Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I Know You Miss...

Bring up the issue of using meat analogues (or "mock" meats) on any vegan forum and you have my guarantee that the responses you will obtain will be quite varied; a few may even end up being of surprising intensity. Some love them and incorporate them readily into their regular meals, while other vegans feel pretty wigged out by what can sometimes be their fairly realistic taste and texture. Some view them as convenient, particularly when serving meals to non-vegans who are accustomed to having meals revolve around animal flesh; others view them as a reminder of the fact that most of society views meals as necessarily revolving around animal flesh. Some will even go so far as to express outright disapproval of their consumption. Some, on the other hand, address it with a bit more levity.

Whole Foods

My own journey towards veganism was long and slow, starting out with a vegetarian diet (too) many years ago which involved basic whole foods from the start. When I first decided to stop eating meat back in university, even tofu was something you could pretty much only find in bulk in a bin at a health food store. Most of the books on vegetarianism available to me were old natural foods cookbooks from the 60s and 70s I managed to find in secondhand bookstores (think Recipes for a Small Planet, for instance); they obviously predated what's become the mainstreaming of processed vegan foods. Instead of calling for a tube of Gimme Lean, a "meat" loaf recipe was more likely to call for mashed soybeans, nuts and vegetables. Burger recipes often consisted of beans, whole grains and grated vegetables instead of anything intended to in any way replicate the taste or texture of beef. I learned to cook from scratch in this manner and most of my cooking didn't involve trying to mimic animal products.

An Expanding Niche Market

Times have changed, though. At some point, soy dogs started to pop up everywhere, along with a growing variety of hamburger-like veggie burgers. Soy-based deli slices -- mock pepperoni, salami, smoked "turkey" and so on -- began to show up in ordinary supermarkets. The more time passed, it seemed, the wider the variety of options which became available -- and the more
realistic those options became. Living with a non-vegetarian at the time whose mantra was "If you cook it, I'll gladly eat it!" but who himself tended to lean towards convenience when needing to forage in the kitchen, I started to include some analogues on our shopping lists. I tried some of them out of sheer curiosity and ended up using some semi-regularly for convenience or variety. I'll admit that first tube of Gimme Lean! I bought after years of not having had animal products really wigged me out, although I quickly got used to it, knowing that it was plant-based.

Say "Cheeze"!

Processed fake cheese products have also increased in variety and improved tremendously in taste and texture. I remember the first time I had soy slices before going vegan and how they invariably seemed to contain casein and to smell like old sneakers. Perhaps because of this, most discussions of satisfying "cheese" cravings on the vegetarian and vegan message boards I frequented at the time involved recipes for nutritional yeast sauces or discussions of Joanne Stepaniak cookbooks, which included recipe for soy, nut or nutritional yeast "cheeses" of wide-ranging flavour and consistency. Today we have any number of completely vegan-friendly cheese analogues available, including Teese, Sheese, Follow Your Heart's Vegan Gourmet line and the latest (and it seems most popular) addition, Daiya.

At first only available in selected US restaurants or by mail order, Daiya has ended up in health food stores across North America and is now, too, becoming available in regular supermarkets. When it was first introduced in one chain's store in my tiny city, the 2-3 dozen packages of cheddar and mozzarella Daiya were sold out within a few days. Aside from being completely vegan, Daiya is also soy-free and has that rare trait that cheese substitute manufacturers have tried in vain to reproduce for years -- it's
stretchy like dairy cheese.

The cheese substitutes have been an occasional indulgence for me. I've most often picked them up when I've had non-vegan house-guests, although I do wholeheartedly appreciate a good plate of nachos topped with gooey
Nacho Vegan Gourmet or Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds. Although I'm generally quite thrilled with topping pizza with sweet potatoes or hummus and a mixture of tasty and tangy vegetables (see photo below on the left), sometimes it's nice to indulge in some Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds just for kicks (see photo below on the right). Unlike many meat analogues, which are often fortified with any number of additional vitamins and minerals, cheese "subs" are often bereft of any notable nutritional value and on top of their being processed foods, are also rather junk-y foods..


Not being a heavy or frequent consumer of meat or cheese substitutes, I've never really thought about how their consumption could appear on the outside looking in. At least I didn't until I had a conversation with a non-vegan friend one day about my experimentation with Daiya when a local health food store first began to carry it. I mentioned pizza and she brought up that she'd had friends over the previous weekend for pizza and movies. She told me that she'd mentioned to one of her guests how I would have loved to have been there, but that it would have been "cruel" for me, since I "missed cheese pizza" and had told her once, many many years ago, how I used to love Italian sausage on my pizza. She told me that she figured that it would have been tempting for me. I asked why she'd think that and she said that I was "obviously excited about finding substitutes to satisfy my cravings".

I sat back at that point and then mentioned to her that after many years of not eating meat and years of not eating cheese that I craved neither. I told her that I now associate animal products with the animals from whom they're taken and that this involves being aware of how that comes to happen -- something I completely reject on both intellectual and visceral levels. I pointed out that during most of my transition to veganism, I'd settled into making dishes which didn't really involve trying to substitute animal products. "Yeah, but you're obviously excited about Daiya for a reason," she said. I wasn't, though. At least I wasn't for the reasons she was assuming.

Substitutes have generally been items I've used to offer up to non-vegans to make plant-based foods feel more familiar to them.
Daiya was (and is) just a fun plant-based ingredient for me to use to make dishes I used to make. It's just one of several plant-based options for me and since most of my cooking over the years has involved -- and still involves -- focusing on whole foods, processed substitutes aren't things upon which I rely at all. But after that conversation, I was left wondering how it appears on the outside looking in and what, if anything, I needed to do to address that. The truth is that I don't crave animal flesh and that the idea of deliberately consuming animal products is repugnant to me. I recognize analogues for what they are. They may provide some sense of familiarity, but without exploitation -- which is what I reject. I don't "miss" eating animal products, but I wonder if my sometimes consuming analogies is sending out a different message to non-vegan friends and family members. Could this be one more thing that needs to be lumped in when educating non-vegans about veganism?


Kathleen said...

"From the outside looking in" is a novel approach to food and meal planning, from a longtime strict vegetarian and vegan perspective. It took me many years to eat my first veggie burger; somehow it seemed treasonous to me. I still don't eat mock meat much, and I generally only eat tofu at a restaurant. I think more folks would consider veganism if they used the meat and cheese substitutes. However, I'll admit that I am taken aback by vegans who always seem to have mock meats on their plates.

Anonymous said...

I'm always a little perturbed when an omni suggests I'll eat mock foods because I "miss" the "real" thing. Quite the contrary - I never liked cheese before going vegan, but now I love whenever we get vegan gourmet or daiya in the house. And milk? I would've been insane to want to drink cow's milk straight in a glass - it has that ODD taste. But soy milk? It's delicious! I can't stop myself from taking a quick sip before I pour it in my coffee! I'm not a fan of processed meat subs, only for the fact that - although great for transition - they taste just like what they are: imitation meat. And the thought of a real-meat flavour or texture does not seem appetizing to me, I still get hungry thinking about a vegan chili cheese dog. An omni chili cheese dog just wouldn't be the same.

Unknown said...

I'm inclined to defend these things, but not to the death. ;) Wholefoods are cheaper, healthier and more eco-friendly, so on balance I prefer those. On the other hand, it's nice to sometimes be able to have mince in a chilli or a grilled cheese sandwich. I've heard the view expressed that you're not vegan or not committed to being vegan if you eat analogues, but I've never been impressed by that argument - you're vegan if you avoid REAL products of animal cruelty, stuff that is made of soy doesn't come into that category.

Abby Bean said...

I don't know why this is such a mystery to non-vegans; not all vegans decided to live a lifestyle of compassion because they don't like the taste of animal products.

Eating cruelty-free cheese subsitutes is not a "gotcha" moment in a vegan's life.

Zucchini Breath said...

IMO, meat/cheese analogs are treats. They aren't made w animals so I have no ethical problem but I have a healthy diet problem :D
I mostly eat beans, rice, greens and fruits but once in a while some mac n cheese or daiya on pizza or a "burger" type sandwich or some homemade gluten based "sausage" in a tofu scramble or Italian style Tofurkey sliced and grilled w bell peppers and onions and mushrooms is frickin delicious.
Mostly, I find them too salty. And TOO EXPENSIVE. Meat analogs go on sale periodically like everything else. That's when I pick up a pack and have a dietary splurge :D
I didn't like to eat animal flesh when I was an omnivore but I did like cheese. I make my own fermented soy, almond, cashew cheeses so I don't miss that anymore and I eat meat analogs even less often than I used to eat the dead stuff.
In my opinion, meat/cheese analogs are a treat. Ethically fine and delicious but little nutritional value, which is important to me.

Zucchini Breath said...

Substitute "Grains" for "Rice" in my comment. I eat many different grains, lol.

jessy said...

i'm with Abby - i didn't become vegan because i disliked the taste of meat, i actually really enjoyed the taste of meat, to be truthful. i loved bbq and salami and such, and i know, some people might not want to hear that, but it's the truth. i've got no problem with mock meats - although i rarely consume them because i'm a gluten-free vegan and many of them are made with wheat gluten and such. but you better believe one of my favorite sammies to eat is a homemade bourbon bbq soy curl sammie with veganaise coleslaw. it reminds me of the bbq i used to eat in my pre-vegan days although without the cruelty to non-human animals. :)

LadyAshley said...

Animal flesh/animal products repulse me as well but I always enjoy the mock meats, imitation cheese and other vegan alternatives that become available. I look at it from the perspective that just because I'm a vegan, it doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy chicken or cheese at one time. I actually loved those things but when you gain the knowledge of how those items got to your plate, I could just no longer consume them. I have a moral obligation to reject something I find both disturbing and cruel.

That being said, I don't crave animal products at all. Like you, I associate those things with cruelty and I do not want to consume that.

T said...

Very interesting post. People are incredibly threatened by any talk of veganism, for some reason. slowly but surely times will change..

Leah said...

I've tried several of the analogs and I just don't like them...especially the cheeses. It's possible I'm still comparing them to the animal products they're trying to mimic...yet if I ever found one that really did taste like the real animal product, I'd be disgusted and not want it. Bit of a Catch 22, I guess. I'm glad these substitutes exist so that no one needs to miss their pre-vegan favorites, but I guess my taste buds just aren't cooperating. (I do enjoy chocolate almond milk and a couple flavors of non-dairy ice cream, but that's about it for me and the mocks.) Glad you wrote this article, though! Interesting take on how non-vegans might be viewing our eating habits. Thanks!!