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?