Last week I’m sure that there were more than a couple raised
eyebrows or sighs of exasperation at my writing on the fake meat thing—and that’s
fine. I actually didn’t realize I was so fired up about it until I read it
again later. It’s funny how that works.
My personal truth about the whole fake meat topic is really “live
and let live.” I don’t actually keep myself up at night worrying whether or not
people should eat tofu shaped like a turkey. Honestly, though, I think it’s a
little strange. Then again, if you saw the wildly un-hip sweatpants that I like
to wear around the house, I should think to be understood at least as bizarre.
One of the comments on my previous article was by Julie Braun, of particular note as she mentioned something I don’t hear very often by folks trying to justify their weirdness. She pointed out the taste that she liked. Now here is the pickle that most of us are in: What costs the most in trying to eat (pick one) “green”, “organic”, “healthy”, “natural”, etc.—aside from perhaps succumbing to whim while shopping at Whole Foods Market—is loss of flavor. And meat tastes better than almost anything. Properly cooked meat is, gastronomically speaking, a much more pleasurable experience than most tofu, seitan (pronounced ‘say-tahn’) or tempeh I’ve ever had and you’ll waste your time trying to convince me otherwise. But, I regularly eat all of the meat substitutes listed above. I’ll get to why, later.
Julie’s taste comment reminded me of a remark from Stan, a
colleague of mine, who said that he’s convinced the general population doesn’t
know that the reason they like the bacon so much is because it’s smoked; they
just know it tastes good.
In Julie’s response last week she admitted that she looks forward to her fake meat-filled breakfasts: “But I don't think that I'm attracted to the "meat" taste, instead, rather, the smokey-salty crispy texture.” I think this is exactly what Stan is talking about: There is some confusion around the taste of meat (especially bacon and sausage) and how it got to be there in the first place. For example, pork chops (un-smoked and uncured) do not taste anything like bacon. I think Stan is pointing to the erroneous associations made about the flavor of food. If you don’t know all of what’s in there, it’s tough to think about what, and why you like what you do.
I think that Julie is right about the deliciousness of the “smoky-salty
crispy texture”, but I still think she helps makes my point. Where, aside from bacon—a cold-smoked, salt-cured, fried
product—would you get that flavor from?
Julie then goes on to say, “If I think "meat", I
start thinking "dead" and can't finish my meal. Why should smokey-salty crispy textures only be
for meat-eaters? I'm grateful to have options to satisfy my cravings with
Throughout human history we have killed wild game and eaten organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts and we were all-but starving doing so. Some seasons may have been more plentiful than others. But on the whole—compared to being inside in my warm abode, one third of a mile from Whole Foods, eating sushi in shorts and flip-flops with a flush toilet during the thick of Connecticut winter—it sucked. Through our economic evolution most of us have been isolated from the harsh realities of our past, and that’s fine. However, the revulsion and taboo for vegetarians who cringe at the thought of hunting or harvesting an animal to live from just seems so, so…privileged.
We happen to live
in a time where we can go to health clubs, follow trendy diets, or the latest
vitamin pill or supplement. And that’s great. (I’m at the gym 3-4 times a week.) But
I know the entire scenario rests on
whether I can eat or not. Ultimately, food is a short-lived, necessary pleasure
as we all eat (at some level) to avoid dying.
I am also aware of another side to my reality: I seem to be
in possession of a body that needs food and water as much as the next animal. Should
I ever be stuck for food in the middle of nowhere and have nothing but 50,000
years of survival programming at the base of my skull, I will kill the first thing
I see and thank God for the ability to do so. (This will, hopefully, get me out
of whatever mess I have gotten myself into so I can go home and shop at Whole
Foods Market instead of eating bugs.
Seriously…I’m glad we don’t have to live like as hunters and
gatherers anymore. There are still bands of them left here and there, but
really: I drink great specialty coffee from all over the world almost every
morning; I like my Subaru and NPR; and traffic on my route to school is
light. In other words, I don’t have a lot to complain about.
Now that I think about it again, Julie Braun is right: We should be grateful for the choice. We don’t have to take life in order to live anymore. We’ve got options. Not only are we not required to kill to procure food, but we don’t have to eat based on what our parents fed us, or even what we liked yesterday.
If I may speak a bit more politically, I don’t there will be any such thing as improvement in the adoption of sustainable, responsible mass food production standards across the globe until we collectively decide that qualitatively—not relatively—there are better (i.e., healthy, earth-friendly, sustainable, local-community-profitable) ways of growing food than others. This type of ideal acted out would be both easier on our bodies and the land we live on. Just because a method of food production exists now, doesn’t mean it’s helping us…even if Cargill and ConAgra say it is.
OK, enough waxing sentimental—I still say you fake meat
eaters are rejecting your own animal-like characteristics as much as you are
living the new moral standard. I just want you to be honest with yourselves and
include the harder-to-admit part of your humanity. This honesty, for me, is in eating meat substitutes when I want flesh. I have embraced the other side to this. There's a better way to eat.
We all want to only know ourselves as a morally unified creature, yet our dual nature (human/animal) lives on. For the vegetarians who haven't yet embraced this angle yet, there's a way out: After you silently acknowledge it's really meat you want to eat, keep vicariously savoring the taste of smoked, salt-cured, fried dead pig through your Fakin’ Bacon. I won’t tell a soul.