‘I’m fine with vegan food but I don’t want to eat any of that fake meat,’ a meat-eating mate said to me last week when we were discussing where to dine.
‘Bean burgers are one thing but if you like the taste of chicken, why don’t you just eat it rather than making fake fried chicken?’
It’s a common question in both vegan and omnivorous circles.
After all, even if you don’t want to eat meat out of moral compunction, there are plenty of non-ersatz options out there for the decerning herbivore. And many straight-forwardly vegan dishes are often way healthier than the fried seitan and soy products that go out of their way to replicate animal flesh.
Certainly, many vegans will have turned plant-based out of a disgust for meat and the meat industry. To them, it makes no sense to be reminded what meat feels, smells or tastes like.
I, for one, used to hate all the stuff that reminded me that the meat on my plate was once an animal – fat, veins, bones…nipples and stubble. Proper grim.
And yet…I still can’t smell pork being roasted without my mouth filling with salvia.
For months, I’ve swerved any kind of meat substitute and then suddenly, I came across a Linda McCartney beef roast and I became addicted.
I never even liked beef when I did eat meat but this was just so high protein! So low fat! And just so juicy and delicious. It was like the taste of a roast but without any ghoulish bits of flesh – and it cooked in half the time.
I went on to find Oumph! pulled pork. The first time I cooked it, I started to panic thinking that I’d gone to the wrong freezer and picked up a bag of genuine pig.
But no – this was a soy product that was so similar in taste and texture that it was (in my opinion) indistinguishable. And again, the macros and nutritional value was unbelievable.
Was I wrong for finding such enjoyment in animal-tasting food?
I was brought up a meat eater. Some meat is genuinely delicious. It’s the fact that it’s the cooked flesh of an actual animal who had to be killed in order for you to eat it that’s grotesque – not the taste profile. I imagine some humans probably taste good too (if cooked correctly, natch).
Bleeding meat-alternative burgers might be a step too far (as is vegan places creating ‘bones’ for their jackfruit wingz), but it’s awesome to have so many vegan choices these days that don’t entirely centre around lentils and houmous.
If you loved eating meat but turned vegan out of compassion for animals and/or the environment, that’s a huge sacrifice. You deserve to eat something you truly enjoy – and if that’s a slice of faken of a morning, that’s cool. You weren’t a monster before and you’re certainly not one now for wanting to eat the same kinds of food…only from a different source.
I’ve asked a number of vegans whether they tended to avoid meat substitutes and the majority seem to prefer a completely meaty-less existence.
‘It’s a bit like vaping instead of smoking cigs – pick a side, man!’ says one.
Another says: ‘Yes I do. Been a vegi and vegan so long that I am used to life without and I don’t like the taste or consistency now. I prefer fruit and veg based meals. When I started anything that looked like meat probably was meat so you avoided it…generally, they are not healthful alternatives so what is the point. Lots of the flavour is literally the flavouring which would taste up anything.’
However, not everyone thinks of things like seitan and Quorn as substitutes for meat.
Emma explains: ‘I don’t think of any of it as fake animal flesh. It’s just chewy savoury food. I would prefer it, though, if manufacturers and restaurants didn’t use names like “beef-style” or “chick’n” for their products. Maybe we could come up with a generic term for chewy savoury food? Like Gary (the Sainsbury’s vegan cheese), but one that sounds more appetising.’
And Phil…well, Phil’s a man after my own heart.
‘Why would you avoid them? Meat tastes good, if I can have a cruelty free alternative then great!’
If you’re not after a very healthy lifestyle, then there’s no compulsion to avoid places like Temple of Seitan or Biff’s Jack Shack. Vegan junk food almost exclusively focuses on meat-substitutes.
Some may argue that the rise in these kinds of businesses is proof that we’re all hard-wired to love meat and therefore, will continue to encourage society to view meat as a staple.
That kind of seems doubtful.
The very vast majority of people in this country have been brought up as omnivores and it can take years to unlearn the food patterns we pick up as children.
Perhaps the next generation of vegans will never know just how good a bacon sarnie can be, or what a sticky pork and apple sausage tastes like fresh from the grill. And for them, food resembling meat will make no sense. I can well imagine a meat-free future – one that’s free from meat and plant-based foods purposely trying to resemble it.
But for the rest of us, there should be no shame in enjoying the cruelty-free versions of old favourites.
You can like the taste of meat without eating it. You’re still reducing your carbon footprint. You’ve still saved an animal from the slaughter.
It’s just a question of whether you want to be chowing down on highly processed grub or not.