Bite Me

Green Achers

Let's get something straight: It's not vegetarians that I hate (I was one for a while), or even the idea of vegetarian cooking. It's vegetarianism -- like Catholicism or Republicanism -- that gets my blood up. It's the big, heaping portion of politicized dogma that comes on the side of my soba noodles or Gardenburger. It's the nearly ubiquitous manifesto printed proudly on the front of the vegetarian restaurant's menu, telling me how I'm changing the world, cleansing my body, aligning my chakras and elevating my consciousness by not murdering any of God's critters for my sustenance.

Know what? I don't wanna change the world over dinner. I wanna eat. I like my chakras just the way they are, and I don't want my innards cleansed. All the limp steamed vegetables, tasteless soy protein and manhandled tofu offered up on the altar of vegetarianism don't elevate my consciousness; they make me want to save those poor, abused vegetables by eating a vegan.

By the same token, I like Sunflower (see review, page 69 because it ascribes to the one (and only) true faith of the kitchen: Purchase the absolute best product you can get your hands on, do your best with it while it's fresh, and respect the food -- whether it's a cow, a pig, a chicken, a carrot or a big lump of tofu -- by making it into something worthwhile. Even vegetarian (and vegan) cuisine can do this without all of the ancillary political nonsense.

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The best cooks understand that, on some level, all cooking is killing. And whether the mayhem comes in the form of a chicken getting its neck broken, a thousand field mice being ground up under the plow blades in a corn row, or the basil stalk being cut down and stripped in its prime, something always dies when we eat. They understand that and respect the sacrifice by performing an act of reincarnation every time they put together a beautiful plate. And the best houses out there -- from the crunchiest bastions of veggie, vegan or whole-food cuisine, to the simplest taquería, to the whitest of the white-tablecloth set -- transcend any isms by making food that needs no label, that exists above the fray of politics and motive in the realm of plain excellence.

It's the food that matters. Check your philosophy at the door.

Here's the beef: While we're on the topic of healthy foods, how's this for progress? Good Times Burgers and Frozen Custard (a Colorado native that started in 1986 with one Boulder location, has since grown to 35 and plans to soon have 65 outposts) has become the first fast-food hamburger joint to offer nothing but 100 percent, all-natural, premium-cut Coleman Natural Meats beef in all of its burgers. This means no more antibiotics, no more growth hormones, no more meat from animals raised on feed laced with animal by-products (the leading cause of bovine spongiform encephalitis -- mad cow disease -- among other nasty things), just beef that "man hasn't messed with," as the Coleman Natural motto goes.

And Coleman is a serious Colorado native, with a family history -- now being carried on by Mel and Polly Coleman -- of ranching in this state that goes back to 1875, before there even was a State of Colorado. In the late 1970s, Mel went to Washington, D.C., to find out about the labeling practices for beef and to see if there was any legal definition of "natural." There wasn't, so he spent the next two years creating one, establishing the rules and protocols for what could and couldn't be called "natural" beef. In 1981, Coleman Natural Products became the first company designated by the USDA to carry the "natural" label.

It wasn't until this past June that McDonald's announced that it was calling for its "suppliers worldwide to phase out of animal growth promotion antibiotics that are used in human medicine," and that it had prepared "a set of standards for McDonald's direct meat suppliers [and encouraged] indirect suppliers to take similar steps to eliminate growth-promoting antibiotics and to reduce other antibiotic usage." What McDonald's proposed was a process. What Good Times did was make a proclamation: Customers "will receive premium cuts of all natural Coleman beef, in all of our burgers, 100% of the time," according to Boyd Hoback, Good Times president and CEO.

Now for the critical part of this gig: I tried one of the new, all-natural Good Times burgers -- and it was better. Markedly better than the competition in the drive-thru arena, and certainly in the same ballpark as restaurant hamburgers. I didn't hear angelic trumpets or anything, because, come on, it's still a fast-food burger. But Good Times toasts its buns on a grill, uses fresh veggies -- tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, red onions -- and brings out beef that's as healthy as beef can be. So even if it wasn't the best burger I've ever had, I definitely felt better about myself for eating it.

Fast food, fast bucks: After their successful legal battle against cigarette companies, lawyers the world over are licking their chops and thumbing through car ads as they dream about how they'll spend the money they're going to make when they sue the fast-food industry. Yes, the classes are already getting action-y over the fat content of Whoppers, the chemicals in McNuggets and the calories in Twinkies, now that obesity has been named public enemy number one by the office of the surgeon general. In response, some megastores like Wal-Mart and Target are considering removing fatty snack foods from their shelves, and fast-food franchises are girding for war.

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