by knight ridder news service
WASHINGTON - President Clinton - an avowed junk-food aficionado - may not be cutting hamburgers from his diet, but he is cutting the fat.
During the past six weeks, Energy Foods in Boca Raton, Fla., has shipped almost 4,000 of its fat-free, meatless "Boca Burgers" to the White House for the Clintons and their staffs, the company said.
They're evidence of the crackdown by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on fatty fare at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Out went traditional rich, caloric, hearty meals like prime rib, and in came hip New American cuisine, replete with greens, legumes, free-range chicken and now - soy burgers.
At about 100 calories per serving and no fat, the pre-cooked, frozen Boca Burger has become such a hot item at the White House that it will even be served to the president on Air Force One.
"They really are good; they have a smoked taste," said Neel Lattimore, the first lady's press aide, noting that the healthful burgers are in keeping with Hillary Clinton's belief that "eating well helps you stay well."
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The veggie burgers were introduced to the Clintons several months ago by California heart specialist Dr. Dean Ornish, and they have been a hit ever since, Lattimore said.
Max Shondor, part owner of Energy Foods, said the burger was developed after he and a couple friends spent two years hunkered down in a small test-kitchen meticulously measuring, mixing and tasting bits of soy, potato starch, garlic and spices.
After thousands of different batches of burgers, he said they finally found the right combination.
"It doesn't taste grainy like a hot granola bar; it's got the texture and consistency of fine ground beef," said Shondor, noting that he wanted to develop a product that would appeal to mainstream taste buds, not just health-food nuts.
The Boca Burger has shown up at a number of up-scale eateries and spas nationwide, including the tony East Bank Club in Chicago where Oprah Winfrey works out, Shondor said.
But Janet Riley, a spokesman for the American Meat Institute, said the meat industry is not quaking over its low-cal competitor.
"We're glad there are food choices out there, but nothing will ever replace the American hamburger," Riley said, noting that about 98 percent of Americans eat meat, and that meat and poultry consumption is at an all-time high.
And about the president's penchant for soy burgers, Riley said, "I'm confident he's still eating plenty of (real) hamburgers too."