Here’s the Beef

I’m not afraid of controversy, but I’ll avoid confrontation at all costs. I like to think of myself as a peacemaker, but also a rebellious troublemaker deep inside. It’s within this bundle of contradictions that I was both thrilled and appalled by the announcement of a fully vegan burger going on the permanent menu for McDonald’s Germany. Yes, the very same golden arches that can’t seem to make room for animal-free french fries back home in the US. The Big Vegan TS is another daring response to super meaty patties popularized by Beyond and Impossible, made with soy and wheat, swaddled by a sesame seed bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion. Not just meatless, not just vegan with modifications, this assembly automatically omits any and all cheese, mayo, or animal-derived additives. It’s even prepared in a dedicated deep-fryer, rather than the standard griddle smeared with beef fat. No matter how you feel about the clown at large, this is big news.

Even crazier than its mere existence was the coincidence that I would be abroad just about one week after the initial launch. I had to get one. I couldn’t possibly get one. It went against every shred of nutritional common sense instilled in me, every consideration for supporting small businesses and shunning a conglomerate otherwise responsible for some of the most egregious animal abuse in the world.

Curiousity, inevitably, will be my downfall one day. Believe it or not, however, this was not that day.

Arriving at the table at speeds that only a well-oiled fast food operation could hope to achieve, it looked and smelled every bit as meaty as anything else on the menu. Crisp on the outside, charred and smoky on the nose, while the interior remained juicy, hauntingly pink as promised. Sinking my teeth in to the soft, squishy white bread, lightly stained with grease, it struck me that I had never actually eaten a burger at McDonald’s before in my entire life.

I hated it. I loved it. It was everything I wanted it to be and better, but still worse. It would have been easier just to hate it on principle, but no one can deny that carefully engineered combination of fat, sugar, and salt designed to hit all the pleasure centers of the brain. As my omnivorous dining companion pointed out, the original tastes so minimally like beef in the first place, you could likely swap the two without noticing any difference.

That’s the ultimate point here. The Big Vegan TS is not an entree made with me or the vegan population at large in mind. Forever pandering to millennials and younger generations more concerned about healthy eating, it’s a smarter alternative to red meat for someone who might otherwise indulge without a second thought. Providing a lower cost, mainstream meatless meal in places where accessibility might otherwise be a barrier, it’s a huge step in making real change across an entirely different demographic. Though hardcore vegans may still raise hell about the purveyor, it’s a move that should be celebrated for the overall impact on animal lives.

Hopefully the success of this bold new innovation will encourage McDonald’s worldwide to follow suit in short order. While such decadence would be an admittedly rare indulgence for me, I can’t lie; I’d travel anywhere for those crispy, iconic fries.

 

 

 

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The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.