Many years ago, when the first Whole Foods opened west of downtown Austin, my housemates and I would put on our safari jackets and go exploring the aisles. In those days there was the grocery store and the health food store and never the twain should meet. The health food stores were mostly vitamins and teas and powders and protein mixes and everything but food. You could get great fruits and vegetables at the Wheatsville Co-op, but you still had to go to the grocery store to get almost everything else. And everything healthy was more expensive at the grocery store. It still is, but I can afford it more. Twenty-five years ago I was a poor student and that extra seventy-five cents for whole wheat flour could buy some apples or milk or some other much needed item.
When Whole Foods opened, what made it stand out to me was that it was the first store to combine healthy, whole foods with more commercial products. I could buy organic vegetables and bulk whole wheat pasta and cans of tomato sauce to make spaghetti, all in one place. They had bulk freshly ground peanut, cashew and almond butter (which, sadly, has pretty much disappeared in the past couple of years here in the Chicago locations; I really miss the peanut butter) and freshly-baked artisanal (although we didn't use that word then) whole wheat french bread which became one of my regular lunches. The bulk section was something to behold - all kinds of wondrous snacks - trail mixes, granolas, nuts, dried fruit, yogurt-covered pretzels, and countless other things. They had several different kinds of brown rice, whole wheat and other grain flours, beans, peas, and different kinds of pasta.
Having grown up on canned fruit and frozen vegetables, I was willing to dip my toes into the world of real, whole, unprocessed foods, but I was unfamiliar with them and there wasn't that much information available. Most of the people I knew who were using them didn't really know what to do with them either. The first tabbouleh salad I ever had was a big bowl full of bulgur with just a little chopped tomato, cucumber and parsley and very little flavor. I had tofu "egg" salad, tofu black bottom pie, and carob covered peanuts, all of which sorely tested my desire to eat a more healthy diet.
But the worst was when I bought bulk veggie burger mix (I believe they called them love burgers or some silly thing like that at the time) so I could try to make veggie burgers at home. I followed the directions, tried to get the gloopy mess into some form of patty shape, and prayed that they would hold together in the pan and not make a godawful mess. But to no avail. And while I would occasionally order a veggie burger at a restaurant, that was the end of my attempts at making them at home.
And then I discovered Boca burgers, which come pre-pattied and hold their shape in the frying pan. But they're expensive and take up room in my freezer so I don't buy them very often.
A few weeks ago all of the Fantastic World Food products were on sale two for the price of one. I've been using their whole wheat couscous for a while so I was happy to stock up on them. They also had their Nature's Burger mix on sale, so I thought maybe it was time to try that again. Surely they had improved on the formula in the twenty-odd years since I last tried to make them.
And I'm happy to say they have improved.
No fuss, very little muss. And they didn't scorch my skillet so cleanup wasn't a big chore. If you're looking for a more cost-friendly alternative to Boca Burgers, give these a try.