Adventures in VeggieLand 1: Forget Meat Replacements

Once upon a time, the demand for meat wasn’t all that huge. I mean, people would eat all the meat they could afford/ get hold of, but they generally weren’t able to get at all that much unless they were fairly affluent or worked on family farms.

Then, industrial farming came along, and with it came the reclassification of livestock as a resource rather than animal lives. Not actual reclassification, of course, but it seems that as it became more efficient and less expensive to “produce meat” (ie. rear animals for slaughter) a lot of farmers forgot to think about the welfare of the lives of the creatures we eat. The ones who had no respect for their animals were able to make cheaper meat, so were rewarded by more business and hence more money to develop their practises further to rear more animals in less space, slaughter them quicker and sell them even cheaper.

Now it’s super cheap to eat meat, and in the UK most people have difficulty with the concept of a meal that doesn’t include a meat component. This is why you see so many “meat replacement” products in the shops, like Quorn. Even vegetarians tend to regard meat as an essential part of the meal and look to Quorn and soy-based alternatives to mimic the taste, texture and feel of meat in their burgers, sausages, lasagna, pizza, etc. There are “Bacon Style Rashers” fer chrissake!

Image credit:
Fakey Bacey! (Image credit: Duncan Toms)

Look, I don’t have anything against Quorn and the like, some of it is fantastic and I’m sure I’ll make a post at some point all about this category of product. I’ve tried a few different “vegetarian bacon” products, and none of them were satisfying in any way. They had some bite to them, but lacked the varied texture of whole meats and tasted… I wouldn’t say bad, but they tasted nothing like meat at all. So why eat them? Because Eggs ‘n’ Bacon is embedded in what a lot of people think of as breakfast in some parts of the world. And so it is with “meat and potatoes”. It’s simple, hearty, fills you up and gives you that satisfying, meaty chewiness that no non-meat product has been able to mimic, no matter how loudly people on their High Vegan Horses shout about tofu and aubergine (eggplant to the US folk) and portobello mushrooms and who knows what. They’re all fine vegan ingredients, but only someone who’s never had meat could say they’re anything like a “replacement” and not be lying (to us or themselves).

Whoops! I ranted all over my blog post. Oh well!

My point is that people have a hard time letting go of eating meat. No wonder. We’ve been craving it as an easy source of protein and calories and vitamin B12 for as long as we’ve been anything near human. At least many of us have. So what do you do? You try to forget about it. Don’t remind yourself how much this meal ISN’T like meat by trying to replace the meat texture with something sort of like it. It’s like the uncanny valley problem of CG animation and robots. The closer you get to the real thing without being a 100% representation, the weirder – and more uncanny – it feels.

But look at all the cultures that haven’t eaten meat for ages and ages and ages! Have you tried some of the proper, traditional veggie dishes?! You don’t realise the meat is missing at all because the dish isn’t created around the need for a meaty centrepiece! They’re built around spinach, pulses, squash veggies, and – yes – aubergine. By shifting the focus away from meat and the “lack” of it, you don’t miss it nearly as much.

Now, I’m just going to come right out and say it*:
I’m not ready to stop eating meat.

Yeah, I do love meat. I love eating a high-quality steak or a slow-cooked ham-hough. And yeah, I do sometimes feel terrible about the murder aspect of it. Most of the time, however, I just wish we didn’t as a species eat so MUCH of it. We’re creating a huge problem in the world, and if the demand keeps moving the way it has been, it’s not going to be sustainable. It’s already gone way past what we can produce responsibly (ie. respecting the animals enough to treat them well in their lifetime and killing them in a humane way) but it’s going to get worse.

A few years back, I went Weekday Vegetarian. It worked for a while, but I was brought down ultimately by my own lack of adherence to half measures. I made a video about Weekday Veggie back then, even, and you’re welcome to watch it, even if it makes me cringe to look at it now, for reasons related to performance and word use:

So how do I reduce rather than remove meat from my diet without half measures? I’m going to try this: When I make food myself, I will only make vegetarian dishes (except for very special occasions, like Christmas, during which the traditional stick meat will be consumed). I will still be free to have the burger or the ham hough when I go out to eat, but I will actively look for the vegetarian options then as well.

I know, it’s all very half measury, but that’s where I’m at. This is why I’m calling this (maybe) series “adventures in veggieland”. Because I’m not moving in just yet. Maybe some day. Meanwhile, I will share recipes and thoughts and such along the way to try to illuminate vegetarian food from an omnivore’s perspective and to show that even meat lovers can leave the steak aside most of the time and love meatless meals.

*He said after a 600 word rant…