Thursday, September 15, 2016

Random Comment About Fake Bacon

Vegetarianism comes with the possibility of better health, a sense of ethical activity and a menu that sometimes includes fake meat.

If fake meat had a bone, it would be one to throw to the reluctant vegetarian who misses meat very much and resents a diet of rabbit food. Presumably a thorough vegetarian or vegan would find it nauseating to simulate and eat a food that is, after all, a carcass. I'm reminded of a reform Buddhists made to human sacrifice rituals when they altered the culture of Tibet. Instead of a real human body, compassionate monks substituted a fake one made of dough and other substances that not only simulated the body's outward form but also internal organs. Celebrants ate the ersatz corpse, the ritual was preserved and no one was harmed in the process. Was this the advent of fake meat? Probably not, but the product keenly reminds us of artificial meat's function.

These days presumably no one goes to the supermarket hoping to ward off urges of cannibalism by buying fake human corpses, but there are fake chicken patties, pork cutlets, barbecued backs, link sausages and the like for conventional meat lovers to choose from. When I was a boy my mother introduced me to these products out of a concern for my family's health. I really hated the stuff then, and even though I still dislike fake meat I can today say with an almost living historical perspective that the products have improved a bit since then. A perusal of a vegetarian cookbook from the late 19th century obsessed with mock meats fashioned from egg bases shows just how far the simulated meat business has progressed in a little over a hundred years.

I'm just enough of a vegetarian that no matter how good the simulation I suffer from a revulsion to the uncanny resemblance to flesh. Besides this, there's still a sneaking chemical flavor that builds up as one nibbles away at most fake meats. In the 70s this chemical taste was at the forefront. Now, not as much. Anyway, I dislike the stuff and have found that a vegetable product such as tempeh, which does not pretend to be meat, stands very nicely in the place of meat without reminding me of it or making me think of chemical compounds.

But there is one glowing exception I find in the fake meat world, and that would be Morningstar's artificial bacon. Eating this fake bacon I'm not constantly comparing it to real bacon and thinking it falls short. It stands so far apart from real bacon that it does not remind of meat in any unsettling way, but, like tempeh, it occupies the space of the meat serving very nicely. The product is smoky and light and goes well with eggs--if you still eat those. This evaluation comes from someone who is not enough of a vegetarian to quit enjoying real bacon now and then.

Yet this fake bacon turns out to be an exception that proves a rule for me. I don't think of Morningstar's product as a bacon substitute so much as a vegetarian food that is okay. My wish for vegetarian cuisine is not that it try to emulate meat in its more protein rich options, but that it create new products that are high in complete protein and owe nothing to the texture and taste of meat.  Tofu, tempeh and seitan (with less success in the protein department) have so far led the way as processed vegetarian entrees. Why not more such products?

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