Grass Fed: The Case for Veggie Burgers

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Welcome, veggie burger. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

So I eat a lot of burgers. It's not just my weekly reviews and Reality Checks that put a couple of patties on my weekly lunch menu—an insatiable curiosity makes me wonder what good burgers might be lurking nearby, no matter where I am. And as my identity has slowly wrapped itself around a burger addiction, my friends also act as enablers. It seems that each day brings another invitation to have a burger, or a heads-up about one I may have missed.

Of course, the burgers are always ones with beef patties. This is understandable—many would argue that making a burger without beef as the protein isn't making a burger at all. I have made this argument myself.

But not too long ago I gave the premise a closer look: I realized that I was engaging in the kind of elitist, incurious thinking that might just as easily dismiss all burgers as unworthy of a serious eater's attention. Of course, we know this kind of thinking leads to a life not fully lived. Perhaps my beef burger prejudice was as self-destructive as so many others; my bias for beef simply an act of blogger brio. Maybe it wasn't the beef that I loved, but rather the idea of beefiness.

Going Beyond Beef

With this in mind, I decided to open up my notion of what constitutes a proper burger. I set out to try all manner of veggie burgers. I tried the store-bought kind that dot frozen food aisles. I tried gourmet outlets that cater to the well-heeled and body-proud. I even made my way to the strict vegetarian and vegan eateries that feed the throngs of wan-looking healthy people throughout my metropolis. What I found amazed me: I realized that veggie burgers are, in fact, better than beef burgers.

Okay, I can hear the tut-tutting even as I type this. "The hell you say, Damon! We trusted you. We thought you were one of us!" I was, and that's why I am writing this. I want our readership to open up their minds and mouths to make room for a new burger reality: veggie is the new beef. Before you throw a rock at your computer screen, give me a chance to make my argument.

I'm not trying to make a point about environmental sustainability, animal rights, or health —I'm saying, eat veggie burgers because they taste better. Take a moment to think about why you like beef. Yes, a properly charred beef patty lights up your brains pleasure centers like the Fourth of July. But that's just because you're hardwired that way. Our ancestors that liked eating meat (and could successfully hunt) had more calorie dense diets that could support our growing brains and bodies. And that char! So delicious and so good at killing bacteria; we were naturally selected to enjoy it. But don't you get tired of liking things just because your primal desire tells you to? Don't you want the mindful pleasure that comes with non-meat foods?

The Pros of Veggie Burgers

Veggie burgers offer up myriad sources of enjoyment. The dryness that you so often associate with them—that's actually a plus. I know it's counterintuitive, but really, so many of the condiments we choose for our burgers have a high water content. Lettuce and tomatoes can drain into the veggie patty and be balanced out. A good beef patty has so much of its own juice that burgers become wet messes. How many times have you been confronted with a big, bold, beef burger and found yourself eating it with animal pleasure and speed? It's probably because it's falling apart, not because you are actually enjoying it that much.

The crunchiness and nuttiness that used to be the signature texture of a veggie patty can still be found, but these days much experimenting has led to a smoother mouthfeel. Yes, some call it slimy, but again that's an impulsive response. Consider the balance with other ingredients—that sliminess is matched with an absorbent bun.

Further, the seasoning options of a veggie patty are limitless. On a meat patty adding masses of spices beyond salt and pepper would be seen as masking the ingredient's natural appeal, but in the case of the veggie patty, there isn't any robust flavor of its own. Thus all that extra seasoning becomes the flavor. When you put mustard on veggie burger, you really taste all that mustard. On a beef burger it merely adds an acid balance to the succulent fat.

The veggie patty is, at its core, a vessel for flavor. Meat patties are so full of flavor and juice on their own that it doesn't offer all of the other ingredients room to shine. The beef patty is too domineering, too demanding of an eater's attention. The beef patty is a spotlight-stealing diva. The veggie is happy to play its part in a burger's ensemble cast.  Now is the time for the veggie patty to accept its starring role in this grand, burger play.

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