If you couldn’t tell, it’s just about officially summertime in the U.S. of A. Those of us in the sunny South are already sweating under Equator-hot, August-like temperatures hovering daily around the mid-90s to even 100 degrees. And, sadly, the tornado season is already in full operating mode in the middle of the country, with monsoon rains inundating many 100-year floodplains. Even the owners of the Noah’s Ark replica in Kentucky are suing its insurance company because it wouldn’t cover water damage. (Somehow that doesn’t seem to jibe with the Biblical story I’ve always heard, but I’m sure the courts will settle the dispute.)
With the Memorial Day observance behind us, the season dedicated to stuffing ourselves silly with picnic and party fare is well underway. Grilling pros (and wannabe masters of the tongs) are nightly firing up meat in all its delectable forms, including the most popular favorites such as ribs, chicken, brats, hot dogs, steaks and hamburgers.
Or is that really the case?
Rumor has it one of the all-time favorite backyard staples could well be endangered. It seems the All-American hamburger is under attack. If the stories are true, more and more vegan patties are replacing those juicy hunks of meat on a bun.
It’s not a brand-new idea. Human non-carnivores have been eschewing ground beef for years. There are those of my acquaintance who have politely inquired at gatherings if they might either be permitted to bring along their own main course or, in a larger group, if an alternative patty might be purchased and thrown on a grill — just not touching any cow parts. In all honesty, up until now, I have to say that those ersatz “burgers” looked about as appetizing as creamed chip beef on toast to a career infantryman.
The new fare goes by at least one catchy name: The Impossible Burger. It’s been described as “a plant-based patty that bleeds and sizzles when it cooks.” Besides things such as wheat protein, coconut oil, soy, yeast extract, konjac gum, xanthan gum, zinc, vitamins and something called heme (a natural molecule, I’m told), there’s also salt in it. I would think that latter addition is necessary to substantially enhance the flavor, especially since none of the other items in the recipe scream, “Yum, Yum!”
Many formerly all-beef restaurants are now offering the alternative burger, claiming it not only fits in a meat-free diet, it has the taste and texture of a regular one. But, it still may not be the healthiest item on the menu. In addition to the possibility of high sodium content, it seems some plant-based burgers have pretty much a similar amount of saturated fats and calories as their traditional counterparts.
Several fast-food eateries are experimenting with including a meatless burger on their menus. Burger King has perhaps made the biggest splash thus far. The Impossible Whopper has been in a trial run around the St. Louis area, and reports are it’s doing rather well. So much so that the chain plans to roll it out nationwide by the end of the year.
McDonald’s and others will no doubt want in the game if this trend continues. Out west, Carl’s Junior already offers a Beyond Burger. Carl’s uses a product from the Beyond Meat company that’s been around for a decade or so. Shoot, if the trend continues, pretty soon the Chick-fil-A cows could be replaced on billboards by chickens saying, “Eat Mor Meet.”
As far as I can tell, the burger vs. not-really-a-burger battle has not yet escalated into a war. Politicians haven’t really weighed in much either. Unless I missed it, not even New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deigned to include a mention of the Impossible Burger in her Green initiative, although the plant-based food is touted as requiring less water, land and energy to produce than a regular burger.
Personally, I don’t eat nearly as much meat as I used to. However, there are times when nothing but a double-decked, juice-dripping-down-your-chin, three-napkin burger is necessary to quell a craving. I know what I’m getting my body into when I scarf down one of those delicacies, and it seems OK with my doing so, as long as I don’t make it a regular habit. As far as substitutes go, well, if I can’t pronounce the ingredients on the package label, let’s just say I’m a little leery of ingesting them. I’ll liken the burger situation to a cold Coca-Cola. Many faux sugar drink offerings are good as far as they go. But when push comes to shove, I’d just as soon have the Real Thing.