Fake meat is nothing new — and by fake I typically mean soy based — veggie burgers, soy hot dogs and artificial breakfast sausages have been around since before the new millennium. Of course, just because something's been around a while doesn't mean it's good for you; but that's not what really presents the quandary to me. My concern, although I can't even eat most meat alternatives because of my various food allergies, is that it's just one more category of manufactured, processed food. Further away from our roots and natural eating habits, although vegetarians and vegans would argue that doesn't justify the consumption of animal products either.
A recent post by Mark Bittman gave a new perspective on this issue (although if you look closely, this article actually wasn't written by him — it's a translation from a Dutch author who accompanied Bittman on a recent trip to a soy "meat" factory). What's the deal, after all, with non-meat eaters wanting foods that resemble meat in the first place? Our obsession with protein? Trying to resemble the last burger they remember eating? Or maybe, well, What else do I eat? None of those reasons, to me, are good excuses to eat something that comes frozen, wrapped in plastic, boxed in colorful cardboard, shipped from California, instead of, say — if you really want to stick with the vegetarian theme — mushroom whole-wheat naan pizzas. There you go; cheese has protein, and everyone loves pizza. (Vegans, you'll have to bear with me — I don't know enough about the subject because usually, when I explain my soy, corn, pea, walnut, peanut and shellfish allergies suddenly sympathetic vegan ears run the other way and I've never been able to get assistance in the what-do-I-eat-as-a-vegan-with-food-allergies department.)
Yes, I understand the reasoning that ANY shift away from factory farming of cows and chickens is a step in the right direction. I do. I've seen the footage; I eat meat sometimes only once a week; I know a lot of facts and figures linking red meat consumption to chronic disease and cancer. But it's really hard for me to agree with a "back to basics" cookbook author and food expert that anything fake is better than a real alternative. Not that Bittman and Michael Pollan are best friends forever, but they've always seemed to me, for example, to be on the same side of the argument — eating real food is best (and I'll point out both are, of course, omnivores) and part of the obesity problem in our country is directly related to the production and consumption of packaged and processed foods. Is there anything more processed than a fake chicken nugget? It almost sends a pink-slime shiver down my spine.
I think one solution to the problem — and it is a problem, because let's be honest, do you really think the people who are ordering the fried chicken salads will eat the "fake" chicken salads instead? I'm guessing they'll just order a turkey burger or a veggie pizza rather than take that leap — is to continue preaching the plant-based diet, protesting GMOs and spreading the news of stories similar to the recent red-meat uproar. I know I'm not living in the inner city, on food stamps, with minimal education (about nutrition especially, perhaps), but I've certainly changed my eating habits and I could direct you to thousands of others who have also. It IS a movement, and however fast or slow moving, I've got to believe it's helping. Fake chicken, fake hot dogs, fake hamburgers...I just don't see them catching on when I can make you a delicious organically grown steak or — on both the cheap and vegetarian side, just for argument's sake — some bean griddlecakes (don't laugh!) topped with your favorite condiments, from pico de gallo to dijon mustard. People know beans. They know salads, and vegetables, and sandwiches (which can be made on whole-wheat bread, with healthy toppers and low-fat spreads). Other than Bittman and his Dutch accomplice, I don't know anyone who knows a fake chicken.
Next up: You Can Relate — So Why Don't You Help?