Could McDonald’s Replace Beef Burgers With Seitan? Would Anyone Notice?by Nick Aster on Friday, Mar 19th, 2010 ShareClick to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)When Friday rolls around, I sometimes like to write harebrained posts postulating some kind of zany idea. So here’s today’s:I ate at an airport McDonald’s the other day for the first time in ages. It was at once delicious and disturbing. I looked at the beef. Was it really beef? I mean, seriously, it was definitely some kind of beef-flavored-matter, and the advertisement did say 100% beef. But as I walked off with that greasy post-McDonald’s flavor (that lasts for hours) in the mouth, I got to thinking: that patty was almost no different than the wheat or soy-based stuff used to make vegan food (seitan and so on).I walked away 100% convinced that McDonald’s could replace all its beef with beef-flavored seitan and NO ONE would notice the difference. McDonald’s would save a fortune, health would be improved, and the carbon and resource footprint of McDonald’s would be massively slashed.Does anyone think I’m right?It’s not that I’m against eating meat in moderation. But everyone knows that eating lots of meat, especially the highly processed, ultra cheap, ground beef McDonald’s uses, is not healthy. Not only that, but it’s phenomenally costly to the environment at large. Read some Michael Pollen if you need to catch up.I decided to Google around and think about the impacts…Seitan, aka wheat gluten, is often used as a “mock meat,” especially in Asia. You wouldn’t sit down to eat a steak of it and expect it to resemble filet mignon, but it works astonishingly well when replacing such meats as duck or cheaper cuts of beef. My theory (and grand assumption) is that the food scientists at McDonald’s could craft something out of it that would wind up being so close to a big mac burger, few would notice in a blind test. Maybe they’ve already done it.Whether or not it’s actually “healthier” than beef probably depends on how much processing is done to it and how many additives my hypothetical McDonald’s burger might include. But in its straight form it apparently has more protein than beef, and zero fat. So right there we might take a large chunk, no pun intended, out of the world’s obesity crisis and other health epidemics.Then there’s the small matters of water use, land use, methane production, rain-forest devastation, factory farms, antibiotics, e-coli, carbon footprints, and insane government subsidies. Each of these would be pared down hugely if a giant beef buyer like McDonald’s moved away from meat.Fantasies, fantasies…Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to marketing and the psychology of the customer. McDonald’s couldn’t legally or morally switch the patties without telling anyone, and they’d have a nightmare of Joe Sixpack rebellion on their hands if they dared try. Even if you did a blind taste test and no one could tell the difference, a lot of people would have a hard time eating something in a burger they were told was not meat. Rival chains wouldn’t help matters when they inevitably started advertising their commitment to real beef.But maybe there’s still an opportunity. McDonald’s does in fact sell something they call the “McVeggie” in Greece of all places. It doesn’t look anything like a Big Mac, and is made of some kind of deep fried grain. Could this be an early test market for the concept? What if McDonald’s got creative with the marketing? Could they phase in veggie burgers and call them something like the “Modern Mac”?Assuming McDonald’s commitment to sustainability is for real, the global introduction of some kind of tasty non-meat sandwich that’s bold enough to challenge the status quo might just ignite enough fire to make a real impact. It might even get rivals on board with their own veggie offerings. Market it as healthful, responsible, and fit for the 21st century. Throw in a toy Prius for the kids. Heck, they could even start importing from Brazil again and profit off the carbon credits they could earn by leaving rain forest intact.Happy Friday. Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place. Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis. Follow Nick Aster @nickaster 83 responses I love this idea. Not to cram vegetarianism down anyone's throat either, just that the burgers already are basically quasi-food. Why not go all the way with it? If it tastes the same, what's the difference? Most likely the beef lobby and their massive subsidies would get in the way – even wondered why the salads at mcdonalds cost more than the burgers? It's a pretty messed up system, I'll tell you that! What about all of the people in North America with Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance)…where would that leave them? In the same place they already are: unable to eat a McDonald's burger. The bun, my friend, is already off limits. In exactly the same place they are now. What do you think the buns are made of? As someone that is allergic to gluten we do eat at McDonalds, I take the bun off and eat it like a lettuce wrap. Hardee's even lets me order it 'low-carb' so I can order any burger/chicken sandwich as a lettuce wrap. Now as long as they let me have a chicken salad or something I would be fine ;) Anything that would help the environment in such a profound way would be awesome. Please don't change beef to a vegetarian alternative. I don't want to eat fabricated and manufactured bullshit that looks like meat. I want MEAT. McDonald's already makes almost-not-meat. Hot dogs are almost-not-meat. I don't want corn and soy. I want actual food. I don't get my food from McDonald's. But I would never ask them to advertise FAKE food. It's like selling human semen as ICE CREAM…its more energy efficient, but that's not what you WANT. You vegetarians don't EAT at McDonald's…so don't tell McDonald's what to do. Don't tell people who want McDonald's food what they HAVE to eat.Shut the fuck up. Mr. Gross. You do realize that farming cattle for food is contributing to the polloution problem in the world. YOU of all people do not see the pain and suffering that animals go through. So you don't give a fuck if you were to be electrocuted by being anally prodded or to have your jugular slashed so you could die a “painless death”. Corn and soy is actual food. What the fuck is fake? I think it is your sense of reality. wake up and smell the roses buddy, by purchasing meat you are supporting this unsustainable way of life which will fuck up the world. What you WANT, aka semen, may not be what we want… who knows what you do in your spare time, but Mcdonalds food is contributing to the pandemic obesity problem in the world, and ruining the environment at the same time. so YOU shut the fuck up. The world does not need ignorant bastards like you. Their position is no different from people who already can't eat mcdonald's as it is. In the same boat as the other hyperchondriacs. Unfortunately, as much as I love this idea and have wondered it myself, everyone would notice for one big reason: the burgers would quadruple in price. Which is incredibly ironic, given that without subsidies beef would cost much more than wheat. you're right. and it sucks because this kind of burger would probably be awesome and generally better for us. Pingback: Have Your Meat and Face It, Too | greengopost.com Here's my question (and great point, @shezebelle, about price): Would a seitan burger grow mold within 365 days? See: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-03-18-a-happy… They should test it. Imagine all the greenhouse gas reduction if it takes off. you guys really have no life do you…losers You really don't have a heart do you… I have had garden veggie burgers that taste better than beef. some veggie burgers are not that good. If you wanted to replace all this beef which is produced from highly subsidized corn with a really good tasting veggie burger you could do it. stop subsidizing corn and the veggie burger would be half the price of the beef. Money talks. Tax the beef for environmental damage too. wow, some of these comments are so off base. Have any of you actually read a comparison of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by either industry? If you had, you may have realized that soy/wheat are not as environmentally friendly as you think, and that ramping up production to meet the needs of a company like Micky D's would be just as taxing on the environment. Opinion != Fact Certainly True, but all the soy in the world is still many many times less harmful than the equivalent amount of Beef. The facts very much still stand. If McDonalds used less beef in favor of either wheat or soy that is a net gain for the environment, any way you slice it. any food industry is going to have an impact on the environment, as land must be cleared, food must be transported, etc. But think about this: for all the land used for the raising of cattle, how much more is used for growing the cattle's food? Cut them out of the picture, and there's less land used overall. You know they feed soy to cows and produces 1/16 of the protein per KG in meat that you could get from eating the soy? As you said, your option != fact. Peoples' mouths produce lipase, a fat-digesting enzyme, in their mouths so that they can taste if something has fat in it. McDonald's could replace the meat with a veggie substitute but would have to add fat to it to make the hippos wading into their store happy with the fat. Might still reduce their environmental impact, and I think it might be a great idea, but bet on it still being very unhealthy. Face it, if you care about your health at all, you need to stay the hell away from McDonalds or any other fast food chain. As a by the way, McDonalds has a ton of vegetarian option in India, because beef is not something that Hindus eat (and 90% of the population of India is Hindu). McAloo Tiki Burger (Aloo = Potato) and also an excellent McVeggie Burger as well as a handful of other Veggie options. Just sayin…. If McDonalds is really serious; it could trial seitan burgers in India where majority of the menu is vegetarian. Moreover, there is no subsidy issue there as beef burgers are not popular at all. just a writing tip: “hair-brained” should read “hare-brained” either hare or hair are acceptable according to my dictionary. thanks for the tip, tho. Hare-brained means having the intelligence of a rabbit.Hair-brained makes no sense at all, and is in no one's dictionary. Look, I agree that harebrained makes more sense. But hairbrained has evolved as a variant (referring to a brain the size of a hair, rather than referring to someone being hare-like), while hare-is preferred. It is, in fact, in dictionaries. I didn't just make that up. I am going to change it to harebrained (it is not hyphenated, I discovered). We can drop it now. well the issue is that wheat gluten is not tolerated well by many people and processed soy products are actually worse for the enviroment than beef. the highly processed soy uses much more energy in fossil fuels to create and ship that outweighs its savings. granted low processed soy is a huge carbon savings but as usual people forget that humans are omnivores and we can not subsist on vegitable matter alone. i know you can take vitamins to off set this but has anyone bothered to see what the carbon impact for supporting the entire population of the earth with vitamins are? oh and how bout brazil and thier rainforest destroying soy fields?(see cows arent the only ones destroying the rainforest) “humans are omnivores and we can not subsist on vegitable matter alone” That is an outright lie. I was raised a vegetarian and for 26 years now I've been more than healthy without having to take any vitamin supplements. Now that most breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins, as long as you know how to maintain a healthy diet you can “subsist on vegetable matter alone.” Let's do some research before we speak, yes? But you did live off vitamin supplements. Without your soy burgers being fortified with Vitamin B12, or your soy milk being fortified with calcium, or your cereal being fortified with minerals and vitamins, how else would you get them (as well as zinc, Vitamin D, iron)? Since humans are omnivores, we do best on a mixed diet of animal, vegetable, and grain. Could you really thrive on vegetable matter alone? Or do you get by with companies adding in vitamins and minerals to your microwavable meals? Maybe something would be missing from a no-meat diet, but definitely not vitamins and minerals, since the best food group to get them are actually vegetables and fruits. @SapphIt is true that vitamins and minerals are present in vegetables (and in animal meat too). In order to get all your essential amino acids, meat or dairy products are a wonderful way to do that. They have all the essential amino acids in beef or milk, etc. Vegetables do not. They are incomplete proteins. That's why you have to practice food combinations if you're a vegetarian. Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Zinc, Iron, and Calcium are really hard to get if you're a vegetarian because they are present only in small amounts, or not present at all. Even if it is highly processed, I would have a hard time believing that soy is less energy efficient than cattle, as every pound of beef requires about 2500 lbs of water and 1/5 of a barrel of crude oil. The seitan burgers I have eaten lack the exact texture of a beef burger. On the other hand I have had burgers made of Portobello mushrooms that I would defy anyone to criticize as being not being meaty textured or meat flavored enough. so you're saying we should trick people into eating something different and not giving them what they paid for and it would be okay because they wouldnt know the difference and it would save the environment?F@#$ YOU!thank you for deciding what you think is best for me. maybe you can come over to my house and burn some books for me so i cant read them too….. I think it's a great idea, for vegans, vegetarians, animal lovers, environmentalists, etc. It's at least worth a try. Introduce the seitan burgers, and also keep the others, see what happens. It's called a test! I think so and agree with you. The only people who think fake meat tastes like real meat are vegetarians. your kidding yourselves if you think any veggie substitute tastes like beef. I don't care if it seitan, or portobello mushroom, or soy, theres just no substitute for juicy delicious beef. Anyone that cant tell the difference in a blind taste test is a moron. Just make a nice vegetable sandwich if you don't want meat, because these meat substitutes arent fooling anyone. I don't know what McDonald's you're eating at, but there's nothing juicy about a McDonald's patty. I like a nice Big Mac, but its nothing more then a gray, over-cooked, dried-up, patty of quasi-meat. You are right when you say corn-fed beef that comes from sick cows is barely food. But then you propose wheat gluten or soy instead (you consider this healthy food?). Read some Gary Taubes if you need to catch up. And it's not like these mono-crops are more sustainable or environmentally friendly. How about beef from organic cows that eat a natural diet – grass? Does that not sound like real, sustainable food to you? South America, Autralia and New Zealand fed their cattle this way. In the great plains this is a viable way of raising cattle. But right now it is not economical so no one even considers it's viability.And why are you trying to make McDonald's better anyway? Are people so reliant on McDonald's that needs to be bailed out with real ingenuity? McSoylent here I come. i see what you did there seitan has to be the grossest of all meat substitutes. What about a patty created from bean? Falafel is one of the world's greatest foods and would be great as a substitute. If anyone is interested in what I consider to be a well tasting soy-based patty, try the Veggie patty at subway. Its probably processed to all hell, but its pretty healthy for you and it costs the same as all of its meat options so I think you're overestimating the cost of McDonald's offering. Mcdonalds Sucks! I'm stoked a lot of fast food restaurants are starting to put healthy foods on their menus :) People are finally becoming more health conscious in America. Change is good! Imagine this….McD's switches to seitan or even mixes it up a little with 'real' beef. Someone who is very gluten sensitive eats it and goes into shock. It will be total heaven for the ambulance chasers at that point. Why do you people keep blabbing on about allergies? How may people have this allergy? Like 12? At any rate, no one's suggesting they be tricked into eating it. Clearly, if you have a gluten allergy you wouldn't eat it, right? It's interesting that you've read Michael Pollen, and still advocates replacing meat with some weird processed food-stuff. Remember his words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. What you are advocating is replacing food with non-food. Because seitan isn't food, or something my grandmother would recognize as food.Nor is seitan the kind of plants Pollen recommends we should eat. Seitan is made of wheat. I quote: “Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. […] It’s hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice”. Pollen recommends a diet of many different plants, and is concerned about our over-reliance on wheat.If you are concerned about health, and/or want to follow Pollen's recommendations, you should order your burger without cheese (since it's processed cheese and therefore not food), drink water instead of soda, order a salad as side dish instead of the fries, and throw away the bread (wheat) before you enjoy your burger (just don't eat too much). I think the point was that junk food = junk food, and the seitan option would at least be less harmful environmentally, which is probably true I have a close friend who has a severe disabling allergic reaction to gluten. Substitutions like this, made without warning can cause terrible pain and suffering for many people. This is why the idea wouldn't fly; but someone here did mention that the bun is wheat and therefore full of gluten. Well, my point is that meat, whether you like it or not, is actually pretty healthy, and McDonalds actually has pretty strict standards for what kind of meat it uses. McDonalds standards demand lean meat, which means that much of the American meat produced from grain-fed cattle is not bought. Instead they prefer grass-fed cattle, which is both healthier and more environmentally sustainable. Grass-fed cattle can be produced in areas in which traditional farming of e.g. wheat or corn is not possible. Pingback: Top Green Stories this Week | PlentyWays Green Blog I do believe that the Jack in the Box regular taco (my fave junk food) has been vegetarian for years and years. They don't advertise the fact. McDonald's should do what I do to my family, start sneaking in healthy replacements for ground beef (and they don't even realize they are eating tofu or ground turkey!). Pingback: Could McDonald’s Replace Beef Burgers With Seitan? Would Anyone Notice? | Disinformation No, I'd notice. There's a significant difference [to me] as far as mouth feel and taste between artificial meats and ground beef. As for the push to vegetarianism, I did it for a few years, then moved away from it living in Japan. Having recently read Lierre Keith's “The Vegetarian Myth” I'd recommend it to anyone looking to obtain optimal health and environmental eating guidelines. Odd in that seitain/mock meat is supposedly 'most popular' in Asian countries, but I've [in my experience] never seen it in any restaurants in 5 years in Japan. Also, the “no fat” in the mock meat is a negative, not a positive. Fats, including some saturated fat, is essential to good health. Pingback: A Modern Big Mac, Alicia Silverstone’s Vegan Treats On Jimmy Fallon & 7 More Treasures | SweetOnVeg.com Pingback: McDonalds Replacing Meat With Seitan - Brilliant or Disgusting? | Journey Through Veganism and Being Green I'd not be surprised if it was really ground humans. When they say 100% beef I think they mean like the beefy human biceps and such that are ground up. I think Mickey should twink his winky beefy. 'oops, i mean tweak his recipe. But instead of calling it the new Seitan burger they should definitely just go ahead and call it the Satan burger. That way I might actually eat one. But only with the 100% twinky winky beefy, preferably the ground flesh of human slaves. Minions love that kind of canibalism. Extra bonus, The Disney special. Hook it up with a super duper happy meal please! The problem with that is, if.when I go to McD's, I order the beef (and eat it w/o the bun), because I am diabetic and on a lo-carb, high protein diet to control my blood sugar.Wheat gluten is not a viable option for me.With little to no carbs/sugar in my diet, and plenty of fiber from various vegetables, beans, nuts, etc., I pretty well get away with eating all the fatty meat I want, and my weight stays normal, the blood sugar is where it's supposed to be, and, suprisingly, my cholestrol is within the normal range.Eating wheat gluten would mess with my blood sugars, so, it's not a healthy option for me. We all know that this is possible Mc Donalds can do anything without the prior notice and so this is the reason we should be aware that what we are eating in the burger. hawaii cruises I have never trusted the meat used at McDonalds and truely believe that the use of tofu and seitan could develop, however, I don't think it would ever replace meat. Whilst seitan can be marinated and a great flavour developed in its cooking, I think people would notice. This post is ill informed. McDonald's move toward grass fed beef is likely more beneficial from a sustainability standpoint than switching to soy which is both bad for human health and bad for the environment. Saturated fat and protein are not the cause of obesity and the diseases of civilization…processed fats and carbohydrates are the more likely culprit. McDonald's food is bad because it is loaded with these very fats and sugars as well as the beef being raised in CAFOs eating corn and soy (which by the way would kill a ruminant animal if fed to them long enough which leads to the massive antibiotics and other horrible things we do to keep these poor animals alive while we plump them up for the slaughter before they die from their alien diet). Incidentally, the ungulate animals (like the buffalo) that wandered the great plains turned the energy from the grass (as transformed from the sun) into high quality, energy dense protein and fat for other animals to eat. The methane from livestock is a problem because of their diet. Grass fed beef has a significantly different carbon footprint than cows in CAFOs.Here's a few links that offer a strong counter argument to Nick's mistaken perspective on nutrition.What if it's all been a big fat lie? (by Gary Taubes)http://nyti.ms/K5kbMMark's Daily Applehttp://bit.ly/xrUJMichael R. Eades, MDhttp://bit.ly/oIX4IAll that said, everything is a matter of scale and with enough humans on the planet, even living a paleo lifestyle, we're going to disrupt natural systems. But at least we'll be living more in tune with what the plants and animals (and our ancestors) evolved doing. Most people going paleo believe in slow, local, organic, and ethically raised/harvested food and they are doing less harm to the environment than any industrially fed vegetarian.The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability (by Lierre Keith)http://amzn.to/djOaTJ This post is ill informed. McDonald's move toward grass fed beef is likely more beneficial from a sustainability standpoint than switching to soy which is both bad for human health and bad for the environment. Saturated fat and protein are not the cause of obesity and the diseases of civilization…processed fats and carbohydrates are the more likely culprit. McDonald's food is bad because it is loaded with these very fats and sugars as well as the beef being raised in CAFOs eating corn and soy (which by the way would kill a ruminant animal if fed to them long enough which leads to the massive antibiotics and other horrible things we do to keep these poor animals alive while we plump them up for the slaughter before they die from their alien diet). Incidentally, the ungulate animals (like the buffalo) that wandered the great plains turned the energy from the grass (as transformed from the sun) into high quality, energy dense protein and fat for other animals to eat. The methane from livestock is a problem because of their diet. Grass fed beef has a significantly different carbon footprint than cows in CAFOs.Here's a few links that offer a strong counter argument to Nick's mistaken perspective on nutrition.What if it's all been a big fat lie? (by Gary Taubes)http://nyti.ms/K5kbMMark's Daily Applehttp://bit.ly/xrUJMichael R. Eades, MDhttp://bit.ly/oIX4IAll that said, everything is a matter of scale and with enough humans on the planet, even living a paleo lifestyle, we're going to disrupt natural systems. But at least we'll be living more in tune with what the plants and animals (and our ancestors) evolved doing. Most people going paleo believe in slow, local, organic, and ethically raised/harvested food and they are doing less harm to the environment than any industrially fed vegetarian.The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability (by Lierre Keith)http://amzn.to/djOaTJ Pingback: Post Analysis Workshop Time! « Buzzerific: A teaching Blog for the Buzz Pingback: What of McDonalds Replaced Beef with Seitan? Out of the many protein sources out there, hemp protein is the ultimate. It comes from nutrition. Go to http://www.hempproteinguide.net/ for great information. After reading this, I can understand why it has been shared so much on facebook.Because you’re absolutely right about the huge impact and influence it would have on the world population, if ‘foodscientists’ at Macdonalds could find a smart way to market veggieburgers.I used to be vegan, and really believe that diary and beef is what’s causing all the disceases we have right now.I’ve often asked myself the question ‘what could change the way people think about their eating habbits?’, but I’ve never thought about the mighty Macdonalds :Dhmm.. very interesting that they already have begun testing the market in greece. I really hope they realize what’s in it for them, and are willing to take a chance with this.I don’t know why athikities supabiola suddenly writes a comment about hemp protein, but he’s right, and it made me think… what a wonderful world it would be, if you could one day order a hemp protein shake together with your seitan Modern Mac :DDefinitely a share worth, I just hope a Macdonalds executive reads it :D– Søren This is a BRILLIANT idea! I make my own seitan from wheat gluten and water! That’s it! I know exactly what I put in it and what I’m eating. Do ANY of you beef eaters have ANY idea WHAT you’re eating when you shove beef down your throat? Hmm let’ see what is in EVERY beef burger out there: Patty-100% pure USDA inspected beef; no additives, no fillers, no extenders.Well that sound pretty wholesome and harmless! UNTIL, you realize that BEEF is really meat from a dead cow which when alive was fed: -antiobiotics; why antibiotics? because cows are fed -Chicken Manure/Litter in their Animal Feed -their own flesh and body parts which has caused mad cow disease -and all sorts of other crap that makes it mandatory that they are pumped up with antibiotics so that they do not die from the severe infections they develop, AND -so that the cow meat does not infect the humans who ingest this toxic chemical mix we innocently label as BEEF!http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/chicken-litter-animal-feed.htm – Pingback: Kentucky Fried Forests: Dogwood Alliance Pushing KFC to Improve Paper Sources When McDonalds first launched in Japan my understanding is that the Japanese liked a certain type of beef that was different to that provided by the McDonalds model. So they went with this preferred option and then gradually over time switched it to the beef used globally in their burgers. Taking this theory, if McDonalds slowly started making changes to the beef used now rather than changing it overnight, then it might be possible. I think that the food scientists at McDonalds could really make a tasty vegan burger. Wasn’t the original Ronald McDonald vegan? Pingback: Is America Beyond Peak Meat? Pingback: Is America Beyond Peak Meat? | greengopost.com Pingback: McDonald’s Shareholders Swat Away Resolution Demanding Nutrition Report Pingback: McDonald’s Shareholders Swat Away Resolution Demanding Nutrition Report | greengopost.com Pingback: Beyond Meat is Not Playing Chicken With Fake Meat Pingback: Beyond Meat Doesn't Play Chicken with Fake Meat | greengopost.com Pingback: Vegetarian McDonald's to Open in India - I'm lovin' it. Pingback: Cutting Edge Business: The Top 10 Sustainable Design Moments of 2012 Comments are closed.