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FOOD REVIEW

The Essential Vegetarian

Beef with Beef

By Katie Jeffreys
STAFF REPORTER

You may recall that a few weeks ago I discussed McDonald’s use of beef flavoring (called “natural flavoring” in the ingredient list) in their french fries. I had heard about this from an e-mail about someone’s interaction with a McDonald’s customer service representative, which revealed this disturbing fact. A reader of this column pointed out to me an article in Thursday’s Boston Globe, which indicated that a class action lawsuit is forming to sue McDonald’s over their misleading advertising.

I called the Seattle lawyer, Harish Bharti, who is filing the suit. He said that he is seeking class action certification for the whole United States and possibly Canada. This means that anyone who has been affected by the beef (I suppose because of emotional distress) can file with the claim. To do so, simply e-mail the lawyer at <bharti@lawyer.com> and he will send you the two-page agreement form to fill out. If he wins the case, each person who filed will receive a share of the winnings. I plan to file because for the nearly six years I have been a vegetarian, I ate the product believing it was an offering that did not contain meat when it actually did. Perhaps in this case ignorance is bliss, but the discovery has severely limited my fast food dining options and caused me to question the true vegetarianism of other fast food chains’ products.

In 1990 McDonald’s responded to pressures from vegetarians to use vegetable oil rather than beef tallow to fry their food. “Their own CEO from eleven years ago started a media campaign saying, ‘From now on we are 100 percent vegetable oil,’” said Bharti. However, because the fries are produced in two stages (first cut, seasoned, and frozen by a supplier, and then fried in the store), McDonald’s in store use of vegetable oil did not mean that the beef flavoring was removed from the process. “Instead of coming out clean they started playing tricks,” said Bharti. For vegetarians, especially those that do not eat beef for religious reasons, the presence of beef in the fries is highly disturbing. For some, eating beef has implications to not only the stomach, but the soul.

I went out to lunch on Saturday, hoping to dine at The Good Life, on Massachusetts Avenue in the north side of Central Square. Unfortunately they were not open for lunch, so we went across the street to Picante. We didn’t realize that it was Cinco de Mayo until after lunch when we saw someone walking towards us on Mass Ave. wearing a sombrero. I was pleased that I had unwittingly celebrated the holiday.

Cinco de Mayo or not, Picante offers all the standard Mexican fare at reasonable prices. Every type of dish, from tacos to quesadillas, comes with vegetarian options. I chose a burrito with grilled zucchini and mushrooms. It was packed with rice, beans, optional guacamole, and cheese. All dishes are served with a side of tortilla chips.

Picante also does catering, which is slightly expensive. However their do-it-yourself taco bar can be a lot of fun and allows everyone to choose exactly what they want. You may choose to have their food at your house, as the restaurant was not outstanding. The decor is casual, with a token string of colored lights on the ceiling providing the ambiance. Service is like Networks (a.k.a. Courses) -- you place your order at the counter, seat yourself, and they call your number when your food is done. Overall I would recommend Picante for a casual, quick lunch or dinner. Be sure to try the fresh limeade, which was refreshing on sunny days.

As always, feel free to contact me at <veggie@the-tech.mit.edu>. This week’s recipe is something I thought sounded like it could be good hot or cold. Feel free to simplify it by using store-bought pesto or frozen corn.

Corn Pasta with Pesto and Fresh Corn

Pesto:

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves

1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts

1 or 2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

Ground pepper to taste

1/2 pound corn pasta, preferably shells or elbows

2 medium ears fresh, cooked sweet corn

2 large ripe tomatoes, finely diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place all the ingredients for pesto in food processor and process to a coarse purÉe.

Cook the pasta al dente. When it is done, drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Toss gently with pesto. Scrape the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Add them, along with the tomatoes and lemon juice, to the pasta mixture. Toss gently and thoroughly and serve. Serves four to six.