Since it has been a reflective holiday, I’ve been reconsidering our 4th of July traditions.
Now that my son is older, this holiday has less activity around it. I used to spend the day teaching him about the significance of the 4th of July, often watching the musical 1776 with him or some other aspect of American history. Then, of course, we had fireworks at night. He doesn’t have much interest of either of those activities now, so our 4th of July celebration tends to center around the focus of so many of our national holidays–FOOD!
Thanksgiving is one thing. But as I looked into our summer food traditions, I’m not sure US dietary practices are something that we want to hold up as the greatest achievements of our country.
According to Reference.com, the top 5 American foods are:
1. Hamburgers/Cheeseburgers: The website claims, based on per capita figures, that the average American eats 3 burgers per week for a total consumption of about 50 BILLION hamburgers every year (McDonald’s alone reports that it sells 75 hamburger PER SECOND for an entire 24 hour day).
2. Hot Dogs: Data says the average person eats almost 1 hot dog per week for a total of 50 hot dogs each year.
3. Pizza: Website states “3 billion pizzas are consumed by about 94 percent of Americans each year.” (Not sure why this is the only one with reduced numbers of consumers; I know plenty of vegetarians who are not part of the hamburger/hot dog totals.)
4. Soda/Soft Drinks: Per capita data says that each American drinks one soft drink per day. (Again, the reality is probably really skewed; most people I know either drink NONE or drink A LOT.)
5. French Fries: Per capita data has each American eating 30 pounds of french fries per year for a total of 2 million TONS of french fries consumed annually.
WOW! My son and I are definitely not keeping up with our national quotas.
Surely, I thought, our food choices are better when you get beyond the top 5. Huffington Post, for example, had a post on the Most Iconic American Foods that contained 25 choices. However, only one–#24–was primarily vegetable-based: Cobb Salad. CNN Travel had an even larger list of American food: The 50 Greatest Dishes. It, too, only had one vegetable-based dish: #47: COBB SALAD. Every other dish was meat, dairy, carbs, sugar, and/or fats heavy.
But let’s go back to hamburgers, one of the traditions for a 4th of July feast. It’s not the healthiest for the body–but that is an individual choice. The real issue is that it is so unhealthy for the planet.
Let me quote from the Reference.com website about hamburgers:
The American obsession with hamburgers, which were brought to the U.S. by German immigrants in the early 1800s, is a cause for concern among ecologists.
One of the reasons for this concern is the amount of water required for beef production. To produce one pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water are needed, in a large part for supplying grain as feed. Sourcing this feed for beef production is also extremely wasteful of space. The total amount of land used in the U.S. for growing crops to feed humans is eight times less than that used to feed cattle for beef.
Additional concerns surround the impact of beef production on greenhouse gases, with critics of the industry pointing out that in order to create each quarter-pounder burger, 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases must be released into the atmosphere. These come largely from the nitrous oxide in the manure, which has been known to leak into rivers and cause further complications for wildlife.
I don’t make a lot of beef dishes because I know our planet can’t sustain beef consumption at this level. Sometimes I make exceptions for holidays as “special occasions.” For this 4th of July, I had planned to service sustainable-fished wild Alaskan salmon (#35 on the CNN list). That’s a nice American dish that healthy for people and not too bad for our environment (when sustainably fished).
However, I decided to try something different. I wanted to make a healthier version of our iconic American meal of hamburger and french fries. So I made the meal above: home-made lentil burgers on a whole wheat bun (served with Farmers Market lettuce and tomato and grocery store onion) and keto-friendly baked avocado chips.
The avocado chips were just OK. Mine didn’t come out golden brown like the ones in the recipe I followed. They were fairly crunchy and tasty enough, but really, I would rather just eat the avocado, especially with tortilla chips for crunch.
The lentil burgers were pretty good. I’ve tried making bean burgers before, but they tend to just taste like beans that I would rather eat straight or with tortilla chips and salsa. The lentil burgers tasted more…burger-ry, I guess. I wouldn’t mistake them for meat, but on a bun with vegetables and condiments, they were a reasonable substitute. I cooked 4, and my son ate 3 of them, although the last 2 were sans buns. So they must have tasted good to him!
The main thing was that I just sautéed these lentil burgers inside instead of doing them on the grill. I think I’ll try them again, and maybe briefly chill or freeze them once they have been formed into patties, and see if they can withstand being grilled. I like the smoky taste of grilled food, so if I can figure out a way to add that component, I think they would be a satisfying alternative to beef hamburgers.
I also think I will go with grill-roasted potatoes next time instead of avocado chips, unless I find another alternative recipe to try.
My point is that we need to think about what we are celebrating and how our food choices reflect that. I love that our country was at the forefront of granting more rights to more people than any other developed country at that time, and hope we continue to move in that direction. I don’t love that our country consumes so many of the world’s resources without thinking about the consequences. So this is my way of trying to turn that latter aspect of American culture around.
Plus, tonight we get to eat the salmon, so YUM!