Try the 'Better Burger Challenge' This Summer

CC BY 2.0. Dale Simonson -- A homemade veggie burger

Adding vegetables or legumes to ground beef makes a burger that's tastier, healthier, and less environmentally damaging.

What is it about warm weather that makes people want to fire up their grills and slap on a burger patty? Combined with fresh bread, great toppings, and a cold beer, eating burgers in one’s backyard is pretty much synonymous with being American. The numbers show this to be true: at least 20 billion burgers are consumed annually in the U.S. When you stop to think about it, this amounts to a tremendous quantity of resources, including soy and corn feed for cows, water, and (ugh) antibiotics.

Several organizations are hoping that Americans will embrace a “better burger” this year. In an effort to get people thinking about the environmental impact of beef, the James Beard Foundation has launched its annual Blended Burger Project, urging home cooks and restaurants to blend ground beef with a minimum of 25 percent chopped mushrooms. This simple trick deepens the flavor, adds nutrients, trims fat and calories, barely affects texture (one might argue improves it), and stretches your dollar.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) wants people to take their burgers a step further with its Better Burger Challenge. This challenge suggests a minimum 30 percent organic vegetable or legume content with ground beef that comes from ethical sources, not the industrially-praised beef found in the vast majority of U.S. burgers. Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of FOE’s food and technology program, said in a press release:

“All meat is not created equal. Industrial meat pollutes our environment and our bodies. The better burger swaps out industrial beef for pasture-raised grass-fed or organic meat blended with mushrooms, transforming it into a healthier food with a lower environmental footprint. As we enter the grilling season, we are asking Americans, restaurants, and universities to support their local farmers and ranchers—as well as the health of their customers and the planet – by taking the Better Burger challenge.”

No doubt many readers will see this as a pathetic, half-hearted effort to justify ongoing consumption of a cruel and resource-intensive food, but for the millions of Americans out there who don’t share that view, these are interesting challenges to consider. I suspect that most people don’t think of blending beef with other ingredients; it’s not a common practice, and yet, if done by enough people, could make a real difference.

Burgers can be made with many different ingredients. Mushrooms are the most common beef substitute, but other grated vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, onions, and carrots work, too. You can add cooked lentils, rice, quinoa, chickpeas, oats, or mashed sweet potato. FOE has a list of recipes on its website and you can find delicious vegetarian/vegan burger ideas on TreeHugger.

Share your creations online using hashtag #BlendedBurgerProject and #BetterBurgerNow.