Giving vegetarian food a bad name


Do not want.

We’re going to be doing a bit of traveling today, so I thought I’d start us off with a traditional hearty breakfast. Bacon and eggs, that’s the ticket! We’re ovo-lacto pescatarians, vegetarian easy mode, so the eggs are fine, but bacon is forbidden. Fortunately, we had picked up some Morning Star Farms Veggie Bacon Strips, so I thought I’d try those.

Big mistake.

These are perfectly rectangular, thin, flat sheets of something marbled with pink and white. A serving is 4.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of carbohydrate. You cook them in a frying pan, as if it were real bacon, and they sit there and get crispier, flatly. There’s none of the shrinking you get with real bacon, so after they’re heated through, you’ve still got an array of pink and white flawless rectangles.

Then you bite into one. They’re flavorless! They have a uniform texture which is nothing like bacon, lacking any fat. It’s exactly like thin strips of cardboard.

It’s my own damn fault for buying something that pretends to be meat-like. There’s nothing wrong with vegetarian food, and in fact it’s really tasty and flavorful and textured and complex, except when someone tries to make a pale imitation of something that relies on the complexity of animal tissue, and fails.

Even these Beyond/Impossible burgers have set themselves a low bar of emulating a meat that has a lot of the complexity ground out of it, and they’re not bad, but you can still tell the difference, and who knows how much effort has been put into the chemistry to get an approximation to ground meat flavor.

I should have just made a plateful of beans.

Comments

  1. favog says

    The first time I was in a pizza joint that listed “vegan mozzarella” as topping, I asked them what that actually was. The person taking the order didn’t know, so I looked it up later. Vegans, if you’re going to be vegan that’s fine, but stop trying to convince yourselves that you’re not really giving anything up. Ground nuts with oil is not mozzarella, period.

  2. Bruce Fuentes says

    I am not vegetarian and never will be, but what I do is buy all my eggs and most of out meat from local farms. There is a local farm that has it’s own store in Superior, WI. We can get beef, pork and chicken. For the holidays they have a limited number of turkeys. The farmshare we participate in for vegetables all year also has pork shares in the fall. Next month we will be getting 1/4 cow from friends that have a small farm. In the past they have sold all of their cattle to a larger farm and did not deal at all with the processing. This year they are having some butchered for themselves and selling to family and friends. We have 3-4 friends that raise chickens so we always get eggs. I am too damn lazy to raise chickens myself.
    I know it is a small step, but I feel buying local is an important step.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Huh. I like the Morningstar strips just fine — I think they’re yummy. They work in the microwave, too. I guess tastes differ.

  4. jellorat says

    I absolutely love these, but not because they taste like bacon. I like them overcooked in the microwave just to the point of chewy crunch because they remind me of my childhood. If you go in to it thinking it’s anything remotely bacon-like, you will be disappointed.

  5. brightmoon says

    Meh, I don’t even like turkey bacon . Gimme the real thing but only about once or twice ( ok 4 times) every 2 months . And yes bacon cheeseburgers count!

  6. quotetheunquote says

    That sounds like a really unfortunate “taste-less” experience! And that’s really too bad, because there are good “fake-meat” products out there.
    In the breakfast-food line, I’m very partial to Yves(TM) veggie bacon strips. These are not exactly like bacon, but they certainly have the smoky/salty dimension down pat. I love ’em with waffles, butter (I will not, cannot, ever give up butter!) and some actual maple syrup. They’re a Canadian product though (think they’re made in Québec), so it’s possible that they’re simply not distributed in the US anywhere.
    In the dinner line of meat subsitutes, I’m really keen on the Veggie Paradise products. These are from Taiwan, so they (perhaps) have a more worldwide network of distributors. They make a few different versions of “soy nuggets in sauce”, which sounds awful, but realy isn’t. I particularly like the “Zesty Lemon Marmalade” flavour, which has a lot of the same taste experience of Chinese restaurant-style lemon chicken. The actual pieces don’t taste particularly “chicken-y”, but let’s face it, neither does actual breaded chicken in lemon sauce; both are more of a sweet/sour taste experience. The texture, though, does resemble (as least in my experience) real fried chicken.
    There are a couple of drawbacks to the Veggie Paradise products, though: (1) they’re very high in sugar (which is also part of the appeal) and (2) they’re outrageously expensive – about CAD $11 for a package that makes about 3 servings. However, served on a bed of good lo mien noodles, with a side of asparagus (or broccoli in a pinch) in black bean sauce, and, yum! What a treat!

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I alternate between turkey sausage and a frozen/nuked veggie burger with my eggs. I find the black bean and quinoa tasty.
    I’ve found a brand of frozen entrees (Amy’s) with both vegan and lacto-vegetarian offerings. That allows me to have a meatless day or two for the week. Makes my doctors happy.

  8. whheydt says

    We used to have turkey sausages as part of breakfast, but the stores I shop in stopped carrying them. This may be an artifact of the current pandemic, though.

  9. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Never tried their bacon, but the sausage links and patties, as well as chickpea patties, pizza burgers, chipotle black bean burgers, and corn dogs are all very tasty.

  10. microraptor says

    I like imitation bacon bits, but for the most part I try to avoid meat substitute products in favor of just having beans, lentils, or mushrooms. Heavily processed plant sausages are not exactly healthy.

  11. JustaTech says

    Seconding MattP on the breakfast “sausage” patties as being very nice.

    The smart “plant protein” companies know that their products can’t mimic the texture of meat, so they don’t try. They make sausage and burgers and nuggets, things where the contents are already kind of eh? What’s that line from Les Miz “filling up the sausage with bits of this and that”. Better the “this and that” be soybeans and chickpeas, at least in my mind.

    I wouldn’t try any kind of non-pork bacon because it can’t have the same structural/physical properties, and because non-pork back is almost always intended as a “low fat” alternative, and in my mind that’s not the point of bacon.

    @quotetheunquote: if you like citrus sauce on breaded “chicken”, Trader Joe’s sells a Mandarin Orange Chick’n that uses TVP nuggets in place of actual chicken, but the same sauce as their frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken. I actually like it better (got a weird piece of chicken once that really put me off the real stuff), and it’s like $3-4 (assuming that you have access to Trader Joe’s).

  12. laurencocilova says

    There are so many faux meat products out there right now and a lot of them are quite good, and some of them are quite, quite bad. We’re total vegans now so we’ve been through a lot of trial and error and it sounds like MorningStar bacon is just as bad now as it was when I tried it several years ago. (I’m also not sure it’s vegan, so I hardly ever try MorningStar stuff unless it says “vegan” right on the bag.) Their popcorn chicken is amazing, though, and my husband loves their cheezeburgers.
    For bacon, we buy from a local vegan butcher (they do steak, chicken, pastrami, brisket…), but Lightlife bacon is actually pretty good (just don’t overcook).

    But of course if you’re looking for healthier options, beans and lentils and tofu are going to be the way to go. We’re garbage vegans and we just love our nuggets and pizza bites. :-)

  13. answersingenitals says

    I am strictly vegetarian, but I do eat highly processed plant foods, particularly plant foods that have been processed through chickens, pigs, and cattle. These processors separate the plant material that gets attached to the bone from the plant material that exits the anus. Which I think is a very good type of processing to perform.

  14. hillaryrettig says

    Whatever one’s reasons for not eating flesh – health, environment, animal cruelty – they don’t disappear when you eat eggs, dairy, and fish.

    The oceans, especially, are in huge trouble due to fishing – and something like 2/3 of the catch is either processed into livestock feed or wasted “bycatch;” and yeah, the latter includes endangered turtles, sharks, dolphins, etc. Also most of the plastics pollution in the ocean is refuse from the fishing industry. So “seafood” would be a good thing to give up next.

    Gardein’s fish filets are a fantastic substitute btw.

  15. slatham says

    I love Beyond Meat burgers. I look forward to trying Impossible. Maybe I don’t know enough about it, but I’ve had many Beyond burgers that exceeded many examples of real ground beef burgers. (I do have friends, though, that would much rather have veggie burgers that aren’t trying to imitate meat.)

  16. says

    We are what they call flexitarians and have drastically reduced our meat consumption over the last year or so. This is partially due to how good fake meat has become. I used to think “give me vegetarian or give me meat, but don’t give me something pretending to be meat”, because even three years or so ago it all tasted like cardboard and had about the same consistency.
    By now there’s a wide variety of nuggets, mince, burgers, salami and sausage that taste about just as their non-vegetarian counterparts do. Even with my restriction on anything soy.
    You’re right though, as much as I like Beyond Burgers, they are not the same as a meat burger. But that’s ok for me, some days we’ll have the vegan ones, some days we’ll have meat.
    But the whole stuff is still inaccessible as fuck. Not only do I have to go to two different supermarkets at least, which I hate even when there’s not a pandemic, it’s also damn expensive. A single Beyond burger is the same price as four regular burger patties, and while we can afford it, many people can’t.

  17. KG says

    answersingenitals@17,

    Tell me, did you actually think that was witty? Because if so, you’re wrong.

  18. ajbjasus says

    #18

    Yep, I think fishing is probably more environmentally damaging than meat eating. Pescatarianism probably arttractive because killing fish doesn’t seem as cruel as killing animals, and a fishy diet is generally healthier than a meaty one.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    For fish eaters, there are sustainable alternatives to the more popular, overfished species. Pollock comes to mind.

  20. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Oh for fuck’s sake…

    The reason “imitation-meat” products exist is because people A) do often enjoy meat-, or at least meat-adjacent-, flavors, B) there a cultural significance to meat-based foods, I.E. “eating hotdogs or burgers at a family cookout,” and C) A) and B) are implicitly linked in most people’s minds and most people don’t necessarily want to have to abandon either in order to reduce animal flesh intake for health or ethical reasons. This “why do vegetarians have to/get to eat ‘pretend’ meat???” canard seems to come up every time the products do, despite the notion that the above is any way shape or form not obvious being one of them “Extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence.” It’s like the anti-vegetarian “then why are there still apes?!”

    As for Morningstar farms breakfast strips, they replicate everything about the flavor of flesh-bacon I actually enjoy, the texture and appearance are certainly not identical but are clearly meant to evoke, and prime the eater for, the previous, and I’ve enjoyed them as part of my default breakfast sandwich for over a decade. I’ll admit they aren’t quite as salty or greasy as “real” bacon; perhaps dumping the shaker in and adding a dozen pumps of Liquid Silk to the pan would improve the experience?

  21. evolutionaryautistic says

    You can tell the difference between Beyond, Impossible, and real burgers? I’ve been vegetarian for 2.5 years and they taste the same to me.

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