Yesterday, we spoke with Lukas Volger about his new book, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, in which he gives a long-needed makeover to the bête noire of vegetarian dining. Today in Part 2 of our interview, the author talks about bodega vegans, the veggie gastropub of his dreams, and why so many veggie burgers suck.
Are there any trends in vegetarian dining that you’re sick of?
At non-vegetarian restaurants it seems like the requisite vegetarian option is this roasted vegetable panini sandwich with green peppers and portobellos and eggplant. And then they drench it in this really gross balsamic vinaigrette and let it sit for five hours and then grill it. It’s so cloyingly sweet. I’d like to see that disappear.
Is there anything you’d like to see more of?
I’d like to see a vegetarian restaurant that’s sort of like a really nice neighborhood pub, where it’s open late and the food is really accessible. Just a comfortable, nice place to hang out, where you wouldn’t even assume it’s vegetarian when you’re there. I mean, I really like Gobo on Sixth Avenue — I’m always happy with the food there — but I never forget it’s a vegetarian restaurant.
What do you feel is the lesser of the evils in the realm of mass-produced veggie patties?
At this point, it’s been awhile, maybe a year, since I ate one of those. But I thought Dr. Praeger’s wasn’t super-terrible. But those things are sort of at odds with my eating style in general.
They seem more consistent with the style of vegetarianism that’s not about eating actual vegetables.
I kind of call that style being a bodega vegan. It’s like in high school, my friends who were vegetarian would only eat from the sides menu. There’s no way they were meeting their nutritional needs.
Why do veggie burgers so often suck?
I think it’s a combination of them really lacking in flavor, and then the texture. What does a veggie burger have in common with a regular burger? Its shape, and the fact that you serve it on a bun with regular toppings. A hamburger has the taste of meat going for it, because people love beef. And with veggie burgers, taste seems to be an afterthought to the fact that it has to be shaped like a patty or put on a bun.
Still, it seems that more people are open to listening to the messages associated with vegetarian eating, even if its packaging isn’t always particularly appealing.
Totally. There’s been so much press about the devastating impact meat consumption has on our lives and planet and health. Michael Pollan has been really influential in spreading the message that we need to eat less meat. I know people are touchy about animal rights, but it’s not necessarily about animals; it’s about everything. People are responding to that. On my tour, the people going to my events are all kinds of people who I wouldn’t have expected to be vegetarian based on my assumptions. It’s not just hippie moms.
After writing the book and doing so many events to promote it, are you sick of veggie burgers yet?
Not entirely. I had my launch party last weekend and did a demo at Whole Foods right after that, so it was 72 hours of making veggie burgers at high volume. I had to take a break, but I’m ready to go again.
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