Veggie Burgers Are More Than Meat Substitutes, They're Bites of History

As Labor Day passes, grilling season slowly begins to fade with the summertime memories of cookouts on warm evenings. However, before the season has completely disappeared, let's take a moment to honor not only the burgers and brats that grace our grills but also the humble veggie burger.

No longer are Boca Burgers and Gardenburgers the only options for those wishing to indulge in something a little less meaty. Today's mock meats are slowly beginning to resemble the real thing.  However, as this revolution keeps advancing, it's hard to help but wonder: Where did it begin?

In the Beginning

The early vegetarians of the 19th century weren't out to avoid cholesterol or advocate for animals' rights, their choice stemmed from a more ideological source.

"Through the 1850s and 1860s, vegetarian food is purposely plain," explains Pennsylvania's Marywood University historian Adam Shprintzen, who traced the history of early American vegetarianism in his book The Vegetarian Crusadetold NPR.

He explained that by avoiding peppers and spices, which are typical ingredients to season meat, vegetarians believed that their bodies wouldn't be overstimulated. This left those pursuing a plant-based diet a limited list of enjoyments that included boiled vegetables, coarse wheat breads, and custards. By the end of the 19th century, however, the vegetarian diet had already begun to evolve.

"The push towards mock meat really represents a push in the nature of vegetarianism," Shprintzen told NPR. "It tries to realign vegetarianism away from radical politics, and toward using vegetarianism as a vehicle for success -- reform for the benefit of the individual, rather than social reform."

Veggie Becomes Edgy

Son ricas, son faciles y son veggie!!! Otro #Lunessincarne pero lleno de sabor. Hamburguesas Vegetarianas. Palta + Lentejas + Garbanzos + especias Receta abajo y video en el link! . . Ingredientes 200 gr de lentejas turcas (las naranjitas) previamente hervidas 200 gr de garbanzos previamente hervidos ½ chile sin semillas 1 palta Pan integral o cualquier pan sin corteza 2 rodajas ½ vaso de leche Jugo de ½ limón 1 cda de sal 1 rosca de pimienta 1 cdita de cúrcuma 1 cdita de pimienta de cayena Mostaza a gusto 1 cdita de salsa tabasco 1 puñado de perejil 1 puñado de parmesano rallado 2 tomates Repollo morado Repollo blanco Pancitos ricos Método Hiervo las lentejas hasta que estén tiernas (no es mucho tiempo). Dejo enfriar. Hiervo también los garbanzos (que en este caso sí llevan su tiempo y hay que dejar en remojo la noche anterior). Dejo enfriar. Remojo el pan junto con la leche hasta que se pueda desmenuzar. Abro la palta al medio, saco el carozo y retiro la pulpa. Abro el chile al medio, le saco las semillas y pico la mitad. Pongo dentro de la procesadora las lentejas, garbanzos, la palta, medio chile picado, el pan desmenuzado, el jugo de medio limón y condimentar bien con sal, pimienta, cúrcuma y pimienta de cayena. Agregar mostaza, perejil picado y la salsa tabasco. Proceso poco, esta bueno que se vean un poco de garbanzos y lentejas, y que no sea una pasta tipo puré. De esta manera también mantiene mejor su consistencia. Conviene llevarlas un rato a la heladera, y luego en una sartén con un poco de oliva sellarlas de ambos lados hasta que estén bien doraditas y listas para comer. Las armo untando un poco de mostaza en unos ricos panes, y las corono con rodaja de tomate y repollo morado y blanco en juliana. . . #meatfreemonday #veggie #veggieburger #avocado #instafood #foodie #food #burger

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With this shift in ideology, came a shift in food. Unsurprisingly, the first mock meats came from one of the most famous destinations for personal health of the early 20th century -- Michigan's Battle Creek Sanitarium

And yes, this is the same place that the Kellogg's invented what we know today as breakfast. At that time, however, the Kellogg brothers were merely health crusaders and spent time in their lab devising recipes for faux meat and cereals alike.

After much experimentation within their laboratory, the Kelloggs came out with mock meats formed from a mix of nuts and gluten. Protose, as it was called, was said to "resemble potted veal or chicken. It has a distinctly meaty odor and flavor. When a bit is torn off and chewed, it shows a distinct fiber. It is of such consistency that it may be masticated like tender meat and when cooked retains its form as does meat."

Although this description may have been a bit of an exaggeration, annual sales totaled over a million dollars for this product.

A New Era of Veggie Burgers

For decades following the Kellogg's invention, mock meat came in cans. However, in the 1970s things started to look brighter for consumers. During this decade, manufacturers ditched cans for the freezer section and offering "fresher" alternatives like Gardenburger and Boca Burger.

Today's current iteration of veggie burgers has taken things a step further. Composition is now the name of the game as scientists spend their time tearing apart and reassembling plant materials at the molecular level in an effort to produce a palatable product, even for the most hardcore carnivores.

So this fall, if you find yourself indulging in a veggie burger for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, take note of how far this food has come. Once a glutenous substance stuffed in a can, now even omnivores enjoy a tasty treat with veggie burgers that can effectively be labeled an I-can't-believe-it's-not-meat creation.

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