Actually all food is mental, but meat, really, really, is mental.
I was thinking of this last night while watching Top Chef Masters, where Suvir, an Indian chef cooked a veggie burger instead of a bacon cheeseburger. Now granted, I don't think it was the right texture, (he's a vegetarian afterall, and has never had meat, hard to mimic a texture you don't know), but I was surprised by the negativity about taking the meat off the table. Sure, he could have used turkey, but is turkey really that much better than beef? Furthermore, do we really need meat?? Let's deconstruct this bacon cheeseburger for a moment.
Actually, before we do that, let me preface it, by saying that I worked at a burger restaurant for a long time, cooking, serving, and getting covered in burger grease I know of what I speak.
So the first thing, that you have on a typical bacon cheese burger is the bun. Nope, not the burger the bun. A caramelized toasted bun, not buttered is standard. Caramelized because it helps keep the bun from getting soggy, and also brings the sugar profile to the front. So we've got that. Now, you're a lot better off, if you switch to a whole grain bun, which adds fiber, a little protein or whatever, but it's bread.
The next thing you have is the toppings? What - no burger? Nope. Think about when you eat a burger, what do you taste first? The sweetness of the tomato? The tang and bite of a pickle? The buttery mayo? The snap of fresh lettuce or the pepper of an onion? These vegetables are the main flavor profile.
Next is the bacon. The smokey flavor, imparts a big punch.
The salt of the cheese is the 2nd to last flavor, and why a bacon cheeseburger is so delicious. It makes a blend with the bacon.
Finally is the burger itself, generally a ground beef. What you get in flavor from this, is the salt and seasonings placed on the meat. Taste hamburger on it's own, it isn't the most flavorful substance. What you DO get from this though, is texture. Your mouth responds to texture and it expects the chew that meat has. I repeat, it's not the flavor, it's the chew, and the texture.
Now, instead, let's imagine we take our bacon cheeseburger. We leave on our favorite veggies, but put them on a multigrain bun (which gives more texture and bite). Taking the time to caramelize that bun completely. Then, we take a mushroom cap, a round of eggplant, a patty of black beans, and heat it with some olive oil in a pan. Before we do this though, we add a little crushed garlic, fresh ground pepper, salt, smoked paprika, and a bit of cayenne. We then carefully saute our meat replacement (or grill it if you'd rather), and layer it onto our toppings. We leave the bacon off, the correct seasoning, especially the smoky paprika will replace that. If you must, top it with the cheese, but try it without, you won't be missing much..
Would you be willing to do this? What are your first thoughts? Not enough protein? You won't be full? You just won't like it, what's the point in having a bacon cheeseburger without the bacon or meat? Now examine this thought. Is it a true worry? Will you be full?? Yes - you're going to be eating a ton of veggies, fiber and yes, even protein. And what's the point? Watch this clip of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution..