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Friday, October 10, 2008

Into the Vegettoir

posted by on October 10 at 12:42 PM


A couple weeks ago, I took a tour of the factory that produces the vegan foodstuff Field Roast. This week, I write about it in the Chow section.

Two things that didn’t make it into the piece:

1. The concept of imitation meat—veggie “mock chicken” and the various other products designed especially to replicate the taste and texture of animal flesh—as the culinary equivalent of fake kiddie porn. If the original thing (meat, kiddie porn) is gross, why would you want to impersonate it, via “mock chicken” or Max Hardcore’s placing of legal-age vixens in kiddie-porn settings? The moral: A close approximation of grossness is gross, too. (I cut this because it’s kinda confused and maybe bullshit and I strive to keep kiddie-porn comparisons out of food reviews.)

2. Acknowledgement of the strange orange oil-juice that’s a component of a number of Field Roast products—in my case, the Mexican-y Field Roast sausage and Italian-y Field Roast deli slices. This orange oil-juice is the most tenacious food substance I’ve ever encountered—a single drop can somehow transmit oiliness to every surface in your kitchen, and slicing the stuff on a wooden cutting board will leave a permanent orange stain. Unfortunately, the products featuring the orange oil-juice are the most delicious Field Roast products of all, so handle with nuclear-waste-level care and you’ll be fine.

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I don't think most vegans choose that diet because meat is gross. Those who do probably eschew fake meat, but most vegans I know chose that diet for ethical and environmental concerns, not because of some base reaction to meat.

Posted by bryan | October 10, 2008 12:52 PM

"If the original thing (meat, kiddie porn) is gross, why would you want to impersonate it, via “mock chicken” or Max Hardcore’s placing of legal-age vixens in kiddie-porn settings? The moral: A close approximation of grossness is gross, too."

That's crap. I grew up eating real meat, so fake meat is a comfort food to me now that I'm vegan. I did not grow up using kiddie porn.

Fake kiddie porn (supposedly) has the effect of exacerbating a pedophile's problem. I don't see how the same can be true of fake meat. I doubt many vegetarians have tried fake meat and liked it enough to return to real meat.

Posted by julia | October 10, 2008 12:56 PM

The answer to #1: Lots of people don't find meat "gross", but still choose not to eat it. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that among my reasons for not eating meat, "its gross" is not on the list.

Also, having fake-meat look like real-meat is a great way for curious meat-eaters to experiment with other forms of protein.

In my experience it seems that the longer one has a meat-free diet, the less likely they are to eat the fake-meats. They aren't very healthy and don't taste all that great. Most of them are slabs of gluten.

Posted by mike k. | October 10, 2008 12:57 PM

Actually, I've always thought #1 was a legitimate issue: Why, if vegans/vegetarians are so discomfited by the idea of eating animal products, do they nevertheless consume vegetable-based products specifically intended to imitate the flavor, appearance, texture, and mouth feel of animal products? Why instead don't they make this stuff look like something completely different from the meat protein it's supposed to replace?

To-date, the only even remotely reasonable answers I've heard is that: A.) because these products are frequently used as substitutes in recipes that call for meat-products, giving it the appearance and taste of meat makes it easier to adjust the recipe based on weight or volume; and B.) so that it doesn't completely turn off meat-eaters who might otherwise be reluctant to consume an all-veggie item.

Point A.) makes some sense, but not from an appearance/taste standpoint; and point B.) just sounds like pure, sophistic bullshite.

After all, why should I, as a carnivore, give two flying figs about whether the vegetable protein substitute in your "field-roast Philly cheese steak" or whatever actually looks and tastes like the real thing? Unless I'm a completely clueless idiot, I already EXPECT it to taste like something not-meat, and if I hadn't wanted to eat it, I wouldn't have ordered it in the first place.

Posted by COMTE | October 10, 2008 12:58 PM

@1: Exactly.

I've heard this soooo many times as a vegetarian, and I'm always surprised at the lack of understanding it shows of why a person might be vegetarian (disgust with the taste of meat being a pretty rare reason).

I'm a vegan for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Meat is delicious. Things that taste like meat taste like delicious. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | October 10, 2008 12:58 PM

i can't speak for everyone who prefers fake meat products to real ones, but knowing that cow shit finds its way into real meat far more often than fake meat is reason enough for me.

Posted by brandon | October 10, 2008 12:58 PM

And yeah, that orange oily stuff is not to be trifled with.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | October 10, 2008 12:59 PM

I'm not talking about disgust for the taste of meat. I'm talking about disgust over killing something to eat its flesh.

Still, I realize people stop eating meat for a million and one reasons—I've morphed through a half-dozen myself—but one constant has been my disgust for the violence of meat, and replicating that is what seem weird to me.

Also, I just don't like the taste of that mock-meat shit. If I wanted to eat salty rubber, I'd...never mind.

Posted by David Schmader | October 10, 2008 1:02 PM

I am a vegetarian for ethical, economic justice and for sustainability reasons. I have been vegetarian for 30+ years. Most of all, though, I am a vegatarian because meat is just plain nasty.

Gross is just a fine reason for being vegetarian. Ya'll need to chill.

Posted by Meat is Gross | October 10, 2008 1:05 PM

"I'm not talking about disgust for the taste of meat. I'm talking about disgust over killing something to eat its flesh."

So then why would fake meat be disgusting? No animals were harmed.

Posted by julia | October 10, 2008 1:07 PM

I forgot my main point - I wish there was more vegetarian food that did not replicate meat. Now that being vegan/vegetarian has become so trendy, it is harder to find vegetarian food that does not imitate meat. It I wanted meat, I would eat meat.

Posted by Meat is Gross | October 10, 2008 1:08 PM

I just sat there for a minute and a half wondering whether to reply to the article's comments or the Slog comments about the article or the Stranger forums comments about the article. Life is short. Can't decide.

I would like to know whether or not fake kiddie porn is immoral. Is it?

Posted by elenchos | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

My disgust with fake meat stems from its texture. There are so many good vegan things like nut loaf and garden burgers which are delicious, have great textures, and are not elaborate copies of cutlets, shrimp or ham.

Posted by inkweary | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

I agree, porn is cool and so is meat. fake meat and kiddie porn? not so much.

Posted by Postum | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

@ 11: Check out the Veganomicon. It's a kick-ass cookbook, and while there are a lot a recipes that include tofu, tempeh and seitan (all yummy, but perhaps best eaten sparingly) most are all about veggies, grains and beans.

Posted by Elf | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

10: I guess "Yum! This tastes just like dead animal!" just isn't in my culinary vocabulary.

Posted by David Schmader | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

david, @8 that's a very existential question. are you suggesting that the mere simulation of a violently created product inherently includes you in the violence of the original item? because that's a bit strange. as an un-vegan, non-vegitarian i can still understand the ethical/moral qualms of participating in the cruelty involved in meat consumption while still desiring the taste of meat itself. hence efforts to recreate that taste minus the cruelty/violence. pretty simple to me.

Posted by douglas | October 10, 2008 1:11 PM

ugh, what is that machine and why is that man dumping an entire of bucket of dog shit into it?

Posted by John | October 10, 2008 1:12 PM

One of the many reasons I'm a vegetarian is a dislike of overprocessed/overpackaged food, a category fake meat falls into, so I eat it sparingly; that said, Field Roast is delicious. Unlike a lot of the balogna-like fake meat products, Field Roast has an awesome texture and flavor, and substitutes easily in "guilty pleasure" meat-needing foods, like reubens. Yum.

Posted by Aislinn | October 10, 2008 1:13 PM

Thank you, Elf!

Posted by Meat is Gross | October 10, 2008 1:16 PM

free range bison is tasty, the only field roast I need!

Posted by pragmatic | October 10, 2008 1:19 PM

"I guess "Yum! This tastes just like dead animal!" just isn't in my culinary vocabulary."

Me neither. But "Yum! This taste just like the food I ate growing up!" is. I don't see the problem here.

@11, I second the Veganomicon recommendation. Also Vegan With a Vengeance, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, the Moosewood cookbooks, and just about anything you can find in a veggie cookbook section. If you can't vegetarian food that doesn't rely on fake meat, you're not looking hard enough.

Posted by julia | October 10, 2008 1:20 PM

the #1 reason i quit eating meat is because it's disgusting. i like some fake meats though because they're obviously fake and have their own unique qualities. they've come a long way in the past 5 years.

try 1) tofurkey sausage, 2) veggie blt from bleu on broadway (morningstar), 3) soybeef & broccoli from in the bowl on denny & olive.

Posted by jrrrl | October 10, 2008 1:26 PM

Okay, I'll bite: Why'd ya change the picture on the post, David?

(Were the little fake sausages confusing the kiddie-porn analogy?)

Posted by Timrrr | October 10, 2008 1:27 PM

@16: I don't think the typical meat-eater is sitting down to their steak dinner and thinking "I'm so glad something died to provide me with this" (unless they're a douchebag that's just trying to annoy vegetarians). They're thinking "this is going to be delicious." That's why people tend to ignore what conditions are like in slaughterhouses or meat-packing plants.

The main attraction of meat isn't violence. It's taste. So it makes sense to try to duplicate the taste without duplicating the violence.

It's kinda like why I play Burnout on my X-Box. That way I can get the thrill of careening through a crowded metropolis at 160 miles an hour without going to jail or killing a dozen people. In fact, getting the good without the bad is pretty much the entire point of simulating anything in the first place.

Posted by Ben | October 10, 2008 1:29 PM

not to bring him into this, but werent hitler, himmler, goebbles and most of the nazi chiefs of staff vegan?

Posted by SeMe | October 10, 2008 1:33 PM

Timrr at 24: I realized I should use a pic that featured the orange oil-juice.

Posted by David Schmader | October 10, 2008 1:36 PM

I've been a vegetarian for about 25 years and let me tell you, it was a lot harder back when I started. I could hardly go out to eat with my family in a restaurant for lack of choices. Salad gets old real fast. So when all of the fake meats popped up on the market, I was thrilled. Not because I missed eating meat, but just for the sake of variety. Plus it's nice having veggie dogs and burgers to throw on the barbeque in social situations.

Posted by Scott | October 10, 2008 1:41 PM

Not only were the Nazis vegan, but they believed in and practiced guilt by association. So I don't know. Which is more Nazi? Veganism or guilt by association?

Also, orchestrating mass death. That's kind of a Nazi thing to do also. Who else can I think of that is into orchestrating mass death?

Posted by elenchos | October 10, 2008 1:43 PM

Vegetarians don't bother me. Their attitude bothers me. But I have an attitude too, so whatever. Almost all of my friends are vegetarians, but I have zero vegan friends. Vegans bother me. I discriminate against vegans.

Posted by 100% pure hatred of vegans. | October 10, 2008 1:45 PM

In Switzerland, veggies have constitutional rights.

Including not being randomly mowed down by anti-GMO activists.

Why? Because snails have no rights.

And that, quite frankly, is good.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 10, 2008 1:45 PM

not to bring up hitler, but... HITLER! wtf? apparently godwin's law applies to vegetarianism now, too.

Posted by brandon | October 10, 2008 1:46 PM

i'm not a vegetarian. i have a recipe for a variation of caponata that incorporates soyrizo giving it a depth and dimension of flavor that doesn't appoximate anything meaty, at least not to me.(i discovered soyrizo when asked to make a vegan chili) it is quite delicious and better tasting than it would be if were to put pig meat in it.
no morality or fake anything here just healthy and delicious. it may just be my gateway product to vegetarianism.

Posted by reverend dr dj riz | October 10, 2008 1:47 PM

@30: Those goddamn vegetarians and their cavalier not-tending-to-give-a-shit-what-anyone-else-eats attitudes...

Posted by Ben | October 10, 2008 1:47 PM

Julia @ #22

Thanks for the added ideas. I always value more cookbook ideas. (One of my personal favorites is the Horn of the Moon Cafe Cookbook.)

My problem with fake meat arises when I want a veggie burger or other convenience food when traveling or I don't have time to cook a full meal. I used to be able to buy less meat-like veggie food. Now, it often is too meat like for me.

Posted by Meat is Gross | October 10, 2008 1:48 PM

What are "couple weeks"?

Posted by perchance | October 10, 2008 1:49 PM

David, I take it you find that Boca products taste like ass? If so, join the club.

The major advantage to Boca Burgers is that if, say, you have to eat at a Shari's in the middle of nowhere on a trip, at *least* they can make something barely inedible that *isn't* meat.

But otherwise, fuck Boca products. It's an insult to the art of mock meats.

COMTE, you have a great point re: most meat products don't really taste like raw unspiced meat anyway. But there is an essence and texture to real meat that many people have a problem digesting, whereas no such problems exist when digesting the soy or gluten substitue thereof. This is where I lie. I was having health problems until I stopped eating meat. My cholesterol levels have been in the normal side ever since, and I've been able to get away with eating lots of vegetarian fried crap, lol.

Then again, that's just my body. Other people benefit more from meat than they do soy or other meat substitute bases. Women also tend to have a tougher time being meatless, due to requiring more iron. (It can be done, but I imagine supplements become more necessary.)

I'm a dairy-atarian who has no problems with other folks having meat diets, although I'm glad I'm not contributing to the really gross ethically questionable bullshit of mass Westernized meat processing.

Posted by mackro mackro | October 10, 2008 1:52 PM

@11: it is harder to find vegetarian food that does not imitate meat

Uh, how about vegetables?

Posted by rjh | October 10, 2008 1:54 PM

The red stuff is likely annatto paste, made from the ground seeds thereof. In addition to being a comment ingredient in central and south American food for both its color and flavor, it is also reported to be used as an aphrodisiac. Enjoy.

Posted by Karl Schuck | October 10, 2008 1:57 PM

If the original thing (meat, kiddie porn) is gross, why would you want to impersonate it, via “mock chicken”...?

Because, origin notwithstanding, most meat shapes are annoyingly convenient. Take the hamburger. Few vegetables match the useful shape provided by a circular disc of a hamburger patty. Likewise, the hot dog. So not only does the veggie burger or tofu dog provide a convenient cooking/eating shape, but is compatible with a wide variety of already-existing components (most of which are also veg, from A-1 to wheat buns).

But above all, meat isn't necessarily gross for its shape or even its taste. It's gross because you have to kill a living, breathing creature to get it.

Posted by K | October 10, 2008 2:01 PM

David Schmader:

The concept of imitation meat—veggie “mock chicken” and the various other products designed especially to replicate the taste and texture of animal flesh—as the culinary equivalent of fake kiddie porn.

I'll leave it to David to compare fake meat to fake kiddie porn. But the subject at hand is Field Roast, and Field Roast doesn't quite fit so neatly into the "imitation meat" category.

Yes, it is kind of a meat-like substance, but it's a "meat" in its own right--if that makes sense. Field Roast doesn't attempt to mimic any particular kind of meat (beef, pork, chicken) or any particular meat product (hot dog, burger, steak). There is something novel about Field Roast that defies a category like "imitation meat."

It's like the creators' entire goal was to make something that tastes good in its own right; making it taste like something else was not even a consideration.

And yeah, I like the stuff.

Posted by cressona | October 10, 2008 2:09 PM

@40, we wouldn't have to kill a living breathing thing if growing the protein in an industrial environment wasn't percieved as more gross.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 10, 2008 2:10 PM

Cressona at 41; Absolutely—I'm explicit about Field Roast's stature as a food-in-its-own-right in the piece.

Posted by David Schmader | October 10, 2008 2:15 PM

@42: Vat-grow lab meat?

Fuck yes, please.

Posted by Ben | October 10, 2008 2:20 PM

And I am enjoying some Field Roast italian sausage right now.

And re: K @ 40: Yes, shapes are useful (see reference to Field Roast sausage above). The imitation meat that weirds me out is the stuff that leaps through hoops to try to directly imitate a certain animal's meat.

And re: Mackro Mackro @ 37: Due to the sentiments expressed by Scott @ 28, I remain thrilled to eat any veggie burger a restaurant is kind enough to offer me. (But I prefer Garden Burgers to Boca and all others.)

Posted by David Schmader | October 10, 2008 2:22 PM

Ha! I was just having the conversation at lunch about how I can hardly wait until meat can be grown in vats.

For me, the issue is that I love the taste of meat but feel a moral obligation to avoid eating it. So the meatier the substitute, the better. My brain works well enough to realize that eating something that tastes like something produced of violence isn't the same as, well, yeah.

Posted by leek | October 10, 2008 2:29 PM

#38 - Uh, how about "protein sources that do not imitate meat". Does that make it easier for you to understand?

Posted by Meat is Gross | October 10, 2008 2:38 PM

@40: Just what kind of undead vegetables have you been eating?

Posted by What | October 10, 2008 2:40 PM

@30: I kinda want to make a video offering to be your vegan friend, a la Savage-->Palin.

Fun article, BTW. Factory tours are cool.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | October 10, 2008 2:51 PM

"The imitation meat that weirds me out is the stuff that leaps through hoops to try to directly imitate a certain animal's meat"

My first experience with this kind of thing was when I ordered the Curry Mock Chicken from Ballet Restaurant. It actually has the texture of chicken skin and freaked me out the first time, but I got over it because it is so deeelish. Anyway, I brought a vegetarian friend there one day and we both ordered it. She was completely icked out by it, but I kept insisting how great it was. She finally gave in and started eating it. Then I looked over and realized she was eating real chicken while I was eating mock chicken! I reset the clock on her vegetarianism and she blames me about it today. I still feel guilty about that one.

Posted by Scott | October 10, 2008 3:16 PM

You vegans disgust me.

Posted by Chalupa Alcatraz-Bailo | October 10, 2008 5:16 PM

Hitler was NOT a vegetarian.

One of his favorite foods was liver dumplings. He practiced a generally meat-free diet because of stomach ailments, but it was never a 100% principled diet.

Anyone who uses the Hitler example to counter veggies like Einstein & Gandhi is just being intellectually lazy.

Plus it's a popular urban legend.

Posted by Hitler's Fossilized Stool | October 10, 2008 5:34 PM

One of the first cookbooks I got when I moved into my first apartment was Diet For A Small Planet. It did not turn me into a vegan or even a vegetarian but it did provide me with some really good low-cost recipes that remain among my favorites to this day. And they don't even involve the phoney-baloney fake meat, some of which (tofu hot dogs, for example) I like while others make me want to barf.

Just because I eat meat doesn't mean I have to eat it every day. I may graduate to full vegetarian at some point for ethical/environmental/economic reasons but in the meantime it's great to know I have alternatives to meat that I like just as much.

Posted by RainMan | October 10, 2008 8:33 PM

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