Food & Drink : The Patty nuke show

Meatless in Steer City

For the record, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Schlosser killed the beast. Interpret “airplanes” as the allegorical airplanes of sober, meditative consideration, and “the beast” as my now-subdued habit of treating stuff-that-once-walked as comestibles, and you’ve got a sketchy origin story for my somewhat accidental, still-nascent vegetarianism — though not quite the way you might think.

(INTRA-OFFICE MEMO/ASIDE TO HERBIVORES: Hi — I’m the new guy. I don’t quite know the handshake yet, but I look forward to meeting all of you at Orientation, just as soon as they let me know when that is.)

Ask most of “us” why we’ve embraced the dietary customs of the noble, lumbering brachiosaur — as opposed to those of the way-cooler-looking allosaur, f’r’instance, or the diva-ish but fan-favorite T-rex — and you’ll get a variety of answers, from religion to allergy to suburban guilt. As for this little flat-tooth, I’ve always more or less thought it a pleasing notion to live as a thing that contributes as little as possible to the death of other things; I’d never assumed, though, that going all cheese-pizza would make enough of a worthwhile difference, nor had I occasion to try until, on vacation last summer in California, my lovely and honey-tempered vegetarian girlfriend finally got around to reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, and decided she’d puke like Linda Blair on an ipecac I.V. if she had to look at meat for the next few days.

Thus began an experiment. Partly, I was curious to see if I could go without meat and still enjoy eating. Partly, I was moved by Schlosser’s catalytic prose. Partly, as well, I wanted a travel companion who would talk to me, and not paint the wall with salad three meals a day. So, I went cold t(ofu)urkey, stocking up instead on potatoes, cheeses, avocado sandwiches. Eating out was more interesting, sort of a mini-challenge: Scan the menu, dodge the bacon bits and chicken-topped salads, find something meatless and affordable without inspiring the harried waiter to shit vengefully into your soup.

Initially daunting, though, was the prospect of eating at home. For much of my college and post-college life, I was a hamburger guy. There were other things in the mix, to be sure, but I can’t count the late-night trips to Jack-In-the-Box, Wendy’s, and local Austin-flavored joints like Players and Dirty Martin’s. And yet, there are a number of reasons for why, nearly a year after that fateful summer, I hardly ever miss meat. Seriously. Many of them start with “Morningstar Farms” and end with “burger.” Herewith, what I have learned in my nine short months in the universe of the meat-averse — a brief but loving guide to the do-it-yourself apocryphal burger, just in time for cookout season. Ready?

Morningstar Farms. Period. There are other players on the pseudo-burger landscape, but no other real contenders. Boca makes a palatable ersatz bratwurst, but keep their stringy, too-soft faux-beef the eff away from my microwave. They claim to have six varieties, but the three I’ve tasted (Original, Cheeseburger, and Roasted Onion) yielded the same oddish aftertaste and fishy texture.

Thumbs-down as well to Gardenburger, whose “Original Veggie Patty” seems at first an interesting amalgam of natural elements, but falls apart in your mouth and tastes almost nutty — nothing like a burger. Gardenburger’s website lists seven types of weird-nut-burger, but only the plain variety have I found at area supermarkets. Shame, too — “Portobello” or “Sun-Dried Tomato Basil” might be a good bit better.

Morningstar, on the other hand, produces 10 distinct burgers, and — not to gush, but — of the eight I’ve tasted, five are delicious and two are far-better-than-average. (The Cheddar Burger sucks; this cheese-infused fake-meat thing fails across the board, for some reason.) But creative selections like Philly Cheese Steak, Fajita, and Mushroom Lover’s, as well as the sublime Spicy Black Bean Burger, keep MSF far, far ahead of the pack.

The quality and quantity of Morningstar’s offerings, then, far outstrip those of its “competitors,” and have made a happy flora-phage of at least one converted carnivore.

Meantime, I’m still waiting for Orientation.


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