Image credit: Gisela Francisco, used under Creative Commons license.
I went for a burger with friends the other day (yes, I ordered veggie), and the meat eaters among us started reminiscing about the days when burgers were not boasting about their 100% prime beef content. "I liked the soy filler. Couldn't they sell that as a health benefit?" exclaimed one diner. This got me thinking. Maybe the push for cleaner, more transparent and more, errm, meat-based meat supplies has an environmental downside too.
When Does Meat-Thrift Become Dangerous Frankenfood?
Don't get me wrong. From the unpleasant prospect of a steak created with meat glue to e.coli in the meat supply, there's very good reason why many people are turning to more humanely-reared meat, insisting on 100% prime cuts, and or making the switch to veganism and vegetarianism. But it might be worth remembering that many of the practices that became dangerous and nasty when applied to mass-produced factory farmed meat were originally just a continuation of the economic and cultural imperative to not waste the meat you've worked so hard to raise.
Offal Has Green Benefits
Take the classic British bangers and mash, for example. Nowadays if you order that meal at any of the umpteen thousand gastropubs that dot the countryside, you'll most likely be told about the superb bangers that are produced from 100% prime pork meat. Yet I'd be willing to bet that many of my ancestors would find the notion of a banger made from 100% prime cuts of anything to be a ridiculous notion. Isn't the very idea of a sausage to use up trimmings, and perhaps offal, that might otherwise have gone to waste? After all, eating guts, heads, feet and genitalia is greener than eating steak—so long as you know where those body parts came from.
The Return of Fillers in Burgers?
And the same argument could be made for soy, corn or other fillers in a fast foodburger. There was a time when consumers revolted on discovering that their McDonald's burger was not 100% beef. But given what we know about both the health risks of eating too much red meat, and the CO2 emissions associated with beef, maybe there is a case for marketing carefully-regulated fillers as part of a healthy, or at least healthier, meat supply? One St. Louis-based company has been touting the benefits of a "hybrid" soy/beef burger for some time now—if the conversation of my meat-loving friends is anything to go by, perhaps it's time has come.
We should, of course, also remember that meat eaters can love fake meat too. If 50% soy was alright by many burger fans, maybe we can all go for a 100% veggie burger after all. If we're feeling really adventurous, we could also try eating real vegetables instead. But that may be a crazy step too far...
More on Meat Eating, Vegetarianism and Environmental Sustainability
What a Vegan World Looks Like: PETA's Infographic
A Look Inside a Humane Slaughter House (Video)
What Does a Vegan World Actually Look Like?
Why Vegans Are Welcome to Call Me a Murderer
I Don't Feel Bad for Eating Meat So Why Do I apologize For It?
Even Anthony Bourdain Says Eat Less Meat
Why Eating Guts, Brains, Feet and Genitalia is Green (Video)
The Offal Truth: Would You Eat Guts, Brains and Genitalia?
Why Graham Hill is a Weekday Vegetarian, and You Should Be Too
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70 Percent