What’s with the faux meat

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Veg Blog regular kitchenmage wrote an entry on her blog a few weeks back titled Some of my best friends are vegan… where she asks, “What’s with the faux meat? … [I]f you are a vegan for ethical reasons, I can’t see how you could eat faux steak. You’re not eating a cow because it’s ethically wrong so why are you pretending to eat a cow? What’s up with that?”

I know I’ve written about this before, but am too lazy to do a search and find it. So, I just thought I’d include my response here:

Sorry for the delay in replying to this post, but here goes…

The simple answer:

I gave up meat for ethical reasons. I didn’t give up meat because I disliked the taste. Thus, if I can have something that reminds me of the flavor and texture of meat that I enjoyed while also being cruelty-free, what’s the problem?

The expanded version:

I hear a lot from people saying, “Oh God, soy ____? That’s gross.” But, to me, eating something made of soy or wheat, whatever it is, is much less disturbing than something made of an animal that used to be alive.

That said, I can understand why some vegans won’t eat fake meat or are creeped out by it. For many, it reminds them too much of the real thing and the gag reflex may kick in. For me, though, knowing simply that it’s not meat is enough for me to enjoy it with a good conscience.

In addition, fake meats are an awesome transitional food for new vegetarians coming from a meat-heavy background that have no clue what they’re going to eat.

Does all that make sense?

23 Responses to “What’s with the faux meat”

  1. Danielle

    It makes sense. I stopped eating meat because I didn’t like the way it made me feel (after I turned 30, my digestive system acted up vehemently when I did).

    But I liked the taste, I have to admit, so I want something that approximates it without all the negative effects and the cruelty.

  2. kitchenmage

    Thanks for the shoutout! I can mostly agree with what you say here, but I still wonder about things like “tofurkey” — a truly awful word if ever there was one. Used in a sentence: “I had some tofurkey the other day and it almost made me blog it back up.” (hey, two bot-so-appealing words in a single sentence!) Can’t those clever kids in marketing come up with a new word? Something that doesn’t sound so much like they want to pretend it’s ‘almost meat’?

    btw, congrats on the vegBaby! When do we get pictures of the adorable one with her pet chicken.

  3. Leanne

    I really enjoy mock meat dishes when I go out to restaurants. I live in Melbourne (Australia), where there is a large Buddhist community, and many great Asian vegetarian restaurants that serve great vegan dishes based on soy meat analogues. I just consider it yet another delicious vegan cuisine to enjoy and be thankful for.

    However, I am also aware that many of these dishes are high in fat and salt, and are not healthy foods to base a diet around. So they definitely fall into the ‘sometimes’ food category. For everyday, my family bases our vegan diet on whole, organic grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies – and we’re the healthiest family I know :-)

  4. Patrick Hall

    I think it’s fine for vegetarians to eat faux meat. Like Leanne, I think that faux sausage or whatever is maybe nearly as bad for you, really, as meat sausage.

    But then, I’m vegetarian for ethical more than health reasons. As a matter of fact, I’m not particularly healthy.

    There’s another, IMHO more divisive issue for vegetarians looming on the horizon, though: farmed meat.

    Namely, suppose that down the road the boffins figure out how to grow meat in a lab from a couple of stem cells? Suppose they get good at it? Suppose it gets to the point where even carnivores agree that it’s better than slaughtered meat?

    Suppose that the single animal whose stem cell is used to found the farming line isn’t even killed, but rather, the cells are somehow extracted painlessly.

    Is one still a vegetarian if one eats that?

    Heh, fortunately, I think the gross-out reflex will make this mostly a moot point (“Wait, you guys _grew_ that hamburger?”)

    :)

  5. kitchenmage

    Patrick, you raise an interesting question. Let me complicate it by saying that I would go vegan before I ate ‘farmed meat’–and I *like* meat.

    After giving the responses I’ve seen here and on my site (and a couple in mail) some thought, I am still confused. Maybe I haven’t gotten the question right, but I am still wondering this: If you don’t eat meat for ethical reasons, why do you eat stuff that *pretends* to be meat?

    If I was a vegan because I believed eating meat is evil, I’d buy soy-baed meat analogs, but I’d buy the ones that aren’t pretending to be meat. You know, eat the ones that are proudly “soy-based protein in handy 4 ounce ready to cook servings” but not the “TofURKEY”… It’s marketing, why endorse the marketing that ignores the ethical choice I made and pretends that my ethics don’t matter as long as they can serve me a ‘soy cutlet’…

    But test-tube ‘meat’…no thanks!

  6. Patrick Hall

    Hi kitchenmage,

    After a bit of reflection, I’d explain my views this way: actually, like you, I have no great desire to eat tofurkey.

    In fact, the only time I eat tofurkey is at Thanksgiving. And when I thought about it, I realized that really the only reason I have it then is that my mom makes it for myself and my sister.

    Point being, there are social factors at work. Younger relatives have become vegetarians too. Is it possible that it was easier for them to do so because they saw other members of their family fitting in fine at holidays? I think it’s possible. And so, insofar as “faux turkey,” etc, serve as a kind of stepping stone for people, it’s not immoral at all, quite the opposite. No turkeys were harmed in the making of this Tofurkey :)

    That said, having thought about it, I realized that I don’t actually like the faux meat stuff on my own, with the possible exception of those sausage thingies (not terribly healthy anyway), and maybe veggie burgers. Is that some sort of suppressed desire to eat a steakburger? Probably; after all, I ate that stuff for 20 years (but haven’t for 10… *cough* 11.)

    But it’s not my fault that I was raised eating that way, it’s my culture’s. And it’s hard enough trying to navigate my own path as a vegetarian that I don’t feel like I should have to beat myself up for eating fried soy stuff that emulates dishes I group up unknowingly liking as a kid.

    As for the marketing thing, I don’t really see how vegetarian demand for faux meat products is going to support the meat industry, or indeed, influence it at all. The vast majority of people who eat meat pay no heed to vegetarians one way or the other. Whether marketing in and of itself is a bad thing is IMHO another topic.

    The test tube topic is just an off the wall thing. I’m kind of a futurism nut so I like to read about out-there stuff like animal uplift and so on. It’s not something that I want to eat, myself, either. I just think it’s an interesting philosophical issue, I guess.

    Golly, sorry for rambling on again! :)

  7. Charles Minus

    I am puzzled by the fact that Chinese vegetarian restaurants, or Chinese restaurants with vegie meenues serve almost entirely faux meat. It’s kinda fun because they have so many choices (Dragon House in Riverside CA has oveer a hundred choices). But I have been vegetarian for so long that I reallly don’t enjoy ordering chicken chop suey or whatever, even if I know it’s fake. why not just get creative and come up with some new stuff?

    I think faux meat is mostly for new vegetarians who still crave that hamburger of hot dog experience. It’s okay with me, I did it too.

  8. Alex

    I think faux meats are great. I became vegan for ethical reasons, and was thrilled to discover that I could still eat “meat” without the murder. In fact I have successfully transformed the lifestyles of some of my friends, by encouraging them to try faux meats, as an alternative to the real thing. They especially love my receipe for spaghetti and “meat” balls.

  9. kitchenmage

    I think I’m going to run with TofURKEY as a gateway drug.

    Here’s my argument that I didn’t use in my initial post because it seemed *inflammatory*:
    If you don’t own slaves because it is ethically wrong, would you hire people to pretend they are slaves? (I’ll assume you said no, mostly because if you said yes, I doubt you’re a reader here.) Then why eat soy that pretends to be meat? It’s the pretending to be that which you find unethical that fascinates me. Eat soy-stuff if you like, but I still don’t get the pretending it’s meat. Really.

  10. Dave

    Faux meats present win-win situations seeing that people may eat the foods that they like to eat without having to enslave and murder animals.

    Faux meats aren’t a stand-in for real meat, they are food options with similarities and differences to so-called “real meat.”

    Your argument about slaverly could also be used against labor of any kind. Isn’t paying a wage arguably akin to pretending someone is a slave for a prescribed period and payment?

    What is unethical about meat is that it involves the subjugation and murder of sentient life. The production and consumption of imitiation meats does neither. You could argue it does so indirectly, but with indirect logic one can likely construe almost anything indirectly affects something else.

    I think the important moral issues involve real animals. If someone wants to eat highly refined products then that’s a different topic involving a vastly different ethical dilemma.

  11. Patrick Hall

    I think I’ve just been compared to a slaveownere… that would suggest that it’s time for me to desist from participating in this conversation.

    Let your love light shine, indeed.

  12. Ryan

    Not exactly what kitchenmage was going for, I don’t think. Certainly an off-center metaphor, though.

  13. kitchenmage

    Patrick, actually, I specifically said that I dubted that anyone who might even pretend at being a slaver wouldn’t be a visitor to this site. So what I said was that you would not even pretend to be a slaver. But nice try at finding insult where there was none intended. Where, in fact, I deliberately went after not offending.

    Ryan,actually it was a perfectly on-center comparison. Reread it. I am asking about the dissonance between two ethical positions:
    eating animals is bad
    pretending to eat animals is good.

    The question was how do you reconcile those two. Nobody has come close to addressing the question.
    However, having been slagged here twice in one day. I’ll take the hint and go away.

    So much for discussion.

  14. kitchenmage

    (i hate typos that destroy meaning–the first graf was supposed to be:)

    Patrick, actually, I specifically said that I doubted that anyone who might even pretend at being a slaver would be a visitor to this site. So what I said was that you would not even pretend to be a slaver. But nice try at finding insult where there was none intended. Where, in fact, I deliberately went after not offending.

    …and now i’m going away

  15. Ryan

    I wasn’t slagging — just saying that I disagree with your comparison (though I see what you were going for).

    I think the problem comes in the idea of “pretending.” When I’m eating a slice of fake ham, I’m not thinking, “I’m eating a pig!” or even “I’m eating a pretend pig!” Instead, I’m thinking, “I’m eating something that tastes like ham.” I’m separating the taste completely from the ethics of it — I’m not validating the “rightness” of eating meat by eating something that tastes similar any more than eating fennel seeds validates the “rightness” of licorace because they taste alike.

    (There — my own off-center comparison. ;) )

  16. Phillip Berry

    I’ve been waiting to get to the bottom of this thread to post my point of view, but at the bottom i’ve already found it, Thanks ryan for pointing out that nobodys ‘pretending’ to eat meat, we just enjoy being able to eat dishes that we were raised on from time to time – without cruelty.

  17. cannibal vegetarian

    “If you don’t own slaves because it is ethically wrong, would you hire people to pretend they are slaves? (I’ll assume you said no, mostly because if you said yes, I doubt you’re a reader here.)”

    Hell yes! If I paid them well (and had the extra money to blow) I would have no qualms about hiring someone to fan me with a big palm leaf. Nothing unethical about that at all. There is a world of difference between actually doing something and pretending to do something.

  18. BobG

    Interesting, if old thread. I have a pizza restaurant near one of the Naturopathic Medicine Universities. We have quite a few vegans who come in for pizza with veggie toppings and vegan cheese. Recently we added faux meats from Field Roast. Interestingly enough, our top seller is Apple
    Sage “Sausage”, although we carry Mexican Chipotle, Smoked Tomato Loaf and Wild Mushroom Loaf. I would have thought that the non meat sounding product would have gone as well as the “sausage”.

  19. shana

    When I see anything that looks like meat in my food, I get grossed out. Meat analogs just remind me of eating bloody flesh…

    However, I do enjoy veggie burgers. But they don’t remind me of flesh whatsoever.. they taste totally different/ look totally different (at least the ones I buy…) than meat.

  20. Mel

    I totally agree with Shana. While I am not against these faux meat products, they personally gross me out. I do however like veggie burgers, not allof them, but the ones that taste good. I’m not looking for something to taste like meat, just add some substance. I have been a vegetarian since I was 11, I am now 32. I find substituting meat with veggies, portabello mushrooms, or cheese always seems to please me. If a hamburger looks good to me, it’s usually because of the bread, veggies and the condiments are what I crave. I understand the point of this article, but my opinion is every non meat eater has thier own reasons why they don’t eat meat, so let them replace it with what tastes good to them. It’s so irritating when meat eaters think I’m crazy for being a vegetarian, but I am finding that in the 20 years I’ve been a vegetarian, it’s more common. I guess it depends where you live, but I wish restaurants would offer more meatless options. It’s tough to find them in my area.

  21. Lindy

    This is an old thread, but feel the need to add my pov… Actually, there are many faux meat substitutes that are much healthier than their ‘real’ counterpart… I’m not saying they are necessarily ‘healthy’ especially when compared to veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes…. but they do not contain cholesterol and the overall fat content is much less (in general).

    What really intrigues me, however, is the discourse on the ethical argument and whether or not it is potentially ‘unethical’ to eat faux meat…. I’m not sure I understand the dilemma being posed. For me it feels rather clear-cut… I do not eat animals or animal products. I do eat faux meats on occasion. I do not feel badly… I am not harming animals… and I do try and make healthy choices for myself and my family.

    And so what about handbags that are not real leather… or shoes… should we also forego these items as well? Because they mimic leather??

    I’m trying to understand the discussion put forth, but having a difficult time wrapping my head around it….One of the least favorite things for me in choosing this lifestyle has been coming into contact with people who seem to think this is some sort of competition to see who is the ‘better’ vegan. I would prefer that we share our knowledge and embrace that we are all on our own journey.

    …scatter joy…

  22. Michael

    Just stumbled upon this, and admit I haven’t read all the posts. I don’t mind if it is an old thread.

    I was really interested in what Patrick said about the lab grown, pain- and death-free meat. I am someone who doesn’t eat animals because the suffering required to bring them to my plate is sickening and reprehensible. Without those two factors I guess I would eat the lab-grown stuff without thinking worse of myself than I would of any other parasite.

    kitchenmage, who say’s he’d rather eat a slaughtered animal (or “go vegan”!) than chow down on the flesh of a lab grown organism has priorities I’m not capable of understanding. Does your terror of technology actually outweigh your compassion?

  23. Sly Rudy

    “In addition, fake meats are an awesome transitional food for new vegetarians coming from a meat-heavy background that have no clue what they’re going to eat.”

    Thank you for this post. I just made my firm decision to become vegan only yesterday and have been scouring the internet for vegan recipes. I did not know there were faux meats but it does seem it would make for an easier transition.

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