Beef on the grill Getty Images | Mike Coppola

Sonic claims mushroom-blended burgers will save the planet

Sonic introduces mushroom fillers for its “Slinger” burger, claiming sustainable superiority over traditional beef patties.

From plant-based burgers to test tube burgers, it’s vogue to replace your beef patty with alternative options these days. Under the guise of “saving the planet,” these other options are sold as friendly to the environment, using fewer resources, lowering your carbon footprint, reducing animal suffering and the list goes on and on.

READ: 8 business moguls committed to replacing beef with alternative proteins

I’m going to call bull right now on all of these claims.

I feel like a broken record these days, sharing the facts about how beef production is not only beneficial to the environment, but grazing cattle are a critical component to a sustainable food system.

And yet, it seems like these facts fall on deaf ears because every day there is a new article to take place of the previous one — all with the same message — beef is bad; plants are good. End of story.

But there is certainly more to the story.

According to a recent article from Green Matters, Sonic is introducing a new beef burger that claims to include one “surprisingly eco-friendly ingredient.”

The addition is mushrooms, and Maria Cook for Green Matters writes, “In our burger and steak-obsessed world, the question then becomes: How can we get people to eat less meat than they usually would? Well-known burger chain Sonic has taken this challenge and run with it. Their newest burger, called the Slinger, uses a blend of beef and mushrooms for its patty, cutting down on the amount of beef used in each burger. As Kevin Pang explains at The A.V. Club, every Slinger patty will be comprised of roughly 25% to 30% mushrooms. With a large scale production such as Sonic, this seemingly small menu addition could go a long way toward cutting meat consumption.”

Cook adds, “Sustainability was the reason for the Slinger's introduction, as Scott Uehlein, Sonic vice president of product innovation and development, explains, ‘We wanted to offer a flavorful and juicy blended mushroom burger, the first of its kind for a major [quick service restaurant] brand, that offers improved sustainability.’"

READ: Sonic’s new beef burger boasts one surprisingly eco-friendly ingredient

Sustainability? What a load of you know what. It seems like every time a consumer sits down to enjoy a salad, they feel entitled and without guilt because they’ve been told for so long that meat has the largest environmental footprint. This implies that growing fruits and vegetables has no consequences.

I had trouble finding figures for exactly how much land, water and other natural resources are required to grow mushrooms, which makes it hard to compare this edible fungus to beef cattle. However, what we can take into consideration is the nutritional value mushrooms offer compared to what beef’s nutritional profile looks like.

A 3-ounce serving of raw, white mushrooms contains 18.6 calories, 2.7 grams of carbohydrates, 0.3 grams of fat, and 2.7 grams of protein. Looking at the various vitamins, the highest it can offer is 21% of our daily recommended amount of riboflavin; however, for nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin C and D, a 3-ounce serving offers less than 3% of your total daily needs.

READ: Are vegetable proteins equal to the protein in beef?

Despite the claimed “medicinal properties” of mushrooms, you’re basically eating air. If mushrooms were an ingredient in cattle feed, they would be the beat pulp or the cottonseed hulls.

Sonic may be addressing consumer concerns of sustainability by adding mushrooms to their burgers; however, for beef lovers, this weightless fungus is basically a cheap filler and nothing more.

I hate to bash one food in order to sell another, but let’s call a spade a spade here. Beef’s excellent nutritional profile should no longer be demonized and these benefits should be weighted when considering the environmental impact of beef in our food system.

READ: Research proves salads are more harmful to environment than burgers

You simply cannot compare apples to oranges (or beef to mushrooms) in this situation, and unlike what the plant-based and fake test tube burgers are trying to convince us, every food has a footprint and a consequence, not just beef.

So choose your meals wisely, not just for the planet, but for your health, too. Things aren’t always as they seem, and I would be willing to bet the scales favor beef if we actually started figuring up the numbers on these alternative proteins.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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