By Bob Gaydos
“You don’t eat bacon!?”
The look of incredulity on the speaker’s face matched the tone in his voice.
“No,” I replied. “I don’t.”
End of conversation. At least the out-loud part.
“What, are you a commie? Un-American? A vegan!?” I said silently to myself, imagining I could read his mind.
Then, out loud again, “I don’t eat red meat either.”
“Yeah, my doctor told me I shouldn’t either,” Mr. Incredulous offered. “Not good for my heart.”
I nodded knowingly.
He went back to his slice of Buffalo chicken/bacon/ranch pizza and I dove into my taco salad (with grilled chicken). By looks of the size of the guy and his relatively young age, I surmised his doctor was probably right. But not for me to say, at least under the circumstances (in public, others at the table and none of my business).
I don’t go around making a big deal about what I eat and try not to comment on what others eat, or should eat. But I notice. I notice that a lot of Americans seem to have difficulty making the connection between how they eat — what they eat, more than how much — and their general well-being:
— “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but I love cookies and candy and cake and soda …”
— “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger deluxe, but leave off the lettuce and tomato. No pickle, but I’ll take the fries.”
— “Diet Coke, please.”
— “I hate salad.”
And of course, there’s an out-of-shape, orange-skinned septuagenarian in the Oval Office who lives on burgers, fries, fried chicken, steak and ice cream. He has also effectively disbanded the President’s Council on Fitness and ended Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-free school lunch program.
So what the heck, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for us, a lot of Americans have apparently decided. Man or woman cannot live on kale alone, right?
Right. But man or woman is likely to live a longer, healthier life if a few greens and assorted vegetables were a more common part of their diet. The chief rap on bacon and red meats, healthwise, is that they’re loaded with saturated fats, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and stroke. That’s why the doctor told Mr. Incredulous to lay off the bacon.
But a lot of people (myself included) don’t like to be told to do what’s ultimately good for them. In fact, they will often do the opposite. There’s a lot of that going around these days in this age of anti-science and constant accusations of “fake news.” Willful ignorance is now brandished the way a gold star from the teacher used to be.
So how do you get people to do what’s good for them (and also, by the way, the planet)? How do you convince people to occasionally eat more healthful food when they are hooked on beef, bacon and burgers?
Well, maybe you figure out a way to blend a bunch of plants together and make them look and taste like a beef burger.
Welcome to the Impossible Burger, now available at Burger King. Or the PLT Burger from Beyond Meat, about to get a test run from McDonald’s.
What’s different about these and other new, plant-based burgers that are causing a stir in fast-food lines as well as the stock market apparently is that — unlike the well-meaning veggie burgers that have been around for years — these Whoppers and Not a Burgers actually look and taste like beef burgers. Juice and all. But they’re vegan. No animal byproducts at all.
I’m thus far unable to provide a personal review of one of these plant-based burgers because I haven’t found a place serving one yet. When I do, I will.
But it is worth pointing out that the plant-based burgers themselves, even if they turn out to be juicy and yummy are themselves a mixed bag, health-wise. For starters, they have been heavily processed to attain the desired taste and texture and the jury is out on the health effects of a lot of the additives. Also, they can be high on calories and tend to be heavy on salt, which is definitely not a health benefit. They also have less protein than animal-based burgers and, while they contain no cholesterol and have added some vital nutrients, they may have some saturated fats from coconut.
In other words, the jury’s still out.
So why bother? For one thing, eating even a little less red meat is good for one’s health. For another, relying more on plants, less on animals, for food, is good for the planet. Livestock farming is a major contributor to global warming (greenhouse gasses, ammonia) and a major consumer of water and user of land. People who believe in science think global warming is the major issue of our time. (As we know, the Oval Office burger-muncher is not a science believer.) And for some, there is the benefit of knowing that no animals lost their lives so they could enjoy lunch.
I’m no purist in this area. As I said, my taco salad was topped with chicken. I also eat seafood, including sushi. But I don’t run from salads, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and love non-dairy frozen desserts as well as frozen yogurt. My favorite non-beef burger thus far has been a black bean burger. Delicious, especially with sweet potato fries.
I guess my point, which I wrote about several years ago when a doctor told me it would behoove me to cut down on the sweets, salt and red meat, is that it is entirely possible to enjoy eating and also enjoy good health. Take fewer meds. I tried to follow the doctor’s suggestion. She said most don’t. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits. Medical costs have soared.
I still do the best I can. Lost a bunch of weight and I am in pretty good health for an old curmudgeon. No meds. Wear a size 36 belt. I don’t feel deprived because I avoid bacon. Oh, in a weak moment, I might actually grab a piece. I haven’t yet, but that’s all it would be. A piece. It’s all about balance. Given my usual diet, it won’t kill me to have a slice of bacon. Then again, between you and me, it wouldn’t kill Mr. Incredulous to try a nice Greek Salad once in awhile. Or at least an Impossible Burger.