In 1973, the late Charlton Heston starred in Soylent Green, a sci-fi flick that had to seem like either an impossible premonition or a cautionary tale about what New York City would look like in the year 2022. That future version of Manhattan has a starving, frenzied population of well over 40 million people, and the world itself is struggling due to depleted natural resources and what we'd recognize as climate change.
Most people have nothing to eat except green wafers distributed by the Soylent Corporation, life-sustaining rations that it swears are made from "high-energy plankton."
We're going to spoil the ending for you — the movie is 45 years old at this point — but those wafers aren't made from anything that came out of the World Ocean. In the dramatic, over-quoted conclusion, Heston's detective character realizes that "It's people! Soylent Green is made out of people!" It's a completely unappetizing prospect and, weirdly enough, it's also what Anthony Bourdain sort of compared those super-trendy Impossible Burgers to. You know, those vegan burgers that "bleed" like meat-y burgers.
In a recent interview with Eater, Bourdain discussed everything from the upcoming Season 11 premiere of Parts Unknown to #MeToo to yes, that buzzed-about meat substitute that earned its cred because it "bleeds" all over your plate. According to its creators, Impossible Foods, those un-burger patties are made from wheat, coconut oil, potatoes, and an iron-containing molecule called heme. "We discovered that heme is what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty," the company explains. "Consider it the 'magic ingredient' that makes our burgers a carnivore's dream."
Heme or no heme, Bourdain doesn't seem interested, and told Eater that he had yet to try an Impossible Burger — and he's not exactly excited about the possibility that they'll appear on even more restaurant menus. "[A]s somebody who spent 30 years as a chef, of course I'm going to be resistant to the notion that there's any replacement for the texture and musculature and funk of real meat," he said. "So, I'm resistant to it. I hate the idea that people are selling this at a premium at hip restaurants. You know, it doesn't fill me with joy. It makes me fearful of a Soylent Green future."
It's hard to know what Bourdain means by that last comment. The future in Soylent Green was caused by overworking our natural resources in a way that the Impossible Burger hopes to prevent. (Since it is made entirely from plants, it doesn't cause the environmental impact that livestock production does.)
And unless Impossible Foods has conned all of us, they don't seem to have much in common with Soylent Green's evil title corporation — especially not the parts about grinding human corpses into thin edible wafers.
But what do we know? The year 2022 will be here before we know it, and it could bring all kinds of surprises. Why'd you have to leave us, Charlton Heston?