SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Ahh, the Burger, that sinfully delicious, tender and juicy, cherished American classic. I don't mind telling you, there are not many things I enjoy more than a really good burger. Perhaps the only thing better is a cheeseburger. I often substitute a veggie patty, but most red-blooded Americans aren't too keen on this idea, so let me share with you some secrets to making a righteous All American Beef Burger.
Start by kneading a little Worcestershire sauce, sea salt and a bit of finely minced garlic and onion into some lean ground beef, preferably a combination of freshly ground sirloin and chuck, before shaping it into patties about 3/8 - ½" thick and 4 ½ - 5" around so after they shrink they'll still be big enough to cover a bun. Mold the patty uniformly flat before making a slight indentation in the center to avoid a burger that's too fat in the middle once it shrinks, and seal all cracks so the patties cook evenly and don't fall apart. Flame grilled is the way to go - oil the grates to minimize sticking. Grind some fresh black peppercorns onto both sides before grilling 30-45 seconds per side right off the bat to sear the patty and seal in the juices and flavors, and don't squeeze them out either by squashing the patty. You can also lose juices by flipping too much, so after searing, you pretty much want to cook it about halfway before flipping once more to finish the patty off on the other side. Use a cooler part of the grill after searing if necessary to avoid burgers burned on the outside and raw in the middle.
Brush a little olive oil on a hearty whole grain bun and lightly toast. Put cheese and the top half of the bun on the patty about 2 minutes before it comes off the grill for nice gooey melted cheese. Placing this hot part on top of the veggies keeps them crisp and cool a little longer. Whether using a beef patty or some alternative, a list of my favorite toppings would include guacamole, salsa or pico de gallo, onions (raw red, yellow sautéed in butter, or fried onion rings), Romaine or Boston lettuce, tomatoes, mayo... and cheese! I skip cheese sometimes too, but must confess I love this stuff. Swiss cheese (with mushrooms), crumbled blue cheese (with bacon and Louisiana hot sauce), feta, cheddar, smoked cheddar, jack, pepper jack, colby jack, even Velveeta. No mustard or pickles for me, please. BBQ sauce is okay, especially with fresh cut, grilled pineapple. How about a burger smothered in chili, refried beans, grilled tomatoes, roasted poblano pepper strips, chopped onion and avocado? Or a burger Italiano style topped with fresh sautéed spinach, mushrooms and garlic, marinara sauce and melted mozzarella? Awesome! But I digress. Suffice it to say a good burger is hard to beat.
This usually much simpler culinary classic has captivated us to such a degree that, in a nation espousing ideals like individuality, choices and variety, we have McDonald's (burgers), Jack In The Box (burgers with a humorous spokesman), Burger King (burgers with a slightly creepy spokesman), Wendy's (square burgers), Sonic (burgers at a drive-in), White Castle (tiny burgers), and the list goes on. Subsequently, we die prematurely by the thousands of heart disease rather than simply eat less of them. Illegal immigrants only die by the dozens trying to reach America, and you might be surprised to learn that, once again, the hot, juicy, tender and delicious "All American" beef patty is largely to blame.
Yes, that's right. I said our beloved national treasure, the All-American Burger. Perhaps this sounds like some far-fetched conspiracy theory. What could one of the major causes of our national obesity epidemic possibly have to do with immigrants dying to reach America? Well, um . . . Almost everything, actually. And if you are one of those people who believe that all the immigrants should be rounded up and deported, and you are eating a cheeseburger while you read this, or a steak, a chicken-fried steak, pot roast, meatloaf, or even beef fajitas, maybe you should wipe that juice off your chin(s) and refrain from taking another bite until you've digested some information with a Southwestern flavor this seasoned writer has prepared for you.
You know, immigrants have always flooded into the United States throughout its history. During the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, they used to be mostly underprivileged white people from countries like Poland, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, even Canada. There was also a sprinkling of non-white immigrants mostly from Mexico, a mere 3 - 6% of total immigration - no big deal. Recently, though, the waves of immigrants have become decidedly non-white (Asian and Indian, for example), led by Mexicans who account for about five times more than any other single group of immigrants. Some white people have unhappily noticed these new waves of underprivileged non-whites arriving at our borders and speaking inappropriate foreign languages like Spanish (that help them read maps of the areas where they tend to arrive). As one might suspect, these Mexicans also account for a disproportionate percentage of illegal immigrants. So, it stands to reason that if America wants to rid itself of this problem, maybe Mexico would be a good place to start, No?
Si! But, how to begin? Well, the knee-jerk response to a perceived problem in America is to deal with effects, not causes. Got heart disease? Take pills and undergo expensive surgery to treat the effects (heart attacks, artery hardening, clotting, strokes) rather than deal with the cause (a burger rich diet). Too fat? Get liposuction and take even more pills rather than exercise and eat healthfully (less burgers). Floods of immigrants? Hmm... How about a fence a hundred billion dollars long, a million dollars high, maybe even equipped with gun turrets every few feet or so? That should stop those immigrants dead in their tracks, so to speak. This approach deals with effects, symptoms of the problem (illegal immigrants) without addressing the cause, the source of the problem, the reason they make the sometimes deadly trek to the good ol' Estados Unidos. And just why do all those Mexicans want to come here so badly, anyway? I mean, sure America is the greatest country ever in the history of the entire world, even though a good-sized chunk of it used to be Mexico, but surely that's not the reason they keep sneaking over here. Maybe it's drugs. Or hubcaps. Or something even more sinister than that... maybe they want a free ride on our welfare system! So let's just get started on that wall, mister!
Wrong answer, Wendy McKingbox. It's our beloved Burger that's gonna have those Mexicans making a run for the border every time. You see, there are muchos hungry Mexicans, more than you could imagine - enough to populate a country of their own, even. But these Mexicans aren't "craving-a-burger" hungry like they just got stoned off some cheap Mexican weed and saw a slo-mo close-up shot of a McBurger in HD. No, these people are actually starving to death and don't even have a TV. Maybe you'd say that's not your fault because you live here, they live there, and it should stay that way because you didn't ask to be born more privileged than so-and-so, and so on, and so forth. But don't cram that burger back into your face until you've read just a wee bit further.
Human beings can easily accommodate their need for high quality protein by consuming nuts, beans, grains and a wide variety of other foods. You know, tree-hugger food. A diet like this is also high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all sorts of things you can't get from a burger on a white bun with some mustard and iceberg lettuce. Plus, it's much lower in fat, calories and cholesterol. In other words, it's good for you. And that's not all - our bodies have a much easier time extracting protein and nutrients from these kinds of food than from beef.
The reasons we don't eat this way are far too numerous to discuss at length here, but suffice it to say Americans love their burgers. They've become part of our culture to such a degree that we don't give them much thought most of the time. Many of us even consider it our God-given right to eat them. The low-carb Atkins phenomenon happened in part because people edit information so they hear what they want to hear: "It's OK to eat a bacon double cheeseburger if you skip the bun." Perhaps the biggest contributing factor is our DNA, which makes us crave fatty foods because our genetic code evolved at a time when fatty foods were scarce but highly beneficial to an active species requiring high energy food sources. However, now that we are more sedentary than our prehistoric ancestors and fatty foods are plentiful everywhere we look, a relatively cheap source of calories (dollar double cheeseburgers), these genetic cravings have become detrimental to our health.
In turn, an economy based on these cravings has become detrimental to a vast number of underprivileged people. Acre per acre, we can easily provide protein and nutrition for a far greater number of people by growing soybeans, corn, and whole grains than by raising cattle. Why, you ask? Well, a steer has to eat a great many times his own weight (and he weighs about half a ton) just to grow large enough to yield a few hundred pounds of meat, or milk in the case of dairy cows. Not using whole grains, corn and soybeans to feed many thousands of human beings, and instead feeding these same crops to cattle, producing animal products sufficient to feed mere hundreds, just doesn't make sense because, in this amazingly advanced world of ours, almost a billion and a half people are hungry. Not like us when we say, "Boy, I'm hungry! Chinese food goes right through me!" No, many of these people get so little to eat that they waste away, get sick, even die.
On the other hand, the number of cattle in the world roughly equals the number of hungry people - almost a billion and a half - but the cattle certainly don't starve! Instead, to make tasty marbles of fat in their flesh, we gorge them to obesity like Hansel and Gretel before ruthlessly slaughtering them, grinding them up to feed even fatter consumers in "developed" countries that suck the life and resources out of underdeveloped countries like Mexico so we can pack on the pounds for pesos on the dollar. Vast numbers of people in Mexico, and many other countries illegal immigrants come from, go hungry because the American diet mandates the conversion of countless millions of acres of their agricultural land to grazing land for cattle destined to end up in American bellies. More huge chunks of Mexican land have been designated for growing grains, sorghum, soybeans and corn destined for the bellies of these same cattle fattening up in feed lots before hitting the American market. Quite literally, nearly three quarters of Mexican agricultural land produces beef that makes millions of indulgent Americans fat and heart attack prone, while millions of Mexicans face slow death by chronic starvation.
Much like Moses, we find ourselves in a sort of golden-arched, calf-worshipping society, where cattle often have more value than human life in the broad economic scheme of things. Subsequently, impoverished immigrants follow their food and money to the United States. Once there, they take jobs most Americans don't want. Sometimes, they work illegally in occupationally hazardous slaughterhouses, inadequately trained, drenched in the blood of cattle, for poverty wages, often losing a finger or two to help ensure burgers won't cost us an arm and a leg. If they're a little luckier, they can work side by side with inept, pimple-faced American kids at burger outlets for subsistence wages, further ensuring cheap burgers. And what do we say? Well, it's difficult to make out what you're saying when you're stuffing a cheeseburger into your face, but to me it sounded like you said, "Immigrant, go home!" But believe this: As you consume cattle products, you cultivate the next crop of illegal immigrants.
It all comes down to simple cause and effect, really. Eat foods that cause heart problems, and there's a good chance you will develop heart problems, even if you take the latest cholesterol blocking meds. Eat foods that make people fat and you'll eventually get fat, even if you take the latest fat-burning pill and buy a machine with electrodes that flex your muscles for you so you can just sit and watch TV while you exercise. Eat foods that make people starve and you probably won't be able to build a wall high enough to keep out all the starving people. Eat what you want - that's your God-given right as an American. Just know that the choices you make, dietary or otherwise, always have consequences, even if you choose to deny or remain ignorant of those consequences.
In an ever more complex, overpopulated world, there is no longer room for ignorance or denial. So, if you truly feel that illegal immigrants are a problem, buy some frozen veggie patties, or look up a veggie patty recipe on the internet. Or just make a patty of seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs, refried black beans, a little raw egg and some spices. Brush it with olive oil and broil it, or lightly brown it in a skillet. Put it on a whole grain bun with lots of flavorful toppings, and enjoy. It's tasty. It's good for you. It's good for the less fortunate of our own race. It takes less toll on the environment. And the world's cattle will breathe a collective 100,000 metric ton sigh of relief.