Vegan Uncensored – A Look at Fake Meats: Time to Take Off the Vegan Training Wheels

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Vegan Uncensored is a weekly space on this blog where people can bring interesting topics of discussion to do with veganism to the fore. Read it, respond to it, pass it on to your friends – vegan and non-vegan – through Facebook, Twitter, or by sending them a link to this blog. Do you have a vegan issue you’d like to see in this space? Email [email protected]

By | 2016-10-17T10:42:18+00:00 October 28th, 2010|Vegan Uncensored|6 Comments

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  • Stjohnrunner

    Temphe, Tofu, and, Seitan have been around for centuries and have morphed somewhat into the fake meat industry. It’s a matter of simplicity in the ingredients, not the taste or resemblance to meat. “Gardein” is doing amazing things, with minimalistic ingredients, with plant based proteins to fill the need of people who do not have the time to cook Vegan from scratch or the know how. I do eat too much “Fake Meat” but it fuels me and my body seems to “Process” it well.

  • I agree with so much of what’s been said here. Great article! Lots of veggies, fruits and legumes are the cornerstones to a hearty and healthy vegan diet. Sometimes the imitation vegan foods that are more highly processed can fill in some gaps in a pinch or used as an accent rather than the centerpiece. Some of the faux “meats” mimic the texture so closely that, just personally, it is disturbing for me to eat them. Some of the Gardein products I don’t like for that reason. That said, as Stjohnrunner says, there are wholesome ingredients in there and for people who want to be vegan for ethical reasons but are still in love with their non-vegan counterparts texturally and flavor-wise, these products do have a place. Also, many veggie burgers are really just a creative way to eat veggies. Not all of them try to mimic a meat burger. I love Amy’s bistro burger. This is all great discussion. Thanks for getting the conversation started!!

  • I’m vegan for animal rights, not due to disliking eating meat. 😉 If I can eat something that tastes delicious and has a texture I grew up liking (cause really, meat doesn’t taste good, the seasonings on it do – what omnis like about meat is the texture, I believe) that no one had to die for, I’m fine with that. I still don’t get how it’s unethical to eat a veggie burger. Just ’cause it is shaped like a meat patty? It’s still vegan, cruelty free and as ethical as any other plant food (as long as you’re not buying from an animal tester like Boca).

    I eat mostly whole foods and do a lot of cooking but sometimes I crave an Amy’s burger (California! soy free) or some Gardein, Health is Wealth or Tofurky. It’s not really due to feeling like vegan whole foods aren’t “good enough” but rather just liking these other foods, too. Tasty things taste good and we like to eat them. 😀 Do you include tofu, tempeh and seitan as “fake meats”. They fill the protein spot that meat normally would but aren’t super processed.

    Also, god I hate the term “fake” in reference to vegan proteins. The good brands aren’t all man made chemicals. They are still made up of food and are just as real as anything else you buy at a store. Calling them fake is just so negative and it bugs me when omnis do it (and vegans, too) – just like I dislike things being called “meatless” like we’re missing something. I much prefer “meat free”, more positive! I also really dislike when the animal version is called “real” as in “real cheese”. Dude, Daiya is real, too. I’m eating it. It’s in my hand and then in my stomach providing nourishment. It’s freaking real. How we label things affects how they are valued/seen so I try to keep it super positive!

  • BDub

    I like the article, but that’s not the point of my comment. I want to say that I enjoy reading the comments posted in response to any editorial. However, the responses are typically somewhat off topic and serve a particular agenda. I am pleasantly surprised at the intelligence and thoughtfulness portrayed in the comments here. Kudos to vegans. It appears no meat or dairy makes one’s brain function at a higher, and calmer, level!

  • Kate

    Most of us eat them for a sense of variety, not because we’ve been unable to let go of the meat idea. Sure, processed food isn’t as healthy as whole foods, but I adore my Tofurky sandwiches with Vegenaise! It in no way means I want a ‘real’ turkey sandwich. I’m not caring for the ‘training wheels’ comment at all.

  • Rkk

    I completely agree with the author here. When first going vegan, it certainly does help to use meat substitutes or fake ‘cheeze’ to help get oneself over the transition. These items do help a person to not feel deprived, and I would recommend them to anyone who is trying to make the shift to veganism. But over time, I think it’s great for us to start eating more natural and moving away from this processed stuff. Much of it is absolute junk… with a lot of weird ingredients such as guar gums, sorbitol, protein isolates, etc. That stuff is admittedly not good for us, as we should be eating more whole foods. Just because we care about animals, doesn’t mean we should punish our bodies by eating fake junk. After being vegan for a few years now, I am eating much less of that stuff. Yes, I still do have it on occasion, but I am moving away from it and moving to more natural foods, like beans and brown rice and steamed vegetables and fresh fruit, etc. I think you are spot on with this article. I can understand some of the resistance you get from what you are posting, especially from newbie vegans who are very dependent on the fake meats. But if they are vegan for long enough, hopefully they will also realize the need to move towards whole foods and will make the shift as well. Kudos for a great article.