Veggie Burgers: the new mystery meat
The guy at the check-out counter kept sneaking weary glances at it, a puzzled look on his face.
“They’re veggie burgers,” I said.
“Yeah, they’re made out of soy and milk and stuff,” replied Austin.
“Oh, um, that’s cool,” the guy muttered, quickly stuffing the Boca Burger box into our shopping bag.
I wondered why a veggie burger, with its plant-based ingredients, would make the poor guy nervous, while an industrial hamburger patty, with its unknown animal contents, would more than likely escape his notice.
But it got me thinking:What the heck is in a “veggie burger” anyway?
In your average grocery store, two kings rein over the meatless meat freezer: Boca Foods and Morningstar Farms (a brand of Kellogg company), each with a loyal fan base. Though both boast of meatless burgers, chik’n, and breakfast entrees, the taste and composition of their food is quite different.
While I’ll leave the taste testing to you, I took a deeper look into the Boca and Morningstar websites to learn more.
As is with all processed foods, the ingredients list was a medley of words I couldn’t pronounce- words like Disodium Guanylate, Nicotinamide, and Thiamin Mononitrate. Yet in chosing processed food, these mystery ingredients are an unavoidable part of the package.
Both companies revealed that the soy beans used in their products are likely from genetically engineered soy plants. However, for consumers who prefer to stay away from genetically engineered products, both companies provide “organic soy” products, which do not contain GE soy.
Then how about all the processing? Though veggie burgers provide an alternative to meat (a source of environmental problems), are the veggie burgers themselves eco-friendly? We may feel better that some veggie burgers contain no GE soy, but we can’t ignore the fact that they are still manufactured in factories, requiring a lot of energy and resource input. I found a post that looks at an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition about the environmental impacts of food production.
A summary from the post:
“The journal picked soy studies for a comparison, lucky for you. Meat production took more land (6 to 17 times as much), water (4.4 to 26 times), fossil fuels (6 to 20 times), and biocides (a lumped-together category of pesticides and chemicals used in processing — 6 times as much). In fact, meat lost in every category. When processing and transport is factored in to the equation, the difference becomes less extreme, but it’s still there. Meat-based diets use about twice as many environmental resources as soy-based diets. Despite concerns about deforestation and genetic engineering, soy appears to be the winner here.”
In this food showdown, the veggie burgers have triumphed. Yet figuring out what foods are healthy, environmentally friendly, and delicious can still be quite an Omnivore’s Dilemma. Do you pick organic or local? Natural or fresh? Meat or meatless? Sometimes you just want to throw in the towel and hit up Subway (which I’ll admit I did last night).
However, in figuring out the mystery behind the mystery meat-less, I’ve realized how easy it is to search around on the internet to find your answers. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to contact those companies or talk to those farmers, ask a few questions, and figure out your food.