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Environmental Virtue on a Bun: Are You Buying?

Environmental Virtue on a Bun: Are You Buying?

Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA – Please welcome Elevation Burger, the latest contender for virtue-burger honors, debuting now in the Philadelphia suburbs.

It has single-handedly raised the ante in the (so to speak) greener-meat niche. Elevation Burgers are not merely fresh-ground, or all-beef, or naturally raised; they are – top this! – “100 percent organic, grass-fed, free-range beef.”

A single patty is about three ounces and change, so you are advised to stack at least two, or to have the Vertigo Burger, the price of which varies depending on the height of the stack. (At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Half the Guilt Burger, involving one meat patty and one veggie patty – the burger equivalent of a well-trimmed hair shirt.)

The burger joint, of course, is this year’s steak house – or perhaps this year’s antidote to last year’s steak-house epidemic. No mystery on that score: Burger budgets do not porterhouses buy.

But if you do not have a drive-through, or thousands of locations across the country, or a spokesclown, you’ve got to have something.

In the case of Elevation – the Rocky Mountain-peak motif of its shopping-center storefront disconcertingly resonant of a Coors label – the something is its devotion to renewable-bamboo flooring, energy-efficient ovens, and waste oil destined, eventually, to grow up to be biodiesel.

But its “biggest contribution to a better planet,” the fine print on its shake cup says, is the beef itself: it’s fed on grass, not corn, which sucks up far less carbon dioxide, and, well, if all cattle were pastured (not grain-fed), it would be like taking four million cars off the road.

It might be the only shake cup with a footnote: The essence of that aforementioned claim can be found, it reports, in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” p. 198. (And so, yes, there it is. You can look it up.)

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” of course, is eco-author Michael Pollan’s passionate critique of the depredations of industrial agriculture, and currently the sacred text of ethical eaters: supersizing and “cornification” don’t just make you fat, he warns, but make the soil dangerously thinner (and the water and air worse).

Whether Pollan would be flattered that his critique is being stamped on shake cups to encourage the consumption of more burgers is another question.