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Culture Plate

Trash or treasure? Just because the Bocuse d’Or has finally acknowledged there’s room for a vegan main on its roster of challenges hardly signifies a trend. In fact, Bocuse is a bit behind the fray, to say the least. Yet classic French cooking (and the way it’s taught) doesn’t necessarily need to bend to trends. After all, that’d defy the meaning of “classic” to some degree. If it does appear–in both pedagogy and on the plate–that there’s a new nod toward the prevalence of “plant-based” cuisine on the part of the masters, it won’t necessarily be because it’s good for us. It’ll be because the “vegetal” component of any dish, however it’s employed, just makes food taste good. Behold these anecdotes:

It takes 1,800 times less water to raise a pound of mushrooms as a pound of beef.

FIRST: The great Jacques Pépin tells us that a good way to make a juicy burger (in this case, a lamb burger) is to add a cup of chopped mushrooms to the mix for each pound of meat.  Because the mushrooms release so much water, the burger will not be dry, even if it is well-cooked. Here’s the recipe. The dish turns out to be a real delicacy, and has become standard fare in my kitchen, specially requested by the picky children in the family, who have no idea that there are mushrooms inside.

SECOND: Last year we wrote about how the Culinary Institute of America put out guidelines for chefs on how to use less meat. And it was noted that it takes 1,800 times less water to raise a pound of mushrooms as a pound of beef. At UC Riverside, students are regularly offered samples of a blended beef/mushroom burger and a turkey burger made with mushrooms and spinach. “Once they try it, they love it,” says Cheryl Garner, executive director of dining services at the University of California, Riverside. “Even people who don’t like mushrooms–they don’t even know there are mushrooms in it.”

Ah, would that there were more such instances of the happy convergence between the Good and the Good-For-You.

Not so fast. When the University of Connecticut recently went the blended burger route, it got a different reaction. Students started a Change.org petition to “bring back the original beef burger to UConn,” and urging students to sign, “if you are tired of the UConn administration making decisions that clearly ignore the interests of the students.” Latest count: 351 signatures.

Jeffrey Kittay

Jeffrey Kittay was the founder and editor of the legendary Lingua Franca magazine and a winner of the National Magazine Award. Most recently, while working in newspaper publishing in Maine, he became intrigued about what allowed some of the state’s farm-to-table businesses to succeed while others continued to struggle. He decided that he, and other such businesses from coast to coast, needed to know more about how to make The New Food Economy work.