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As a matter of taste, avoid the veggie burger


A cheerful young lady called and said: "Hi, this is the Hard Rock Cafe. We just read your column, so we're inviting you to come over and try our veggie burger."

She was referring to the column I wrote heaping disgust and ridicule on the anti-beef fanatics who are trying to bully McDonald's into adding a vegetable burger to their menu.

I asked the caller if the Hard Rock Cafe is the place where they blast hard rock music.

"Yes, have you been here?"

No, and I must decline your invitation.

I can't enjoy a meal while my eardrums are vibrating violently.

"Well, we have the veggie burgers to go. And, honest, they're very good."

So I sent someone over to buy a few of the veggie burgers, and I grabbed four of my co-workers and formed a taste-test panel.

All are lovers of traditional hamburgers.

None knew what they were being asked to eat.

But before giving results, some facts on the Hard Rock veggie burger:

According to their menu, the patty is made of ground vegetables, rice and nuts and is grilled.

They serve it on a good bun, with a slice of red onion, lettuce and tomato.

It is accompanied by fries.

The price is $6.53 with tax.

Now for the test results.

First, I asked each of the testers to take one bite of their burgers.

They did and said the following:

"Something very strange here."

"I like the onion. Good onion. But what is the other stuff?"

"Uh, do I have to eat this whole thing?"

"Is it OK if I don't swallow? I don't like to swallow something that tastes funny if I don't know what it is."

Next, I asked them to open their burgers, remove the onion, tomato and lettuce, and try the burger patty itself.

Their comments:

"Ooh, that looks gross. It looks disgusting. Ahhh, it tastes disgusting, all grainy."

"It's some kind of mush. Mush with an unpleasant aftertaste. I don't like mush with or without an aftertaste."

"Why are you doing this to me?"

"Believe me, this will not fly on Maxwell Street."

I thanked them and they said they would thank me to omit them from any future taste tests.

Then I ate my veggie burger.

And I liked it.

Of course, I took the precaution of removing the veggie patty, taking one bite of it, gagging a bit, and tossing it away, which left me with a tomato, onion and lettuce sandwich that was quite good.

However, I don't think that at $6.53 -- with or without the veggie patty -- it was much of a bargain. Even with the fries.

Because I don't food-shop, I can't say what it costs to make a small, thin patty of ground vegetables, a bit of rice and nuts.

But I called someone who does a lot of vegetable shopping: Pat Sass, the keeper of the Great Ape House in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo.

Because gorillas are vegetarians, I figured Sass would know what they eat and how much it costs to feed them.

She used Frank, an imposing 27-year-old, 336-pound gorilla, as a dietary example.

In the morning, Frank has some apples and oranges.

Later in the day, he eats a head of lettuce, several stalks of celery, a head of escarole, some onions, lots of spinach and carrots, a few biscuits of something called monkey chow, maybe some sweet potatoes and, as a special weekly treat, string beans. "He loves string beans," Sass said.

Sass wasn't sure how much it costs to stuff all those vegetables and fruits into Frank because she buys in large quantities for all of her beasties.

"But I suppose that I could feed Frank on $10 a day," she said. "No problem."

However, the person who does the purchasing for the zoo later called and said: "No, I think Pat is mistaken. She might be able to get by on $10, but in reality it costs about $35 a day to feed a full-sized gorilla."

Either way -- $10 or $35 -- we're not dealing in big bucks when you consider that we're talking about feeding a couple of bushels of assorted vegetables to a 336-pound creature.

Let's use the $35 figure.

That would buy you only 5.3 of the Hard Rock Cafe's veggie burgers.

Now, even with the fries, if you fed Big Frank the Gorilla those 5.3 veggie burgers a day, you would end up with the world's skinniest gorilla.

He would be so gaunt that if you took him to the Hard Rock Cafe and shoved a guitar in his paws, the patrons would probably surround him and plead for his autograph.

And if he had the strength to emit a gorilla shriek, they'd rush to the nearest music store and ask if his latest album is available.

So after the taste test, I can't recommend the Hard Rock Cafe's veggie burger.

And if you are a budget-conscious consumer, you'd be much better off going to the zoo and lunching with Big Frank.

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