Many eco-conscious people know that high levels of meat consumption can be bad news for the planet. But refraining from meat entirely can be tough, even on a personal level, let alone on a large scale. 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-percent mushrooms. With a large scale production such as Sonic, this seemingly small menu addition could go a long way toward cutting meat consumption.
According to Scott Uehlein, Vice President of Product Innovation and Development at Sonic, the mushroom-blended patty was more than just a new flavor choice for the company. Sustainability was the a reason for the Slinger's introduction, as Uehlein 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."
Though Uehlein is correct that Sonic is the first fast food restaurant to implement a mushroom-blended burger, it is not the first restaurant of any kind to ever do so. In fact, as Adele Peters notes at Fast Company, the Mushroom Council, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, has recently invited chefs from around the world to compete in their Blended Burger Project by integrating mushrooms into their burger patties for the good of the planet.
There is even a contest for the best blended burger, in which chefs who have created burgers that include at least 25 percent mushrooms can compete. According to a study, which compared the sustainability of mushrooms and beef, producing a pound of mushrooms leaves a carbon footprint of 0.7 pounds, while producing a pound of beef leaves a carbon footprint of 12.3 pounds. In short, the difference in environmental impact is absolutely staggering.
It's worth noting, however, that the Slinger's most appealing feature may still end up being its beef content. Sonic's hope is that customers who are used to beef will be more likely to give the Slinger a chance than they would be with a regular veggie burger. According to Uehlein, the Slinger will be marketed for its taste, rather than its environmental impact or health benefits, further distancing it from the traditional realm of veggie burgers. “Because it is still mostly beef, this burger has a broader appeal versus a completely vegetarian burger patty," Uehlein explains.
Sonic will soon decide whether to make the Slinger a permanent part of its menu at its 3,500 locations, following a 60 day trail. So far, focus groups have approved. Besides the unique mushroom patty, the Slinger comes with mayo, onions, tomato, pickles, and melted American cheese on a brioche bun. On the whole, it is a classic burger harboring a planet-healthy, not-so-classic element.