Did you hear the one about the vegan enjoying a plant-based burger? Sorry, there isn’t a witty punchline to follow. Said vegan was told that they shouldn’t be enjoying said burger. Because they’re vegan, and that was the end of the matter. But with the rising number of meat substitutes becoming available, all that is set to change.
Vegan ‘meat’ is hitting the shelves fast. With some setting their sights on meat lovers as well as vegans, it’s only a matter of time before they’re as normal as meat. We now have ‘bleeding’ vegan burgers and plant-based steaks which are indistinguishable from the real thing. No longer do we have to make do with soya-based insipid fakeness. (Thanks Quorn, you did well but it’s time we moved on…)
Some may be devouring vegan burgers, literally with relish, but the rise in mock meats is also raising eyebrows. Do vegans and the plant-based want meat substitutes? Do they need them? Should they want or need them? Can meat eaters enjoy them too? Or are they a no-go zone for carnivores? Either way, what about the positive role they play in reducing the world’s meat consumption?
I took it upon myself to find out what a fabulous bunch (my friends) thought on the matter.
The Case for Vegan Meat – “a Familiar Placebo”
“Fake Meats Are Life!” said one friend. She said it meant that her kids could have ‘normal’ looking packed lunches at school. Another said that her and her family love them as they “taste exactly the same as meat, without the hoof and eye”.
This reflected the general consensus among the friends who like mock meats. Especially those with children. Those on the positive side of fake meats loved that they allowed everyone to enjoy a hot dog at a BBQ or a hearty roast dinner. (‘Joints’ of tofu disguised as turkey are actually a thing.)
One meat-eater said that he sometimes uses fake mince, albeit with a beef stock. He saw it as a way of reducing his consumption of meat, whilst still getting the flavour. He did also say that a semi-veggie spag bol would be as far as he would go.
A self-confessed fussy eater and vegan said that meat substitutes are one of the strongest weapons we have in saving the planet. He thinks that the ceasing of livestock cultivation is only a matter of time and that our planet won’t exist if we continue to eat meat and dairy.
So, he argued, vegan meat can help those who love meat, transition. “Just like vapes, patches and gums help smokers hoping to quit. They present a familiar placebo and an alternative to finding new ways to eat vegetables”.
The Case Against – “Contradicting in Every Sense”
So far, so agreeable. But just as many couldn’t comprehend the need for fake meats – both vegans and meat-eaters. One carnivore friend couldn’t understand why a vegan or a vegetarian would want to eat a meat substitute.
This point was quickly shut down by someone else explaining that she chose not to eat meat because of animal welfare issues. Not because it didn’t taste nice.
Another friend and long-term vegan said that she didn’t like what fake meats were made of. She makes a point of avoiding anything made with soya. Her husband, a forever carnivore, said that he’d quite liked the Vivera Veggie Steak. He said it was nothing like a ‘real’ steak but it was tasty and “much nicer than Quorn fakeness”. (Listen up Vivera, you might have work to do to convince meat-lovers that your products taste the same.)
But the most vocal were those who not only don’t like fake meats, but don’t believe in their right to exist. (I have some very passionate friends.) One, a vegan, “hates the look, taste and very idea of fake meats”. She finds them “contradicting in every sense”. Another, a carnivore and keen home cook, would apparently throw any fake meat served up to him straight into the bin.
Hatred aside, all agreed that vegan meat does have an important role in reducing meat consumption.
The World Needs Innovative, Sustainable Foods
For a long time, meat-eaters commandeered the burger as their own. They took it under their wing and claimed meaty rights over what is fundamentally a piece of protein slapped between two slices of carb.
Then along came Quorn, and vegans and veggies had something of their own to put in a seeded bap.
But now, the next generation of fake burgers and other mock meats is here. With food technology improving all the time, my guess is, they’ll only get better.
Based on my small selection of (fabulous) people, we either love meat substitutes, or really, really loathe them.
I put up with Quorn for years, but this new flurry of fake meats excites my taste buds. Most of the time, my protein comes unashamedly from chickpeas. I love them. But I also love a burger (that isn’t made of soggy soya or boring beans).
Should fake meats exist? Absolutely! With animal agriculture responsible for an ever growing carbon footprint, Planet Earth needs all the help it can get. If that means more mock meats, and more flavour, I’m all for them.