How many times have you, as a vegetarian or vegan, tried to convince your family at Thanksgiving that your Tofurky tasted better, or at least was comparable, to the slow-roasted turkey your grandmother perfected over the last 40 years? After no one was convinced, at what point did you start ranting about how your Tofurky was environmentally friendly and no one had to call fire marshall because someone damn-near burned down the house frying a turkey like your Uncle Buster, who thought watching a YouTube instructional video would turn him into Emeril Lagasse.

The pro-vegetarian argument falters every time in the face of a meat-eater’s opposition because most of us are always trying to push our Fraken-meats (veggie bacon or un-chick’n), which, unfortunately, makes us look like we really miss the taste of flesh.

“You just foolin’ yourself … you know you want this steak son,” says my father, who loves to play up my veganism at every family holiday. Underneath the jest, my father is really just expressing his anxiety about his lost connection with his son at the dinner table (Every time I visited my hometown, Los Angeles, he would excitedly invite me to dine at a new steakhouse he had found for us). We used to revel in our refined palates in regards to flesh, especially steak.

I have no regrets about choosing veganism; honestly, it’s the best decision I have ever made in my life. I enjoyed all the wonderful soy products — chicken fried tofu from Atlanta’s Midtown Whole Foods is addictive! But at some point, I made a conscious decision to leave the plethora of mock meats alone, surrendering to the even wider range of fruits and vegetables.

In an article on Salon.com, a vegetarian dad wondered if he was actually reinforcing the meat-industry by eating mock meats. Stomped when his son asked him why he was a vegetarian, the dad had to reassess his principled stance against meat consumption and was forced to defend his vegetarianism to his loved one :

Obviously, this isn’t some conspiracy whereby powerful meat companies are deliberately trying to bring vegetarians into the mega-church of flesh eaters. If anything, it’s the opposite: It’s the vegetarian industry selling itself to meat eaters by suggesting that its products aren’t actually all that different from meat. The problem is how that message, like so many others in American culture, reinforces the wrongheaded notion that our diet should be fundamentally based on meat.

I run into vegetarians who gorge soy, tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable protein (TVP) with every meal, emulating meat-eaters’ abuse of protein.

But why do we do this?

It always comes back to the meat-industry’s quasi-scientific push in the 1950’s to make sure that Westerners ate enough animal protein. The explosion of farming technology during the 1970’s Green Revolution allowed the meat-industry to consolidate its power through heavy lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, which turned the American diet into a “Satan” sandwich, consisting of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

I don’t believe humans are incapable of consuming and digesting meat, and I certainly don’t believe flesh is inherently bad, but I strongly believe that meat is not necessary for optimal health in our current civilization. Furthermore, the meat-industry and our government — the US Department of Agriculture, in particular — are dead-wrong for the former food pyramid and the current MyPlate, selling American’s health to the highest bidder.

I’m stronger everyday in my conviction and advocation for a plant-based diet, a diet in which all people can embrace, whether they are omnivore, frugivore, or vegan. I still enjoy a wheat-less veggie burger from time to time, but I know that my salvation lies in what nature provides without processes — fruit and vegetables.

FrigiVoice: Sound off: Are vegetarians faking-the-funk by eating mock meat?

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26 Comments

  1. I’m a vegetarian and eat tons of soy without any side effects or drawbacks. I am fan of rawness and liked your honesty because I have that same problem when I go home albeit less and less now that I’ve been veg for over fifteen years.
    But I do have story similar to yours. I went home for Christmas and I made a mock ham and my whole family “mocked” (pun intended) me the entire dinner. I felt bad but it helped me feel more secure with my meatless diet.
    Good luck with your journey, there will be tons of support for you and vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. ( I am not sure which one you are)

  2. Saint Geo The Great

    IMO those mock meat products are not very healthy to consume.Take a look at the ingredients: many of them, even though they taste meaty and satisfy that craving for flesh, are not really helping you achieve what everyone claims that vegetarian lifestyle brings — HEALTH . Many studies have revealed that soy-based products are not very healthy for us

  3. I don’t think they’re “corny,” but vegetarian restaurants should offer more plant-based dishes rather than soy or seitan version of meat dishes. Many people (including myself) have thyroid issues and should stay away from both. Eating too much wheat and soy is not good for most people.

  4. Aren’t “chicken” nuggets fake meat anyway?

  5. I think so. Pretend bacon, pretend sausage…all of this stuff to seems to be the antithesis of the benefits of being vegetarian: eating healthy and minimally processed foods. I am not a vegetarian, but when I do, I don’t bother with the fake meat, and just get something real: nuts, beans, legumes , I think tofu is ok, since it isn’t that processed, and other foods from the plant diaspora. No seitan, garden burgers, or tofurky for me.

  6. I think those fake meats are for people who have no idea how to eat but are know they have to do SOMETHING.

  7. I have been a vegetarian in the past. I did not eat fake meat products. To me the point of being a vegetarian is to eat healthy and not just eliminate meat. I don’t see anything healthy about textured vegetable protein. Some of those products are full of salt and msg. Soy is really not the solution. Some people have a problem digesting soy and there are hormonal issues with soy.

  8. I’ve eaten mock meat products in the past when I was only toying with vegetarianism. I needed something to replace the taste of meat in my diet. I eventually went back to eating meat. However, a few years ago I became a vegan after watching the documentary Earthlings. After seeing how animals are treated, I decided that I didn’t want to eat anything that was made to look or taste like meat. I don’t want foods with the name “tofurky” or veggie “burger” or anything like that. It makes me feel bad, like I still desire animal flesh or something.

    • @Kate: Kate I agree with what you said. I’m a new vegetarian (6 months). I have tried tofurky and veggie burgers….I started making my own veggie burgers. You have given me something to think about.

  9. Great piece. I often wonder this myself. I am not a big faux meat person but I will enjoy a boca burger now and then when I am at a bb

  10. *Great piece. I often wonder this myself. I am not a big faux meat person but I will enjoy a boca burger now and then when I am at a bbq. Or when people don’t know what to feed me for dinner I will just ask for boca burgers. Since it is super easy to make and no hassle for the party host. My husband is a big fan of the boca chik’n nuggets and most meat eaters will agree that they taste better than flesh. Although I do not eat faux meat often, I always reason why kill an animal when you can have the same taste (better!) without the blood on you hands :/

  11. pntszdinfluence

    Balance is everything, so I don’t eat mock meat often but I really enjoy it. My faves are the Ginger Chicken by Absolute Vegetarian and the Mexican Chipotle sausage by Field Roast. Yum! I don’t think I’m faking the funk at all. There are only so many dishes I can add fish to. And I love preparing a meal with mock meat, inviting guests over and they have NO clue they aren’t eating meat. Great gateway to Vegetarianism!

  12. As a new vegetarian, I used to cook with mock meat in transitioning into more plant base dishes until I noticed how much sodium was used to preserve the product. Processed foods are known to use increased amounts of sodium for flavor as a main ingredient. Ultimately, I stopped consuming mock meat in my dishes. The article offers another reason for me to say no.

  13. Its not that you are “faking the funk” but there are two problems with vegans eating fake meat.
    1, im assuming that u are a vegan because it is a healthier lifestyle. eating fake meat is a contradiction because processed foods arent good for you either. They contain many ingredients that arent even pronounceable. on top of that, the frozen fake meats contain a crap load of salt that can be unhealthy for anybody. so its kind of an oxymoron to be a vegetarian but eat fake meat…
    2. The other problem is that a lot (not all) fake meats contain milk, milk protein, or eggs. so they arent necessarily vegan, but they are vegetarian.
    So as a vegan, i skip fake meats all together. if i cant pronounce it, i dont eat it…

  14. Excellent article. Good corollary drawn between meat eating and fake meat products. I have not become either a vegetarian or a vegan as yet, but because of your discussions have been leaning heavily toward that lifestyle and I tried meatless meatballs and sausageless sausage and like them, but I don’t eat them often. I try limiting my meat consumption to one meal a day preferably dinner so it does not impinge on my family life or social life. I don’t have to ask for or demand meatless options, when I’m socializing, but when I find them available I chose accordingly.

  15. Estava, you’re right. Substitute meat products, especially the frozen, have lots of artificial ingredients and preservatives and dairy and starch. That’s one of the reason why I don’t buy them. Many times I’ve craved a burger, gone to the frozen vegetarian burger section at the grocery store to buy it, but put the box of veggie burgers back after I read all the starches and dairy in the ingredients. I’ve decided to make my own veggie burgers. I want to buy a grinder so I can make ground mushrooms. Mushrooms are the way to go to replace meat. You can cook mushrooms like fried or stewed chicken, cook mushrooms like ground beef. And needless to say you can stir fry mushrooms with onions, green peppers, olives, etc. For more information about creative food replacements read Sojourn to Honduras Sojourn to Healing. Fantastic almond recipes in it.

  16. I’ve always believed that “veggie meats” should be treated as a step toward a true vegetarian diet; it should be to meat eaters what the the nicotine patch is for smokers. It’s not good for you, it’s not good to be eaten every day, but if you’ve got a craving for something like chicken, but you don’t want to eat it, the faux-chicken nuggets are a good alternative.

  17. If you’re not going to eat meat, then that should be the end of the story…

  18. Mmh..
    Seitan and tofu both have a very long history and are originally simple foods to prepare (without artificial flavours etc). Nevertheless, nobody really needs substitutes. I think: If you can’t make it at home, don’t buy it, no matter what or how tasty it is.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 4 months now (yay!). From my own small experience I think it’s not craving for meat that’s difficult but just habits and laziness. The only “pseudo-disadvantage” a vegetarian lifestyle has is (imho) you always have to be prepared. If I didn’t know what to eat and was exhausted, I would just take some sort of meat out of the fridge. I think that’s what many people are searching for, a faster solution. Vegetarianism can be fulfilling, eye opening, life changing, healthy, all that stuff, but it can’t be the easiest way at the same time.

  19. Yes. Yes. 1000 times yes. My feeling is that vegetarianism is a great choice for people who would like to do that–meaning spiritual reasons, animal rights or whatever. But I do get annoyed by the often stated view that vegetarianism is just flat out healthier. It is healthier for many people that eat crappy food. However, if you remove meat and eat a bunch of processed faux meat products instead that to me is not so much healthier. 1. Too much soy is not good. And much of the vege products are just processed soy. 2. If people invest in quality meats–organic, grass-fed, pastured meats and eggs then to me just stating that vegetarianism is healthier as though it is fact is just not the truth–at all.
    Just my two cents.

  20. I have to admit that I have ate some meat-like soy products when I started to lose weight. They say to spare actual meat and do vegetarian sometimes. I have tried Morning Star Farms and Boca veggie burgers. I stopped eating Morning Star because it had the smell of fish, and the eating it too often made me weary of it. Boca’s veggie burgers tastes as if it is actual meat, and that’s why I can stand it. I thought that the whole purpose of practicing vegetarianism was to get away from meat in general, not to keep recollections of meat products in tow.

  21. I eat the mock meats. I haven’t had a major problem with it at all. Yes we must be aware that vegetarian foods as a whole contains a high amount of sodium but if the craving is there, why are we downgrading those who do eat the mock meats? I’ve been a Vegan for 8 years now and I am one of many who are careful about what she eats. I understand your point and I don’t go home for Thanksgiving nor Christmas because I would be the only one at the table who doesn’t eat meat nor dairy products. I’m fine with that. My family has to deal with that. NONE of them can fully understand why I don’t eat meat at all. They feel they have to cook something special for me. I decline because I’m not putting my family through that. I just prefer to stay away and do my own thing. I now have two nieces and both of their parents are meat fanatics. Obviously they will NOT be coming over to my house to spend time with me. I know how to eat healthy and I’ve never been happier with my decision to become a Vegan. I refuse to return to eating flesh and yes I will still eat mock meats. Why? As a dancer, I need an extra boost and that’s what the mock meats do for me.

  22. I am a vegan who does not eat any fake meat. My college does not let students have cooking appliances of any sort and is located in an extremely anti-vegan area. So, I relied on the small selection of fake meats that I could quickly microwave. This year however, I have been eating plenty of beans, rice, noodles and of course, mountains of fruit and veg with no fake meat. Since abandoning processed crap (and finally instilling a no tolerance policy on honey and processed sugar), I have learned to cook things like vegan fried rice, curry and even bread in search of heartiness and savory flavors. This is what I think people miss most about animal products: the mouthfeel and umami-factors. Simply transfer those to natural whole foods. That’s what these fake meat companies are doing (albeit with processed junk). They just take the seasonings generally used with meat and put it on TVP, with oil for fat. If done at home, it’s healthier, tastier, cheaper and ultimately more satisfying. Side note: I am not non-soy, however, as I will have some tofu if I go out to eat with friends and use it sparingly at home. I don’t believe soy is bad- if not eaten at every meal or even every day, that is.

  23. This is one of the best articles on the subject I’ve read. In other words: I agree with everything you say. I’m an omnivore who took a vegan friends 7 day vegan challenge. Unfortunately for her, I’m also a comedian and came up with observations which found their way into my routine. After purchasing a few fake meat products I wondered ” If you think something is really bad or immoral to eat, why would you want a fake version of it? I think it’s immoral for humans to eat other humans so you won’t find me looking for faux quadriceps or HumanTof-feet.”. I also wondered which was healthier and easier to digest , the chixen nuggets with over 20 ingredients each with 16 syllables or the package of organic chicken wings simply marked “chicken”?

    I commend you for not faking the funk. Though I don’t foresee myself becoming a vegetarian, I do thank my vegetarian and vegan friends for leading the way to a healthier lifestyle and introducing me to a mindset and food options that don’t always have to include meat. I’m on your side when it comes to trying to convince our old school relatives that fresh fruits and slightly cooked vegetables can be better friends than Tums or Rolaids and that smothered pork chops have killed more Black folks than the KKK.

  24. Food addiction is real. Your history and attitude about food is real. Although I would not recommend a person to use these mock meat products for a long period of time, I would say that it is a good way for beginners to start their journey to change their lifestyle. These products can serve as bridge foods to ween a person off of meat until they have trained the taste buds to the change. Alicia Sliverstone in her book The Kind Diet she talks about the use of bridge foods to start off to the path of Veganism or Vegetarianism. Everyone needs a place to start. I would rather see someone start with this then not at all. I prefer to make my own home made veggie burgers because I have learned to do so and they taste better but I needed help to get there and frozen vegge burgers help me get started.

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