Image credit: Field Roast Meat Company
When I posted about the vegan magazine that claims meat is vegan, commenter Shane Baker asked why vegetarians would want to eat immitation meat anyway. In many ways, it's the same question posed by Kelly in her piece on mock meat and moving toward vegetarianism. Yet I find myself in a slightly different boat—I'm a meat eater who loves to eat fake meat. So, what's the attraction?Vegetarian Junk Food
I'm not sure whether it's the ten years I spent growing up as a teenage vegetarian, or my thing for (relatively) guilt free junk food, but I regularly crave Quorn, vegan crumbles, field grain sausages and just about any other kind of "fake meat" i can think of. True, I rarely find them to be a convincing imitation of the meat they are supposed to replace—with the possible exception of Quorn Chick'n nuggets—but then I don't expect them to be. Because, let's face it, often the meat they replace is not exactly fillet mignon.
Vegetable Proteins Are Not All Fae Meat
For the purposes of clarification, I'm not talking about tofu, tempeh or any of the other vegetable proteins that have had a long culinary tradition here. While tofu may be used to substitute meat in some dishes, as shown in this fascinating video on how to make tofu, it is an ingredient with its own heritage and its own unique properties. In fact, in Asian cooking it is often used in combination with meats such as pork. I love these ingredients as much as the next flexatarian, but I eat tofu when I want tofu. Not meat.
Mystery Meat is Easier to Substitute
Fake sausage, burgers, nuggets or hot dogs, on the other hand, satisfy a baser, more simplistic, and not entirely healthy desire. Namely a craving for some simple convenience/junk food with the minimum of nasties. Nobody ever ate a conventional hot dog for the quality of its ingredients—as Anthony Bourdain argued in his piece on why we should eat less meat, we've always known that the hot dog may contain anything from "100 percent kosher beef to dead zoo animals or parts of missing Gambino family."
Guilt-Free Guilty Pleasures
While I can't say they taste like a hot dog (or what I remember a hot dog to taste like), I find most hot dog substitutes a perfectly reasonable replacement for their mystery meat cousins—likewise ground beef substitutes, nuggets etc. They satisfy my cravings for salt, protein and some kind of indescribable (and fairly immature) pleasure of doing something "wrong". Yet they offer a greatly lower environmental impact, and I am less likely to be dicing with death in the form of food poisoning either.
Fake Meat is Not a Fringe Item
Judging by anecdotal evidence, I am not the only meat eater to enjoy fake meat. From the partners of vegetarians, to ex-vegetarians, to those watching their weight, to those who want to move toward weekday vegetarianism or meat-free Mondays, fake meats can offer a convenient, more sustainable and strangely satisfying alternative to some pretty dubious meat-based products. Most of the time I eat vegetable-based meals. If I'm in the mood for meat, I'll choose recognizable meat from a source I can trust. If I'm in the mood for something cheap and easy, I'll stick with soy.
The Exception to the Rule
Having painted fake meats as primarily vegetarian junk food, I'd like to give props to one notable exception to the rule. I find myself increasingly intrigued by the products—and in particular the sausages—created by the Field Roast Grain Meat Company. Marrying asian traditions of "grain meats" like seitan and mien ching with influences from European charcuterie, chef David Lee has produced some pretty fascinating flavors and products. They are not exactly a substitute for hot italian sausage from my local ossabaw hog farmer, but they do offer an interesting, flavorful and complex eating experience more closely akin to eating meat.
Surely I can't be the only meat eater out there with a taste for fake meat? Share your experiences below. And feel free to point us to any other fake meat products or recipes worth trying.