Friday, September 26, 2008

Veggie Burger 101

I’ve been a vegetarian for 5 years now and one thing us veggies know is that veggie ‘burgers’ are not created equal.

This post is more for the restaurant owners and wait staff out there. It’s very important you understand that putting ‘veggie burger’ on your menu is as vague as saying ‘animal’ under the entrée section. You need to be as specific as possible or you will have a very disappointed veg head on your hands – and you work for tips. Remember that.

I went to a restaurant that had ‘gardenburger’ on their menu, I inquired and was told by the waitress it was a ‘gardenburger’ and when it arrived it was a boca burger – that is like ordering a grilled cheese and getting a Reuben – totally different. I couldn't eat it. Mom took it home. I was devastated. Truly. In all seriousness. Not happy. I got quite bitchy and a little bratty.

Let me explain the types of veggie burgers in the world:

Boca Burger – this is a brand name but vegetarians use it general terms to mean a specific type of veggie burger. In most cases a traditional ‘Boca’ burger is a soy protein based patty (something like those weird hamburgers you ate in high school) same texture, and for me, not very edible.
They look most like a ‘real’ hamburger. (a really icky looking one, but still) I can eat a Boca patty if I have it on a bun smothered with condiments, veggies and a slice of cheese. It is nothing I’d choose to eat on a regular basis. Now, Boca also makes other varieties that fall into the grain based categories. (Just to confuse you)

Gardenburger – again, a brand name. A traditional Gardenburger is a grain based patty. It is brown rice, veggies and often cheese. As different from a Boca patty as humanly possible – they are both round and that is where the similarities end.

Amy's Kitchen - Amy's makes Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) and veggie based burgers that are very good. Again, different.

Bean burger – some veggie burgers are bean based burgers, like a black bean patty. These are good to use inside a tortilla or mixed in with a salad. It’s like a refried bean patty. Different.

Morningstar Farms – this is another brand and their patties are a veggie-soy base that is (again) completely different from the other ones. (Are you confused yet? I’ve had 5 years to sort thru this)

Also available:

Faux chicken – textured soy protein molded into something that quite resembles the texture of a chicken sandwich (breaded or not) and I very much enjoy these. Also comes in nuggets and strips

Faux Beef – textured vegetable protein usually found in ‘crumbles’ to resemble hamburger for chili, tacos or sloppy joes or in ‘strips’ to resemble steak strips for stir fry. Gardenburger makes faux ribs, which are fantastic. You can also get hot dogs and corn dogs!

Alternatives – to make it even more complicated there are other things available like Quorn and Seitan.

Here are a few issues I have:

Very often restaurants use the garden burger term to encompass ALL burger types and this is a very bad idea. If you have garden burger on your menu, I’m going to assume it’s a Gardenburger (as in brand) and when a Boca or something of your own creation comes out, I will not be a happy camper. (Although, I will admit that now I ask a lot of questions before ordering but if the wait staff doesn't know the difference then it's a crapshoot)

I’ve been to a couple places that think a bun with condiments and a variety of veggies on it – essentially a traditional burger with no patty - is somehow something a vegetarian is interested in eating. They aren’t. Why can’t these places buy a couple boxes of Gardenburgers and stick them in the freezer? Not that hard! Not that expensive!

I’ve come across a few places that have a house veggie burger (which is great) but they do something to it that makes it more fattening than a traditional animal burger! WHAT do these places do to vegetables to make them have more calories than a slice of cheesecake? WTF? People probably order that thinking they are choosing wisely and they are actually making a worse choice.

In addition to being a vegetarian, I am also on Weight Watchers so a 953 calorie veggie burger with 52 grams of fat really isn’t an option for me (and I’m not kidding about the calories/fat – that is one major chains veggie burger stats!)

One last comment – if you know a vegetarian and are trying hard to feed them at a gathering – PLEASE contact them and ask what they prefer to eat. I’m betting most will volunteer to bring a burger or entrée item along with them but don’t just march up to the health food fake meat case and think you’ll be able to make a good decision. Even I couldn't choose wisely for someone else and I'm a 5 year pro!

Personally, I love and loathe certain things within each brand and I suspect all veg heads are like me. I love Boca brand faux chicken nuggets but Morningstar brand nuggets are gross. I love the Morningstar brand bacon, hate the Boca bacon. I even prefer to cook mine a certain way. My vegetarian uncle doesn't mind things heated up in the microwave, I despise it. I use a toaster oven. Plus, some vegetarians eat cheese, some don't... so you need to know that before you try and buy food for a veg head.

It’s an intricate web and no two veg heads are the same. It's better to ask than watch a veggie force down something disgusting or refuse to eat something even tho you meant well.

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