On the small Island in Canada, where I reside, there is a campaign that originated as a way to support our small farms in the dead of winter that launched 6 years ago, called “Burger Love”, in which all local cattle is used across restaurants in a month-long burger competition. It began as a way for Islanders to socialize and boost the economy. See, where I am from, this originating concept was pretty ingenious as our winter months are long, depressing and extremely difficult on our Island that is predominately fuelled through its agriculture, fishing, and tourism (summer) industries.
Upon further investigation and thinking about how this campaign has grown over the last few years into a health, environment and economic monstrosity. I wrote some thoughts about it with a dear friend, Jesse Hitchcock. We also wanted to attach a healthier alternative recipe, which you can find below. Beet burger recipe that is inspired by Minimalist Baker. To accompany it, I made sweet potato fries and this delicious ginger slaw adaptation.
“BEET BURGER” LOVE
It’s that time of year again, PEI Burger Love. A time to celebrate our Island’s Cattle Farms, celebrate the beginning of spring by socializing, amp up our restaurants economy from a slow winter, and overindulge in treats, because we deserve it right?
My question is simple: Can we do better? While I support the initial intention of this campaign – small local farming, socializing, business economic increasing – I can’t help but feel that as this campaign has grown, we haven’t not utilized it’s power the way we should be.
My first stop was HUNGERCOUNT2016 A comprehensive report on hunger and food bank use in Canada. That report revealed that our agricultural Island demonstrated in March 2016, PEI’s Food Bank assisted 3,370 people alone, 35.5% were children, an increase of 6.9% from 2015 (and 16.5% since 2008). The national average increase since last year was only 1.3%. How can we support excess when our friends and neighbours are not even sure where their next meal is coming from?
On the environmental front, it’s more important than ever to be consuming food (and particularly beef) responsibly. Last year, Canada ratified the Paris Agreement which signalled our commitment to preventing climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Reaching this goal will require effort from consumers as well as industry, and agriculture is a key player. In Canada, livestock emissions currently account for 62% of total agricultural emissions. Beef production also requires significantly more water than plant-based agriculture and even other livestock industries. This month more than ever we need to weigh the full costs of the food we consume, and act in a way that aligns with our values. Moderation is key.
In 2016, $2.2 million of burger sales alone were made in 30 days. Sure, this doesn’t factor in cost, salaries, and general business expenses that go into this planning. But it also doesn’t factor in, the sides, drinks and general increase in business most restaurants see throughout the month. For two years, Halifax’s similar event, Burger Week, has campaigned with the option for participating restaurants to donate proceeds towards Feed Nova Scotia. While in theory this is a fantastic concept, but below the surface, there are a few things I find interesting:
Firstly, if a restaurant chooses not to opt into making a charitable contribution, they can only only charge $6/burger. However, if they choose to contribute they can decide the donation amount from each burger sale. (example: Chives charges $18/burger but only donate $1/burger, considerably high profits for a charity-based campaign.)
This year on PEI, restaurants had the option of donating $1/burger to the United Way. Again, great in theory and a positive step in the right direction; however fewer than half of the 84 participating restaurants chose to make a donation.
PEI Burger Love began in 2011, making this it’s 6th year.
Here are some interesting figures based on the proudly displayed stats on the Burger Love website.
I do like to see the increasing levels of engagement among participating restaurants (from 14 – 73 since its inception). That said, I’m surprised by participants such as Swiss Chalet, Boston Pizza, and Montana’s, who are more corporate and not so local.
The other thing that is happening is that the original concept of rating the best burger on the list has become an impossible task. With a whopping 80+ burgers to choose from this year, consumers are bellying up to the challenge to see who can eat the most burgers.
The number of burgers sold has increased from 5,517 to 163, 170 over the five previous years. That increased required over 71,821 lbs. of beef to meet consumer and campaign demands. At this rate, are our cattle farms capable of producing this much? What kind of impact will these increases have on our agriculture? When is it time to scale back? And when we do so, who is letting the farmers know? I’m not even going to speak to the impact on our health as a result of this type of behaviour. I’d like to think most people know how unhealthy it is to eat multiple burgers a day over the course of an entire month.
We have to consider the health of our Island, our communities, our land and our economy. PEI is a predominantly sedentary and obese province (over 50% of the population self-reported being obese and overweight in a study through Health PEI. (http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/dohw_epi_trnd10.pdf). I would feel much more proud to be from an Island that wants to instill healthy living in its communities.
Perhaps more organization/individuals should take a page out of Kinetic Fitness’s book to help offset the forced overindulgence that comes along with PEI Burger Love. Kinetic fitness has created their own “Battle of the Burger Month”, a competition where you can challenge yourself to attend as many fitness classes as you can throughout the month of April and have a chance at winning some fun fitness and health related stuff. And let’s be real, who doesn’t like to win!?
Michael Pollan has pioneered the motto “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” and that is a phrase we need to keep in front of mind this month. Supporting local industry is something PEI does very, very well. It’s part of what makes our province so special. There are many producers on PEI that can and should be supported as part of this campaign in addition to beef producers. A few that come to mind are Heart beet Organics, Atlantic Organics, or any of the dedicated plant based producers at the Charlottetown Farmer Market. Considering exploring these options this month.
So as we embark on another year of PEI Burger Love, let’s look at the big picture and establish what is really important to foster a sense of community on PEI. Let’s do our part to support campaigns that ensure people with no food have food. Let’s get education about nutrition, health and lifestyle. Let’s support our small farms AND small businesses in a way that leaves a smaller footprint on our planet, our bodies and a larger impact on us all.
On that note: I implore you to think critically about your food this month. Question some of these musings I’ve had, think about your own health, question things yourself, heck you can even question me. But I just ask that you take the time to think about how we can do better…
(For those that want to know more about the nutritional and environmental aspects that you might be unaware of, start here:
“BEET BURGER” LOVE
- 1 large beet, shredded
- 3/4 c. quinoa, cooked
- 1 can organic black bean
- 6 cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 3/4 c. walnuts, pre-ground in food processor
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
*You can do whatever you want here, but this is what I did*
- Green onion
- Salt & Pepper
- Guacamole (simple recipe included in directions)
- Sriracha vegenaise (simple recipe included in directions)
- Local baked buns!
- 1 medium cabbage, finely shredded.
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- 1/2 snow peas, julienned
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4 c vinegar
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp. minced ginger
- pinch of sugar
SWEET POTATO FRIES
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped thin and long
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt.
- Cook quinoa (as per package) and set aside.
- Prepare the slaw by mixing the sauce and pouring over the veggies. Place in refrigerator until time to eat to absorb the flavor.
- Preheat oven to 350F
- In a non-stick pan sauté onion and mushroom until slightly tender.
- Mix sweet potatoes with oil and spices and place in oven (cook for approx. 45 minutes tossing occasionally.)
- Add beans and mash.
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor and spin on low for 1-2 minutes. (You may need to adjust the amount of walnut for consistency.)
- Line a lid of a jar (peanut butter works well) with parchment paper and fill with burger mixture (this is optional but gives a true burger shape! amazing newly learned trick!)
- Place on sprayed baking tray ( I used coconut oil)
- Bake for 25 minutes and flip and bake for another 10 minutes (until browned).
- Remove fries and burger. Prepare and enjoy!
To make the vegan “aioli”, mix 1/2 c. vegenaise, 1 clove of garlic minced, 1/2-1 tbsp. Sriracha and a dash of lemon juice and mix!
To make the guacamole, mash avocado, add chopped peppers and onion, garlic, salt and pepper.