A ‘Melon Burger?’ For real?

January 26, 2018 09:38 AM
Of all the dumb stories purporting to introduce the next great breakthrough in meatless cuisine, none are as asinine as a recent article touting a ‘burger’ made from cantaloupe. Seriously?

Talk about a stupid headline: “Are Cantaloupe Burgers the Future of Meat?”

Yes . . . the answer is yes! The entire world is going to switch from eating ground beef to eating fried cantaloupe — all seven billion of us.

In the very near future.

That whacky headline is aimed at two types of people: Those who are so bored they need the mental jolt of a totally ridiculous statement to be motivated to read an online post that’s two paragraphs long, and the select demographic of ultra-foodies, who plunge into any culinary experience, no matter how absurd, if it allows them to tweet an image of their trendy new entrée experience for all of social media to admire.

Either way, that melon burger headline appeared on Thrillist.com, apparently as little more than a lame attempt at click bait.

Which, um, suckered me into clicking through to the story.

The bait was used to promote something the website called “Meatless Week,” which, to quote the site, is all about examining “what meat substitutes will look like in the future,” the “curious lack of mainstream vegetarian cooking shows” and the profile of a town in California “where the entire population is vegetarian.”

Not counting the cats and dogs, which in California are quasi-legal humans.

Veggies in the Middle
My favorite article in the Meatless Week series was one titled, “Why Vegetarians Will Never Be Cool.” Partly that’s because, as a subspecies of Homo vegetarius, people who quietly give up eating meat are automatically the target of curiosity, if not scorn and ridicule.

For example, the Thrillist.com article referenced the classic Simpsons episode, “Lisa the Vegetarian.” As is par for the show’s hammer-handed approach to comedy, when Lisa’s friends find out she’s gone veggie, they ask her, “Are you going to marry a carrot?” her school principal forces her to watch a filmstrip “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom,” and Barney the bartender tells her to “Go back to Russia!” when she tries to serve gazpacho at Homer’s backyard barbecue.

To underscore the point that ordinary, old-school vegetarians just aren’t cool, the episode included an exchange with a proto-eco-activist (a “Level Five Vegan”), who scorns Lisa’s conversion, telling her, “I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.”

And that’s the point of the Thrillist story: “Regular” vegetarians have been eclipsed on the right, so to speak, by foodies who wallow in all kinds of high-end entrées containing animal foods, and on the left by hardcore vegans, who demand total purity in avoiding not just meat and dairy but all use of and connection with the animal kingdom.

Other than cats and dogs, which are, of course, biologically and morally equal to humans.

Being a ho-hum, non-meat-eating everyday veggie just doesn’t have much sizzle to it anymore.

Talkin’ about sizzling tofu, that is.

As the article noted, “‘Vegetarian’ is clunky, too close to the childish ‘veggie,’ and evokes flavorless plates of vegetables and noodles crying out for a piece of chicken. ‘Vegan,’ on the other hand, is smooth, lithe and clean. It’s also something you can incorporate into all aspects of your life, as Goop.com, the lifestyle site for all things white and thin, has capitalized on.”

Occupying the middle ground, the moderate position, the fence-sitting, noncommittal reluctance to embrace either extreme isn’t a glamorous place to be, and vegetarians who are neither charged-up carnivores nor vociferous veganistas are lost in the large shadows cast by either social segment.

My sympathies go out to them, because anytime I’ve taken a middle-of-the-road position on some issue, I get grief from both industry advocates and activist opponents alike.

But I digress - back to the melon story.

In the article, it was described as “voluptuously smoky, with the unmistakable mineral twang of dry aging [huh?], sending a river of juice down your chin each time you take a bite. It tugs at your teeth in the way you’d expect from animal muscle and feels like meat. And then you find out that the burger doesn’t contain any animal parts.”

And then you find out it’s a specialty entrée sold only at a single high-end New York City restaurant called Duck’s Eatery, where the cantaloupe in question is “halved, peeled, cured, fermented, smoked, slow-baked, dehydrated and seared in a two-day process that transforms the fruit into a fillet the size of a duck breast.”

Yeah, that sounds exactly like what the future of meat is going to be.

But I’ll bet there are more than a few vegetarians who’d be anxious to try it.

And then post it on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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