Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Burger Dilemma

Last Friday night, Ged and I ate at Cafè Deluxeè, a small cafe near our apartment.  I saw under the "burgers" section of the menu that they had a soy burger.  Having not seen anything remotely soy on any Italian menu while I've been in Italy, I knew I had to order it.  But before I go into the heated debate that followed my ordering of the soy burger, I introduce to you last night's dinner:

A concoction of chopped and sauteed tomatoes, onions, pepper, garlic and seitan mixed with whole grain rice and served with sauteed asparagus.

This was Ged's first time trying seitan, and he said he preferred it to tofu.  I guess maybe that's because the texture is not as strange as tofu can sometimes be.  You know, that slippery, rubbery texture.

Right, back to the burger discussion.

When I got the burger, it looked great--a cutlet of soy with tomato, lettuce and onion in a fresh bun.  

I regret to inform you, however, that when I bit into it I was immediately disappointed.  The patty was hard and dry, clearly overcooked.  

I've had soy burgers before, mostly in the form of Boca Burgers, and that's not how mine should've tasted.

I told Ged about my unfortunate meal selection and he said he wasn't surprised because it's Italy, and no one should expect to receive a tasty meal if ordering anything soy from a menu.

And then he said he didn't understand why I'd even order a "burger" in the first place because it goes against everything I believe in.  As an Englishman, he thinks the concept of the soy burger is a contradiction within itself because the burger has been perpetually advertised as a greasy slab of beef, such as the picture below:

That stereotype of the burger exists, I think, because big fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King have abused the concept of the burger by connecting it with the evil practices of animal abuse and the manufacturing of unhealthy, synthetic ingredients.

"Burger," to me, is effectively synonymous with "sandwich."  Thinking about what a burger actually is, I understand it to essentially be a piece of protein with lettuce, tomato and onion between two slices of bread.  Is it not?

Yes, the burger is most commonly thought of as a dish containing meat but I believe that's because a majority of people eat meat.  The tiny sector of non-meat eaters still exists regardless of the majority, and that doesn't mean that soy burgers can't also coexist alongside the traditional burger.

Furthermore, I think the burger is a staple of the American diet, just as pasta is to Italy or the baguette is to France.  

I grew up in a household that didn't have a lot of money.  My parents both worked two jobs each and were dog-tired when they came home to their three kids.  To them, 29-cent hamburger Wednesday at McDonalds was a blessing.  The food was super cheap and kept the kids full and happy.  I'm not condoning the restaurant in any way, I'm just explaining my personal experience with the food.  And I'm sure this is fairly typical of a lot of Americans around my age.  

When you've grown up eating something for 20 years, there are certain things you miss, like burgers, and the soy burger is a solution to that.

Sure, it's traditionally beef, but ice cream is traditionally made of cow's milk and I'm able to purchase soy ice cream, and instead of eggs I eat tofu scramble.  The important thing about the food I eat is not how it's prepared but that it's made from vegetables instead of animal flesh or product.  

Yes, semantics have changed as a result of mass media and advertising.  The word "burger" has become associated almost entirely with fast food giants because of billions of dollars of advertising and years of spotlighting the burger as a thick, greasy beef patty with white bread and condiments.

I think Ged's comment is a testament to the fact that money rules the way people perceive and think about the world and its contents.  Without marketing tactics such as massive billboards and incessant TV commercials showcasing mystery meat on a bun, there's no way the term "burger" would have inspired such a negative sentiment across the world.

Yes, burgers can be very unhealthy and unethical, but that's not to say that I can't go ahead and make a perfectly nutritious burger.  What I was trying to explain to Ged was that by being a vegan, I'm not standing against a certain style of preparing food, I'm fighting the murder and mistreatment of animals.  Simple as that.

What do you think?  Do you agree with Ged in saying that the burger essentially goes against veganism, or do you think my argument has more validity?


  1. Let me say that the "Standard American Burger" does go against Veganism. However, your type of Burger may not be as much fun to eat, but is much more nutritious when cooked the right way.

  2. I think gauging if it is "fun to eat" or not depends on who you're asking. And I think a majority of people (who are meateaters) would prefer the McDonalds burger to a soy burger simply because that's what they've been trained to eat. That's what they're used to, you know?

    I think soy burgers are just as "fun to eat" for me. They're super tasty and satisfying, and I don't have to kill anything in the process.

  3. I love burgers. But, my mom made them with lean beef from my grandparents' farm. However, I don't eat burgers now. When I was vegan, I loved Boca burgers! I don't think of "burger" to be synonomous with dead cattle. I don't eat dead cattle though. I never liked knowing which cow I was eating ;) I'm no longer vegan as I eat organic dairy and organic poultry. When I was vegan, those options weren't available to me.

  4. I hear Ged loves soy-composite vegetarian bacon!