In Defense of Vegan Meats

The question is often posed: Why do vegans make their foods look so much like meat? The presumed answer, of course, is that we’re desperately missing the real thing. I’d like to propose the more radical possibility that, actually, we just really like our fake chicken tenders.

For the first year or two after I went vegan, I rarely ate tofu, and almost never tried any of the fake meats. Partly, I suppose, I was just trying to avoid reminding myself of what goes into meat, and anything resembling it might make me queasy.

Eventually, I came around to liking — now loving — tofu. And I also started trying some of the various, and increasingly ubiquitous, vegan meats that you can find in the grocery store. In a past post, I outlined some of my favorites. They’re now a staple in at least one meal I eat a day.

Why do we love them so much, even though they’re attempting to resemble real flesh-and-blood meat?

Part of it may be that we’re sort of “tricking” our brain into thinking we’re eating meat. Many people think vegans and vegetarians simply dislike meat; in reality, many of us love it. The first people to eat lab-grown meat will be vegheads, I guarantee it. While meat is a wholly unnecessary source of nutrients, the fact that our ancestors for thousands of years have consumed it has probably resulted in us having a taste for it.

So it’s not that vegan meats satisfy an itch for real meat per se, but it gives us that dense, protein-rich texture that we have evolved to love so much.

If this theory is true, then it makes sense that myself and others avoided vegan meat analogues for a period of time. Had we tried them before really forgetting what meat tasted like, it would remind us too much (or too little) of the real thing, and ruin it. We could be grossed out by biting into what feels like flesh. Or it could not really scratch that itch if it tastes nothing like meat at all.

Indeed, one reason I took so long to try the impossible burger (it’s delicious by the way) is that I was afraid it would taste too much like a real burger — something that many non-vegans doubt is even a possibility, due to carnist conceptions of magical meat textures. Instead, I loved it. It tasted exactly how I remembered a real hamburger tasting, but didn’t make me feel like I was eating meat at all.

Vegans and non-vegans can learn from this. If you’re vegan and are afraid to try animal product analogues, I encourage you to give it a try. You could be missing out on a thoroughly enjoyable category of foods that is becoming more amazing by the day. And non-vegans should dive in, too: you may find that vegan alternatives to common animal products, including meat, are just as good as the real thing. Minus the slaughter of course.

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