Welcome to The Reheat, a space for Eater writers to explore landmark (and lukewarm) culinary moments of the recent and not-so-recent past.
Season six of the beloved show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is arguably its most controversial, taking on a sinister tone as Buffy, back from the dead (again), readapts to the raw cruelty of life on the mortal plane: She begins a destructive sexual relationship with her longtime nemesis; her best friend Willow turns evil; most unforgivable of all to fans, she cuts her long hair into a bob. It’s also the season with two of the show’s most memorable episodes, the musical episode “Once More With Feeling” and “Tabula Rasa,” when Buffy and friends collectively lose their memories and must piece together who they are while under siege by monsters.
It makes sense then that the season’s 12th episode “Doublemeat Palace” is mostly forgotten. In it, Buffy takes a job because slaying vamps doesn’t pay the bills. During her shifts at the Doublemeat Palace — a fast-food restaurant specializing in a sandwich that features a beef patty, a “slice of processed chicken product,” and a secret ingredient — our plucky slayer notices a pattern of disappearing employees, leading her to suspect that the secret ingredient is PEOPLE.
But it’s not actually people. The burger doesn’t actually contain beef or chicken. After having Willow (still good/not yet turned dark and veiny) analyze the meat patties, they discover that it’s actually cellulose, a chemical compound found in green plants. Bamboo cellulose is an ingredient in Beyond Meat, and methylcellulose (a cellulose derivative typically known as a laxative) is found in both Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers.
Of course, veggie burgers with cellulose were already a thing (it’s an intrinsic part of green vegetables after all) in 2002, but the fast-food industry had yet to capitalize on it. Vegetarians at the time were mostly contenting themselves on microwaved Boca and garden burgers, and “flexitarian” — meat eaters who dabble in vegetarianism — was not yet a term.
In selling fake meat that tastes like real meat instead of vegetables, the Doublemeat Palace was ahead of its time. Where it failed was not the disappearing work staff (who were actually being picked off by a monster, NOT being turned into burgers) or the terrible work culture, it was that they saw the secret ingredient as a weakness instead of a strength. The one thing we knew about the Doublemeat Burger before learning its true makeup was that it’s popular, passes for beef AND chicken, and, according to Buffy’s goober friend Xander, tastes delicious. To think, they could have pioneered a movement instead of just predicting it.