll have to check it out and take some pictures.

  • September 15, 2019 at 9:11 AM

    Wow – your food photos- you are quite the chef!

    I think the Impossible Burger is a bizarre invention. All the vegans I know don’t even like the taste of meat anymore, so they’re not interested. And as much as the company tries to market it as a beef replacement, the true steak lovers I know are not having it.

    They recently started stocking the Beyond meat burger at our local grocery store and had an introductory sale so I decided to give it a go. It was fine. But then they started charging $7 for a package of two meat patties and I am all out on that one. I’d much prefer to just cook a meal of beans and veggies one night (or maybe I’ll try tofu!) rather than buying an exorbitantly priced, processed slab of fake meat. Thanks for the PSA 🙂

  • September 15, 2019 at 6:54 PM

    Hm…interesting. I haven’t tried the Impossible burger yet, but I am curious about it. Though the idea of tofu substitute for meat has been around for a long time–just ask the monks in Asia. Like you, I’m also obsessed with tofu, but not the hippie way of cooking it. I love it in Asian cooking. It tastes so good. Mapo tofu is my favourite. Whenever I heard non-Asian people say “tofu tastes like boiled socks” I cringed because it just means they aren’t cooking it right.

    I’m surprised that the impossible burger is bad for you though—guess it’s kind of like the salad in fast food restaurants. The dressing is higher in calories than a burger or fries. Guess when it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • September 16, 2019 at 12:16 PM

    Hi Mr. Tako,
    People always ask me how we can we eat vegetarian(often vegan) because the fake meats are so expensive. I always smile because I can count on two hands the times we have had fake processed meat. Like you pointed out, the ingredient list is chock full of salt and very processed. We cook everything from scratch that is mostly beans, grain, vegetables and fruit, this is a much healthier, less expensive eating style.

    I made Vegan Tofu Mapu today that is delicious and inspired by your blog. I plan on trying this out sometime this week too.

  • September 18, 2019 at 4:21 PM

    Me. Tako, I started hating you after the first 3 paragraphs wondering how I could have been so wrong about you! Extolling the virtues of some fake meat product!
    I am glad it was nothing but a ruse! I love meat and need to have a more carnivorous diet but, just like yours, it’s a mix. And I enjoy tofu but only deep fried. I get my beef half a cow at a time from a small farm. And eat everything from it, not just the choicest pieces.

  • September 19, 2019 at 10:57 AM

    My sister and I started shopping at ALDI, and wow, what a difference. Between ALDI and some items at the farmers market, I spend about $250 per month on food. And the stuff I get at both ALDI and the farmers market are pretty high quality. Ironically, the produce at ALDI tends to be fresher than the stuff I used to get higher priced grocery stores. The trade off is in selection – you don’t have 15 peanut butters to choose from, you have one. The choice becomes peanut butter, yes/no? Considering the impact choice fatigue can have, I actually prefer it this way.

    Too bad not everywhere in the US has ALDI – those Germans know their groceries!

  • September 20, 2019 at 5:43 AM

    I want these frankenstein fake meat burgers to disappear. I don’t eat a lot of meat for environmental and budget reasons. Dried peas and pea powder have been inexpensive for years and are a good source of protein. Now that these fake burgers are trendy the price of the peas I use have jumped up.


  • September 20, 2019 at 11:46 AM

    I tried the Impossible burger at A&W and it was expensive, it was $8 CDN. It actually tasted quite meat-like and had a very meat-like texture. The modification to the proteins etc. in the burger worry me though.


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