Tofurkey? Not in my home

photo of Tofurkey by Aine D via Flickr

photo of Tofurkey by Aine D via Creative Commons

If you’re avoiding meat, what’s up with the fake meat?

For the record:

  • I’m not opposed to a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • I’m not opposed to tofu.

I am, however, strongly opposed to meat fakery.  I mean, if you’re going to deliberately avoid eating meat, why would you eat fake meat?

A recent trip to a vegetarian restaurant didn’t help.  First off, let’s get clear about what it means to be vegetarian: no meat.  But eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt are part of the food repertoire.  If you avoid those as well, you’re likely a vegan.  So I thought “oh good, this restaurant will have plenty of interesting menu choices.”

Well, yes, they were “interesting”.  In fact, it was a study in meat fakery.  And it was vegan, not vegetarian.  Nary an egg or piece of cheese or drop of milk to be found.  But there were:

  • “Wings” that were really large slabs of seitan*, deep fried and coated in BBQ sauce. Also soggy.
  • Blackened tofu
  • Quinoa Burgers
  • Tempeh “chicken” in Buffalo Sauce
  • A “Cuban” sandwich (normally ham and pork) made with slices of seitan
  • A “corndog” on a stick.  Made with tofu.  Or maybe seitan.  Or maybe both.
  • Chorizo (normally a spicy pork-based sausage) made out of tofu.
  • “Chicken” that was really crispy fried tofu

Everything on the menu was an attempt to recreate a meat-based food using processed soy or wheat protein.  And in my opinion, none of this works very well.  The results are rubbery and overly chewy, or bland, mushy and disagreeable.  This the kind of thing that gives vegetarian food a bad name.

Conclusion: you can’t recreate the taste and texture of meat by processing the hell out of plants.  It just doesn’t work.  The only way to turn plants into meat is to feed the plants to livestock.

So I was seriously annoyed by that experience.  Then I read that, in honor of Thanksgiving, the Mayor of Seattle has officially pardoned a Tofurkey.  Pardoned it from what?  A trip to the compost bin?

So again, what’s up with the Tofakery?  It’s one thing to eat tofu or seitan, which are relatively simple to make and incorporate into meatless dishes with grains, beans and vegetables.  Turning soy or wheat protein into fake meat involves a lot of processing, using large amounts of energy, water, flavorings, texturizes, additives and packaging.  All to try to create fake meat.  Are vegetarians that fearful of eating actual vegetarian food?  What’s wrong with simple rice and beans, or nuts or vegetables?

What can vegetarians eat at Thanksgiving?  Potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, rolls, stuffing that wasn’t cooked in the turkey, other cooked vegetable dishes, salads,  pies.  And vegetarians can also drink milk or eat cheese that’s served with appetizers.  No lack of food possibilities.  If I were hosting vegetarians for Thanksgiving, I’d come up with some interesting meatless menu item, something with beans, nuts and/or grains.  If someone brought a tofurkey to my home?  Well, we do have a compost bin.  I don’t do pardons.

*seitan is actually wheat gluten (a protein) processed to hang together in slabs, somewhat like tofu.  It’s a popular Asian food.

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