Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are Mock Meats Too Real?

I found the following Q&A at this great faq site about vegnism. It does a great job of explaining why many vegans enjoy meat analogs. We have been feeding Anna a mostly whole foods diet with a little bit of processed veggie sausage or veggie chicken thrown in there intermittently. This Q&A is making me question whether we should be giving her any meat analogs. I'll explain after you read it.


Q. Are Mock Meats Too Real?

People often ask me why vegans eat mock meats. They say it doesn't make sense for us to eat fake burgers, turkey, and lunchmeats if our true intention is to avoid all animal products. I've even known some vegans who wouldn't touch certain brands of veggie burgers because they seem too "real." Personally, I enjoy these products. Should I feel guilty about eating them?

A. For the most part, processed meat products don't resemble animal body parts. By the time raw meat reaches consumers, most of it is skinned, boned, ground, chopped, sliced, or diced. Various cuts also may be formed into patties, loaves, roasts, links, and other assorted shapes. We recognize "hamburger" as "meat," even though it actually doesn't resemble anything specific. Consequently, we associate veggie burgers with hamburgers because they have a similar appearance (and sometimes a comparable texture and flavor), but neither looks like an animal's limb.

We live in a meat-centered culture and are surrounded by meat-eaters daily, despite our displeasure about it. Nearly all vegans grew up eating meat or living among meat-eaters, so meat in all its forms is customary and familiar. Animal flesh is a central feature of most holiday and social gatherings, and, healthful or not, many of us learned to fashion our meals around animal products. It is reasonable that people accustomed to this way of eating would want a painless replacement for meat when they become vegan. Having a cruelty-free alternative to meat can make vegan meal planning a snap, and it also can help ease the transition to an animal-free diet.

Nevertheless, mock meats are not solely for new vegans; long-time vegans and even nonvegetarians enjoy them as well. Tasty analogs are ideal for meat-loving family members and friends, as they are a food we can delight in and share. They are perfect for warm weather cookouts when nearly everyone wants something to grill, office picnics, parties, and other celebrations. When coworkers, friends, or relatives are eating burgers, we can indulge in a veggie version and not feel alienated. When people partake of foods that are comparable, even if they are not identical, there is a feeling of unity and camaraderie. Because these foods can be heated quickly, they are convenient for hectic lifestyles and people on the run. Students, teens, and busy parents find them to be a godsend when appetites are raging and time is in short supply.

An interesting detail about meat is that it hardly ever is relished plain. Meat-eaters generally douse it with tenderizers, gravies, sauces, herbs, spices, breading, and a variety of condiments. At the very least, it almost always is served with salt and pepper. Meat without these seasonings and treatments usually is bland and relatively unpalatable. When people say they crave meat, what they really long for are the flavor enhancements, the chewy texture, or a sense of fullness and satisfaction. All of these are replicated easily with pure plant foods in the form of mock meats.

The vast majority of people who become vegan or vegetarian do not alter their eating habits because they abhor the taste of meat. While they may find animal products objectionable for myriad reasons, typically this has more to do with how meat is produced, or its effect on human health or the environment, rather than an aversion to its flavor. No one should be ashamed about having enjoyed the taste of meat prior to becoming vegan. Generally, those of us who ate meat at some point in our lives liked it, and this notion isn't going to vanish simply because we choose to change our diet. Although we might feel that meat is repugnant on a spiritual, philosophical, or intellectual level, our palates have memory. We cannot erase a personal history of once having enjoyed the taste of meat, and our emotional attachment to it may endure.

There is no reason for vegans to avoid plant-based foods that simulate meat or other animal products. For many vegans, meat analogs fill a void. They also are handy, practical, comforting, and satisfying. Plant-based mock meats may be reminiscent of animal products, but the critical point is that they aren't meat.


So, do I want my daughter to have fake meat in her palate memory? If we feed her a meat analog at every meal it may make it easier for her to take that dreaded leap to real meat later on in life. If we abstain from feeding her meat analogs, then maybe she'll find anything meaty repugnant, including real meat. Of course, this would mean a pretty hefty shift in our diet, since my wife and I eat our fair share of meat analogs. I'm not sure I want to give those up. I have 23 years of meat memory in my palate!

This is why I need to buy this cookbook:

It's all about vegan cooking without meat substitutes. And I drool every time I read about it. Yum.


urban vegan said...

Interesting post. I tihnk it's just time to stop calling seitan, tofu and tempeh meat substitutes, and simply call them by their rightful names. They are no more meat than an apple is an orange. We go to a Chinese resto here that calls dishes by their rightful vegan names--General Tso's Seitan, etc

BTW-- I've never fried gnocchi. I'm not very into fried foods. If you try/fry it, let me know how it turns out!

Isil Simsek said...

Hi there,
I first came across your blog via Half Pint Pixie's post.
We are also a little vegan family, have 9 months old daughter who we hope to raise vegan,too.
Personally I am not very much into meat analogs.They taste too heavy for me and some are too salty. But rarely I do buy them.
Nice blog!

Dino said...

Y'know what? It may just be the motivation that you need to make that leap, and incorporate more whole foods into you and your lady love's diets (both the one you married and the one you both made!). I know my mom ate healthier once she had us kids, because she wanted to set a good example for us early on.

Thank you so much for the kind words about my book. :)