Between Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and other emerging plant-based meat companies, it’s never been a better time to be a vegetarian or vegan. Nor has it ever been easier to cut back on meat consumption in general, for the sake of your health and for the sake of the planet. Diners who want to occasionally sub an Angus patty for a plant-based one can now find those options in a number of restaurants, including Burger King, which added the Impossible Whopper to its menu in the fall of 2019.
New food technology can sometimes spark unnecessary fears among eaters, however, especially when a new food product is seen as unnatural or weird. Take, for example, the recent rumors warning consumers to beware the estrogen content in Impossible Whoppers and other Impossible Food products, lest the delicious, meat-free burgers cause men eating them to grow breasts.
WATCH: The Impossible Whopper Taste Test
Fears about soy products feminizing men have existed for quite a while. The Impossible Burger fear mongering, however, is a bit more recent. It stems from a 2019 story published by Tri-State Livestock News, a trade publication covering livestock agriculture. Written by James Stangle, who specializes in veterinary medicine, the story claims that four Impossible Whoppers a day contain “enough estrogen to grow boobs on a male.” That story was then picked up by conversative pundits such as Michael Savage, according to The Washington Post.
It seems silly to point out that few people, if any, are buying and consuming four Impossible Whoppers daily. But even if a man did decide to eat Impossible Whoppers for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack between, he needn’t worry about developing feminine secondary sex characteristics. For starters, the compound contained in Impossible Burgers isn’t human estrogen at all—it’s phytoestrogen, a plant isoflavone that acts similarly to human estrogen, but doesn’t have nearly the same strength, according to Insider. Phytoestrogen, which is often found in soy, can promote the effects of naturally occurring estrogen, which exists in all humans. But it can also suppress it, since it has both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects. How phytoestrogen affects you depends on what your existing estrogen levels are as well as other individual biological factors. Regardless of whether it promotes or decreases the effects of naturally occurring estrogen, however, it still doesn’t have the strength to grow breasts in men.
Although Stangle didn’t include this citation in his piece, it seems his claims may have stemmed from a single case in which a Texas man in 2008 developed “breasts and breast soreness” from drinking three quarts of soy milk a day, according to Snopes. Those effects went away after he stopped ingesting that extreme amount of soy milk regularly. This isolated case from 12 years ago might be shocking, but it’s not enough evidence to sound the alarm on soy products in general. The validity of the feminization fears surrounding soy products is also belied by the number of countries that rely on soy products; a plethora of Asian countries have been using soy beans for centuries without men in those societies suffering adverse or unexpected biological effects.
It’s worth pointing out that the feminization fears behind the Impossible Whopper estrogen rumors are inherently tied to sexism, homophobia and transphobia in some circles. Meat eating is also connected, in some men’s mind, to masculinity; the idea of eating a veggie burger amounts to an assault on their very identity. There’s nothing to fear from eating a plant-based burger, however; a bite of a charbroiled soy product won’t take away anyone’s man-card. So if you’re worried an occasionally meatless meal will turn you into a woman, don’t be. Instead, prove your masculinity by taming your fear of new foods.
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