Being involved with a vegetarian for over a decade, I got quite familiar with vegetarian foods shaped, seasoned, and packaged to resemble meat.
However, I never quite understood fake meat, especially when it comes to, say, meatless hot dogs (which, among all fake meats, have the most room for improvement in the vital categories of taste and texture). I mean, maybe I was with a person more militant about her vegetarianism, but I always got the idea that most vegetarians hated the mere thought of eating anything resembling meat. And yet, veggie dogs (usually if you inject enough salt and fat into anything you got a winner, but not here). It’s like real fur versus fake fur. Sure, you’re not killing anything, but you’re fostering the idea that covering yourself in the skin of an animal is fashionable.
Maybe it’s about inclusion. Like a can of O’Doul’s at a beer festival, is the purpose of meatless hot dogs to make the non-meat eater feel included at barbecues? Do people buy them simply so they, too, will have a tube-like formation to slide into a bun? I mean, once you put enough mustard, onions and relish on top, no can even tell what you got there.
Except the person eating it, poor sap. One thing is clear: no one eats veggie hot dogs for the flavor. Not even seagulls.
Once, when I lived 20 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, we were grilling some hot dogs, and my former vegetarian partner brought along something called Smartdogs. This particular brand I referred to as “E.T. dogs” because they looked like they were made from the carcass of E.T., the extra terrestrial. Not normal, healthy E.T., but the pale white-gray E.T., when he was sick and lying in the stream near the end. Well, one of those E.T. dogs fell off the grill and into the sand. Not wanting to waste perfectly good “food,” we tossed it to some overbearing, and apparently very hungry, gulls. These birds – which otherwise eat anything that might be food – wouldn’t touch it, apparently not recognizing it as edible. I could have sworn one of them looked me dead in the eye and squawked, “Seriously?”
Nonetheless, a couple weeks back I found myself eating a veggie dog … and veggie breakfast sausages (patty and link), quinoa burgers, black bean burgers, and fake bologna made from soy. I know.
It’s not that I was in the dark about the costs of eating meat. The energy it uses and waste and pollution it produces is terrible for the environment. And then there’s all the artery-clogging saturated fat. But while reading the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” I read this passage about meat, red and processed meats in particular: “studies offered ‘convincing’ evidence that these meats increased the risk of colon cancer,” especially when it comes to people with genetic predisposition. It has to do not just with saturated fat but with a natural component in meat called haem, which can cause the formation of carcinogenic compounds. Also at issue is cooking meat at high temperatures and the charring that occurs. And, when it comes to processed meats, especially those where nitrates are used, scientists could find no level of consumption that was safe when it comes to colorectal cancer.
Because it is at times hard to know what to believe when it comes to food studies, trends, and facts, I brought this info to my ladypartner, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert. Yes, she said, colorectal cancer. There are not many foods connected strongly to cancer, but processed meats are one of them, she said.
That would be a clear “no thanks” from me. I don’t want cancer anywhere, but especially not there.
And so off we were to Nature’s O, loading a cart with an assortment of meat impostors.
It’s a step in the right direction for me, someone who was eating bacon and/or sausage nearly every day. I do believe that in a number of decades we’ll look back aghast at all the animals we raised and slaughtered for their meat. But sooner than that, I believe they’ll be growing fake meat in a lab, the idea of eating animals antiquated.
By then, perhaps I will have survived my colorectal cancer and actually be around to see it.