Memorial Day honors the fallen, clears the way for white shoes and kicks off grilling season, which in my world, traditionally means burgers: big, fat, juicy, one-hundred-percent-beef ones. Just as I will always tear up during “Taps” and would not deign to don snow-colored sandals before the end of May, I would never try to slip something into a burger that was not strictly meat.

Or would I?

“The Reducetarian Solution” is an edited volume of 70 short essays exploring many psychological, biological, economic and environmental reasons why Americans have and have not glommed onto the idea of eating less meat as a more sustainable dietary mechanism.

The essays – compiled by Brian Kateman, founder of The Reducetarian Foundation which tries to improve human health, protect the environment, and spare farm animals from cruelty by convincing folks to eat fewer animal products – duly note statistics like high per capita meat intake in the United States (a whopping 200 pounds) and how skewed pricing models enabled by conventional meat production have kept meat prices artificially low. For instance, how is it possible that the price of a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger hasn’t changed in 2½ decades?

The burgers are topped with mustard greens and chive mayonnaise and served with a side of quick-pickled shredded root vegetables. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The essays also examine the downside of marketing schemes designed to make less meat more appealing; “Meatless Mondays” focuses on what’s missing from the plate, for example, instead of celebrating what is still on it. And they try to explain complicated formulas for cutting dietary CO2 equivalents to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – my head is still spinning from that one.

But the two essays that held my interest involve intentionally subversive methods for getting yourself and those for whom you cook to choose to eat less meat even if you (or they) are not predisposed to head down that path. The first one, “Three Mental Hacks to Help You Be a Reducetarian,” was written by Nick Cooney, also the author of “Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us about Spreading Social Change.{

Place quick-pickled shredded root vegetables on the side to keep your barbecue veggie-heavy. Staff photo by Brianna Souku

Cooney says beginning reducetarians should go with what they know, enlist helpful friends and crowd out the meat on their plates. Instead of trying new-to-you plant-based meat substitutions like Quorn, seitan or Beyond Meat, run with dishes you already enjoy that just so happen to be light on – or completely free of – meat. Think pasta with marinara sauce, hearty salads filled with nuts or seasoned rice with stir-fried seasonal vegetables.

Ease reducetarian anxiety with the buddy system, Cooney writes, and you’ll be more likely to stick with the program. And push animal protein to the condiment role by first filling your plate with plants and grains so you scarcely notice how little meat is in the mix.

Christine Burns Rudalevige takes the stuffed patties and grilled everything english muffin buns off the grill. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Or you could be more devious. In the essay “A Nudge in the Right Direction,” behavioral researcher Bradley Swain and Per Espen Stoknes, author of “What We Think When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action,” explain that cooks can use preference manipulation techniques long studied in the field of economics to sway consumers to eat less meat for the good of us all.

Any good culinary “nudge architect” knows that size matters. If you want folks to eat less, give them smaller vessels, whether that is a plate or a burger bun. A 4-ounce beef burger does not look so puny on a right-sized roll. Another study the pair references shows that ensuring that vegetables are readily available, helped folks make less meat-focused choices without consciously doing so. Next to the small burgers on the better buns, a plate of vegetable-heavy burger toppings can help further mask the fact that less meat is on offer.

Lastly, frame the description of the lighter-on-the-meat burger to entice, rather than detract. Instead of describing the beef as being mixed with non-meat items, explain how it’s well seasoned and stuffed full of blue cheese, onions and mushrooms (see recipe).

“The research is pretty clear: When combined with traditional methods of education and persuasion, a nudge in the right direction can tip the scales on important issues,” Swain and Stoknes write.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special” (Islandport Press, May 2017). Contact her at: [email protected]

The burgers are topped with mustard greens and chive mayonnaise and served with a side of quick-pickled shredded root vegetables. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Blue Cheese, Mushroom and Onion Stuffed Burgers

To help build these stuffed burgers up the eyes of committed omnivores, serve them with a variety of out of the ordinary vegetable-based toppers like spicy mustard green leaves, quick-pickled shredded turnips and chive mayonnaise (1 cup of mayo, whizzed in the food processor with 1/4 chopped chives, a dash of white wine vinegar and a pinch each of salt and pepper).

Makes 4 burgers

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped mushrooms

½ cup chopped sweet onion

1 pound grass-fed beef

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

2 ounces blue cheese, broken into ½-ounce pieces

4 English muffins, split

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large frying pan; add the mushrooms and onions. Coat the vegetables in fat, then leave them untouched for 3-4 minutes so that they get nicely caramelized before you stir them. Cook another 2-3 minutes until the onions are translucent. Cool mushrooms and onions to room temperature.

Mix the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper thoroughly. Divide the mixture and form into 4 equal balls. Make a well in each of the balls and divide the onions-mushroom mix and blue cheese among them, pushing the filling into the well in each ball. Pinch the burger meat to close it around the fillings. Pat each ball into a burger shape. Refrigerate the patties for about an hour.

Grill the burgers to the desired doneness. Grill the cut side of the English muffins. Assemble and eat.

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