Fake Meats: Are They Worth the Dough?

This week, driven by low blood sugar and the desire for something to chew, I went a little mad in Trader Joe’s. I walked out of that house of gluttony with popcorn, cookies, grapes, and fake chicken stuffed with black beans. The chicken was pretty OK, and it made me think about buying and eating fake meat.

I should start out by saying that my food philosophy is “think about your food and where it comes from and act in a way that works for you.” For me, that ended with me going veg* and attempting to make room in my budget for a few local, organic treats. For you, that might mean free-range bison burgers and sweet potato fries. For someone else, it could mean a steady diet of Trappist beer and Hot Pockets. Thoughtfulness can lead to many different and valid choices. Basically, this is a judgment-free zone ““ no one should feel shamed for their food choices.

So, I feel OK with eating fake meat ““ people who make dietary choices based on religious reasons may have a completely different perspective. In general, I don’t buy many fake meats. I like them OK, but they are expensive and so they’re often outside of my budget. There was a period when I was studying for my graduate school exams where all I ate was coffee and soy hotdogs with guacamole on them. Let’s not think about that too much ““ it tastes a lot better than it sounds. But overall, I stay away from the fancy fake chickens and the expensive, organic fake beefs.

The other thing, beyond just the cost, is that many of the products simply aren’t worth it. Look, you can get a delicious pulled seitan sandwich, and like I said, veggie dogs are just the ticket some nights. But sometimes the sad little cylinder of assorted soy smashed together with salt and unpronounceable seasoning is more than a little off-putting. However, in the almost-decade since I stopped eating meat, the fake meat selection has grown by leaps and bounds, and it is possible to get a really great tasting fake meat ““ it’s cost and accessibility that are the real issues.

But still! Still! Even if I could afford them, even if I bought the best of the best, I feel awkward sharing foods and recipes with fake meats ““ especially if I share them with people who do eat meat. I expect that this is a barrier I’ve thrown up for myself more so than it being an actual barrier, put up by others. Heck, I scour meat-filled recipes to get ideas for glazes, dinners, sandwiches ““ if I can take raw red bell peppers out of recipes and make it work, I can do the same for meats ““ and yet I still feel judged (probably just by myself) when I suggest easily-tweaked veg* recipes.

Maybe it is because they’re so obviously strange. Maybe it’s because I worry a lot about being a pushy, annoying veg* person. Maybe it’s because I once saw a dog as large as a small calf charge at me across a grocery store parking lot. I don’t know that it matters, but I wonder: am I alone?

What do you all think?

26 replies on “Fake Meats: Are They Worth the Dough?”

After 10+ years of being a vegetarian I still have dreams of eating fried chicken. I didn’t stop eating meat because I didn’t love the taste of carne asada, shrimp and chicken wings. It’s delicious to me. While tofu is my main source of protein in dishes I use soyrizo and Quorn occasionally also. I feed all of this to my non-vegetarian boyfriend and he happily eats it. I don’t think that any of these fakes taste like the real thing and I don’t eat them because I think I need meat.

I’m a lifelong vegetarian and I do enjoy Quorn occasionally – but I’m also aware that fake meat can have a reasonably large environmental impact. I try to steer clear and eat veg grown not-too-far away (currently, this is “no more than one country” on average).

As a meat-eater, I occasionally enjoy a Morningstar burger or something similar that tastes like what it is: black beans and/or vegetables. You’re right about the awkward gray area in which fake meat is situated. Meat-eaters are going to prefer real meat, and lots of vegetarians aren’t all that interested in eating something that tastes like meat. IMO that stuff is best left for family or friendly meals that require everyone to compromise a little. I’m not going to buy it if I’m only feeding myself.

I grew up on “vege-meat”, as we called it. I always cautioned meat eaters not to assume that it tasted like meat. I don’t eat nearly as much now as I did growing up, but some I do in part due to the nostalgia quotient.

I believe that the original intention for vege-meat was to be a transitional prop in the trek from meat-eater to veggie-person. For me, though I love most meals without any meat substitute at all, I haven’t found a (quick & reliably palatable) way to have burgers or hot dogs without having vege-meat. So I stick to those, generally. I throw in a little flair at Thanksgiving, and partake of veggie-bacon or sausage for breakfast sometimes (when I have time to cook), but that’s about it.

I actually had veggie-burgers for lunch. They were delicious.

I dunno, I tend to avoid fake meats. If I’m going to do the burger thing, it’s usually some nut/grain patty. But it’s possible that because I didn’t grow up on the fake meats I don’t really crave them. I think for a lot of people they represent convenience and comfort food and in that case my go to is ramen or Annie’s. Neither of which are particularly healthy (have you ever looked at how much sodium there is in one package of ramen?!) so the issue is less to do with health and more to do with emotional response (however subtle) to foods.

Anyway, just posted some interesting stuff on fake meats and vegetarianism, the gist being that fake meats, though convenient, are maybe kind of ridiculous because they cater to the sensibility that we still need some kind of meat, fake or otherwise. I’ve heard this critique before and I kind of have to agree. Yeah, tofurkey sounds more appealing than some acronym-laden label, but at this point, I’m no longer interested in associating my meal choices with meat/animal consumption.

I find that article to be really judgmental. It also ignores a large section of the vegetarian community – those people who chose to/had to give up meat for health reasons, or other reasons not relating to animal rights. Some people who are vegetarian actually enjoy meat, and want to find a product that is a good replacement. I see nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

It’s also true that often fake meat items are more cost-effective for people than buying seitan and tempeh (at least in my area), and in some cases, even cheaper than buying fresh, organic produce.

It’s all about what works for you. Some vegetarians rarely use any fake meat products. Some of us use a good bit of it. Some of us just supplement with a few things now and then. None of those people are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ vegetarians. Articles like that just serve to be judgemental and self-righteous.

I’ve hated meat since I was a small child. The taste of it, the feel of it, the idea of it. And I’ll still tear up a fake chicken patty smothered in hot sauce. I don’t see how that makes me any less a real vegetarian than anyone else.

I buy a lot of it.

I used to buy a ton of Morningstar and Boca varieties of fake meats – veggie burgers, soy dogs, fake sausage, fake riblets, fake chicken patties. Now I primarily just get the fake nuggets (for my son) and one or two other things for a quick meal.

I love Quorn products. Instead of soy, they are derived from mushroom protein (fungus among us!). Kind of a gross concept, but I love the way their products lend themselves to meat recipes perfectly and they taste good. However, they have gotten SO expensive as of late that I have had to stop getting them. One box with four tiny fake chicken cutlets is usually well over $6 here in GA.

I’ve heard good things about Gardein products as well, but almost all of their items list wheat gluten as the first ingredient, and I prefer my fake meat to be soy, tofu or mushroom based.

Trader Joe’s stuff is ok. I don’t care for their fake sausage or fake chorizo, they have a yucky taste. Their fake chicken items aren’t too bad. I have seen the black bean cutlets but never tried them. I’d recommend the fake chicken barbeque. It’s pretty tasty. Their nuggets and fake corn dogs are significantly cheaper than Morningstar, have less additives, and are tasty.

Thanks for all the recommendations. I’m toying with the idea of cutting meat out of my diet. One of the things that’s been stopping me — besides the potential cost — is that I have no idea what kind of meat-free meals I can actually make. It’s not a matter of finding something that “tastes like meat” as much as it is finding something that tastes good, period.

Would you be interested in some suggestions for where to find yummy recipes? I don’t want to bombard you with them if you’re not, but I’d be happy to help give you some info about all the meat-free meals you can make if you want it. :) I think it can seem kind of daunting when you first consider it, but I really didn’t feel like I had to make any drastic changes when I cut meat out of my diet.

I do buy the occasional fake meat, but mostly fake sandwich meat rather than say fake chicken strips or something. I find them generally to be not very flavourful and texturally peculiar (and I am one of those people for whom food texture is super important), so i just don’t see much point. I don’t put tofu in this category, because to my mind it’s an ingredient in its own right, not a substitute for something else. There is, however, a really, really tasty restaurant here that’s all vegetarian and specializing in making it’s own fake meats. The flavours are good, but more importantly, the texture is spot on, and I loooove eating there.

Also I had a traumatic experience with veggie hot dogs around the time I was going vegetarian, and I won’t touch them with a ten foot pole now.

We use fake meat from time to time and it’s all in the seasoning. Maybe we have more diversity here (I mean, we have a store called The Vegetarian Butcher, full of all kinds of fake meat, tofu, soy et cetera), but when people use the ‘I can’t stop eating meat because the substitute is just so bad’, my eyes just start rolling.

I hate that, too. I’m always asked, ‘If you’re using fake ground beef in your spaghetti, why even be vegetarian?’

Because apparently that’s all that matters. Because I like a little texture in my food, and occasionally want a soysage biscuit, I must somehow be a ‘fake’ vegetarian.

It’s funny, before I went vegetarian I wasn’t a big meat-eater anyway – I stopped eating pork and beef in middle school, so that only left chicken and fish, which I stopped eating in college. But I love me some LightLife fake bacon – it’s my little treat for myself, and I put it on breakfast sandwiches. But I probably would never have bothered to do that with actual bacon. (I don’t really have a point here.)

Future Mr. paperispatient and I were talking the other day about how we’ve always liked veggie burgers more than meat burgers, even before we both went veg. There are just so many options and, to me, so much more variety and flavor than in meat patties. I think I’d feel okay about offering someone who eats meat a veggie burger that was obviously a veggie burger but not one of the ones that’s made to look like meat, if that makes any sense, and I’m not sure why that is.

Fake meat is something i’ve used occasionally for myself but over time, i’ve got more and more used to cooking with tofu, lentils and beans (which for some reason sounds like a bad joke). It’s because the other half is allergic to egg and hence most fake-meat is off the menu. And now? Yeah, i’ll admit i do find fake-meat a little weird but even so, i do still suggest recipes using fake meat, to friends, because it can make a neat meal if used well.

As a semi-veggie (still haven’t found a label that works…) I tend to stay away from fake meats. Firstly, because I am happy to eat well-produced meat when I want it, but also because I’m not sure that foods made out of lots of soy and salt are particularly healthy or sustainable either.

As someone who does eat meat, though, I wouldn’t be freaked out by a fake-meat recipe – I could always do the “real meat” version, right? And if someone is a guest in your home, then – barring allergies etc. – they eat what they’re given:)

Going back and forth between real and fake meats can do funky things to your digestive system. Lots of meat-eaters react badly to soy protein initially. I’ll occasionally visit creative vegetarian restaurants with friends but I’ve had to give up on the tofu-substitute options. I get the feeling that a lot of vegetarians who argue for fake meats as the perfect solution are forgetting about any adjustment periods they went through when they drastically changed their diets.

You know it’s funny, as an omnivore who does eat meat, but not every day and certainly not for every meal (most lunches are meatless), I find fake meats much more daunting than vegetarian dishes without meat substitutes. I like tofu in its more basic and unadorned forms, but I do find soy-based approximations of meat (like soy hot dogs) a bit scary. I’d rather eat a portobello mushroom burger than a veggie/soy burger, for example.

I guess the short version is, if I go to the house of a veggie friend for dinner, I’d probably be a little unnerved by something masquerading as meat, but I wouldn’t think twice about a meat-free meal with veggies served in recognisable form (in fact I regularly make vegetarian food myself – I hardly ever cook with meat because I just can’t be bothered!). Though of course I’d eat whatever you put in front of me, because I’ll eat anything. :)

For our household, fake meat is training wheels. We used it to transition to a veg* diet because we honestly didn’t know how to make a meal without a meat centerpiece, and this seemed like an ok swap. But the longer we’ve been veg*, the more exploration I’ve been able to make into making full, healthy, satisfying meals without a “main course” of protein slab. And that’s been really nice – especially considering our growing concerns about soy GMOs and where exactly this fake meat is coming FROM.

I don’t feel weird about sharing my recipes, but I have found there are sometimes people (meatatarians) who wrinkle their nose and say, “Um, is this vegetarian?” Yes. And so is the potato salad you’re shoveling down with your barbecue. I’m not sure where some people get their ideas that vegetarian food is bad but the idea does exist out there.

Fake meats are now just our lazy night alternatives: throw some Quorn chick’n nuggets or some Garden Burgers or veg corn dogs in the oven and have an easy, completely trouble free, hearkening-back-to-childhood meal. And every once in a while, if I get a hankering for a meaty meal my mother used to make, I’ll throw some substitutes in there and whip it up. But for the most part, no, our diet now consists a lot more of fruits and vegetables and spices and grains, with a little cheese & egg (and sometimes fish, because we’re ruthless pescetarians) and we skip the fake meats.

I have found there are sometimes people (meatatarians) who wrinkle their nose and say, “Um, is this vegetarian?” Yes. And so is the potato salad you’re shoveling down with your barbecue.

I’ve encountered that attitude too. I think some people have an image in their head that “vegetarian food” means, like, tofu kabobs and a salad made of weeds and grass (not that there’s anything wrong with those things, to me) and nothing resembling “real” food or a “whole” meal. That Ben & Jerry’s pint? Vegetarian. Fettucine alfredo? Vegetarian. And then there are other foods that can very easily be veggie or not depending on what you put on them, like pizza or baked potatoes. I haven’t quite figured it out, but I’ve definitely experienced what you’re talking about.

Yeah, and I would say that as time goes on, MOST people don’t wrinkle their nose at it, but every once in a while there’s someone who does. It mostly makes me laugh – what, is meat the only food group you eat? Give me a break! To me, being veg* ish alone has not been that dramatic of a dietary change; I just cut out a few things. It’s pretty telling how dramatically people rely on meat for sustenance if they can’t fathom cutting out the, what, 5 or 6 ingredients total that cutting meat generally tends to cut. For a super easy transition, yeah, use fake meats for a while, but it’s really not that dramatically different just to be vegetarian.

what, is meat the only food group you eat? Give me a break! To me, being veg* ish alone has not been that dramatic of a dietary change; I just cut out a few things. It’s pretty telling how dramatically people rely on meat for sustenance if they can’t fathom cutting out the, what, 5 or 6 ingredients total that cutting meat generally tends to cut.

you laugh. I laugh. But I live in Podunk, SC and when I say I’m vegetarian am regularly asked (after a pause) “So…what do you eat?”

it’s funny and sad.

Vegetarians have to deal with a “this is why we can’t have nice things!” vibe because of that one annoying person everyone knew in college who went vegan and wouldn’t talk about anything else. They’re reacting preemptively to the judgment and unwanted “suggestions” that they’re accustomed to fielding.

I do have to say though (and have already commented similarly to someone else) that using soy meats to transition to vegetarianism isn’t the same thing as serving a meat-eating friend a giant slab of tofurkey at a one-off meal and calling things fair. That friend did not gradually ease into eating that much soy, and unfamiliar proteins can react really unpleasantly in some people.

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