When a person is transitioning to vegetarianism or veganism, it is very helpful to have foods that seem familiar – comfort foods. When you, as a vegetarian or vegan, have non-veg friends or family over for dinner, it’s nice to be able to serve them something that doesn’t seem too different from what they normally eat. Hence the fake meat industry. Fake meats include everything from veggie ground round to sandwich meats to veggie pepperoni and veggie burgers. These are items with which you can make veg versions of common dishes like Spaghetti, Shepherd’s Pie or “Meetloaf”. They make things easy for vegetarians and vegans at barbeques. They give vegans something ‘normal’ to put in their sandwiches.
But are we getting carried away with the fake meats? And shouldn’t the fact that we are transitioning from one unhealthy diet to eating fake foods be a point of concern – especially for those of us who are going vegan at least partially for our health? And if we are basically replacing meat in our diets with substitutes, are we really getting the most out of the wonderful, delicious, healthy food choices that made up a vegan diet prior to the existence of fake meats?
I am not any kind of purist, and I have to admit that I have been thankful for veggie ground round and processed vegan burgers on many occasions. Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise – and that can only be a good thing. Never before has a veg lifestyle been more accessible for the masses – and we have to give some credit to fake meats for that.
But there are a couple of things that bother me about these substitutes. First, from an ethical perspective. It has been such a long time since I’ve eaten meat that I no longer compare veg food and non-veg food – but I did at one time, and it bothered me to put something in my mouth that tasted and felt similar to meat. It kinda grossed me out. And it bothers me still to think that there is an underlying feeling in society that you have to find and eat something that seems like meat in order to satisfy your appetite. This implies that a great dish of vegetables, grains and nuts, seasoned with garlic, onions and spices cannot be fulfilling. So that is one level fake meat bugs me on.
The other level is health. If you bring fake meats into your diet as a once-in-a-while thing, it’s probably not going to do you any harm – and I know it’s better for you than eating real meat at the same frequency. But if you’re eating fake meat on a daily basis, or even several times a week, you’re not doing your body any good. Because they’re FAKE! Most fake meats are highly processed, which means natural vitamins and minerals are lost, and they often contain chemically processed ingredients, like soy and grain powders, artificial flavourings and color, along with all sorts of other goodies. They’re not meat, but they’re also probably not that good for you.
Fake meats have their place. They’re nice to have during that sometimes tough transition to veganism; they’re wonderful to draw on when you have that dinner guest coming who MUST have meat or risk fading away to nothing. They’re a great way to introduce people to vegan food without seeming scary. But don’t make them have a permanent or significant presence in your diet. Once they have served their purpose, move on. If you are going to stick to a vegan diet, and enjoy the wonderful health benefits that veganism can offer, you need to start boning up on real sources of sustenance – legumes, grains, veggies and nuts – whole foods that are delicious and healthful, and truly satisfying to your body.
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