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Give pink slime the pink slip and try Chicago’s best veggie burgers

Chicago Diner's veggie burger
Chicago Diner's veggie burger
The Chicago Diner

Pink slime. It’s what’s for lunch if you’re one of the 32 million American children in the National School Lunch Program, apparently, even after getting rejected by fast food giants McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King. The end product of centrifuged beef trimmings, connective tissue, cartilage and ammonia hydroxide, a pathogen-killing chemical, so-called pink slime is understandably worrisome to many. Although the USDA classifies ammonia hydroxide as "generally regarded as safe" (or GRAS), parents are concerned as seven million pounds of the chemically treated beef has been designated for public school cafeterias. Pink slime is also found in 70% of U.S. supermarket ground beef.

There has been such an uproar about it, in fact, that the embattled Beef Products, Inc., the sellers of the chemical-treated beef, has created a website to fight the “myth of pink slime,” which was a term coined by USDA microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, after viewing a BPI production plant. As if that weren’t enough of a black eye to the meat industry, just Monday, the Archives of Internal Medicine released a study that found that the consumption of red meat is even riskier than previously thought. The American Meat Institute has probably seen happier days. (Speaking of, check out this little demo with Chef Kendall Huff from Native Foods and Kenny Torrella of Mercy for Animals that aired yesterday. How amazing does this burger look? No cruelty involved.)

So what is a burger lover to do? There are lots of really good reasons to stop eating animals - for me and many others, it begins and ends with cruelty - and these health scares are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Thankfully, those looking to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption in Chicago can enjoy a really good veggie burger instead. Whether they are light or more meaty, globally inspired or good ol’ American interpretations, these vegan veggie burgers are good enough to make even dedicated meat-eaters consider whether they really need the cardiac bomb that is the traditional hamburger. These burgers have great flavor with no guilt attached, and, of course, there is not even an optional side of pink slime if you were to want it.

All-Vegetarian Restaurants

The Chicago Diner has three varieties of hearty veggie burgers, seitan-based Titanic BLT Burger and BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and the Black Bean Burger, all big, filling, juicy sandwiches. You can’t go wrong here.

Loving Hut has one of Chicago’s favorite veggie burgers with their Noble Burger, a smoked patty with all the fixings. On Wednesdays, Loving Hut offers a Korean BBQ Burger special for just $1.99 to celebrate Meat Out.

Native Foods has three rib-sticking and popular guiltless burgers, the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, the tropical Caribbean Queen (both are prepared with house-made seitan) and the tempeh-based Scorpion Burger. All are served on a whole grain bun with plenty of veggies and condiments. (Want a chicken-style burger? Try the Chicken Run Ranch Burger.)

Victory’s Banner in Roscoe Village has four popular veggie burgers that can be made vegan upon request: the Bliss Burger, the Bacon Cheeseburger, the Southwest Burger and the Nouvelle Burger, their house-made patty served in a variety of styles.

Non-Vegetarian Restaurants

Counter is a small but growing “custom-built burger” chain, has a location in Lincoln Park and their veggie patty is vegan, though none of the buns are. The veggie burger can be ordered in a bowl, though, on top of organic mixed greens. Their signature Asian Veggie Burger Bowl, with greens, carrots, red onion, grilled pineapple and peanut sauce sounds like a winner.

Flying Saucer, Humboldt Park’s friendly, unpretentious restaurant, has a well-loved Veggie Lentil Burger with fresh vegetables and choice of one side.

Haymarket Brewery in the West Loop has a Vegan Burger made with black beans, oats, and vegetables on a multigrain bun with a devoted following.

Johnny Rockets offers a simple veggie burger that won’t blow your mind but will hit the spot with their Streamliner, a Boca patty with grilled onions and traditional fixin’s. My son loves this one.

Prasino in Wicker Park has a popular vegan Veggie Burger with arugula, tomato confit, and onion on a multigrain bun that is worth checking out.

Try one of these vegan veggie burgers soon. There is so much more in the world beyond beef and parts of suffering animals. There is no pink slime, cholesterol or suffering in these delicious burgers.

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