In the last few years, I have been observing the rise in popularity of the meat replacement market with concern. However, it seems, or at least I hope, that it was more of a passing trend. The meat substitutes market has been declining lately, and I find this fantastic news.
I have cooked and taught at many vegan festivals over the last 10 years, and there hasn’t been a single stand selling fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans—the foundations of a whole foods plant-based diet. I understand that for these festivals, it may be attractive in the short term to get financial support from the meat substitutes market, but in the long run, it’s a big turn-off for most vegan-interested consumers.
Many people claim that the meat substitute market can make it easier for people to transition to a plant-based diet. I strongly disagree; for people who enjoy real, good food, there is nothing convincing or attractive about eating a plastic-like piece of unrecognizable (and, in my opinion, inedible) patty.
When people hear that I am eating a vegan-ish diet, they often wrinkle their noses and tell me that they don’t like vegan food because they can’t stand the vegan fake foods. When I try to tell them that fake burgers and fake schnitzel are not necessarily what a vegan diet should look like, they look at me with disbelief and tell me about their first (and last!) traumatic visit to a vegan fake food eatery.
And honestly, I couldn’t agree more with them. If that’s the image that the vegan community tries to give vegan food, no wonder it repels and pushes away potential plant-based eaters.
There is nothing tempting or attractive about eating a piece of plasticky shoe bottom-like substance that is designed to look like it has or had blood—fake blood! I mean, seriously, what on earth makes you think this will convince people to transition to a plant-based diet?
Reducing food to taste and texture only is a narrow and superficial view of what food is about. Food carries energy. Animal food is very dense, concentrated, and traditionally used to gain strength and power. Ultra-processed foods are the exact opposite; they weaken and cause bloating and problems for the intestines. If you really want to give people the same satisfying and powerful feeling they get when they eat meat, eggs, or cheese, you need to give them grains and beans—the most strengthening food groups in the plant-based diet.
Throughout the 20th century, the meat industry campaigned to convince people to eat more animal foods. They made animal foods appear delicious, showed people how to cook with them, combined them in daily recipes, and falsely educated people about their positive health benefits and nutritional values. No one from the animal food industry came up with the bizarre idea of trying to make animal products resemble or mimic other food groups that people were accustomed to up until then. A steak in the form of traditional oatmeal porridge? Hmm, doesn’t sound really yummy. And that’s exactly what the plant-based food industry should not try to do.
Just as the animal food industry did, the plant-based community should show people how delicious grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are (and they are so delicious!), what recipes can be made with them, and educate the public about their true health benefits. But hey, which food industry is going to subsidize this kind of campaign? And which billionaire is going to invest money in convincing people to eat more vegetables?