This Salad Tastes Like Chicken!?! Questioning "Beyond Meat"

Photo from beyondmeat
Some gussied-up Beyond Meat strips at WholeFoods
For a brief period in high school, I embraced vegetarianism. Well, pescatarianism, actually, because I allowed myself tuna melts (my mom made really good ones). I was clearly not cut out for this lifestyle, however, given that I ended up simply replacing the animal flesh foods I once enjoyed (chicken nuggets, hamburgers) with highly processed versions made with meat replacements. Those substitutions certainly weren't much healthier or more environmentally friendly.

After a few months, I gave up my pescatarian diet (I think this might have happened exactly the day before Thanksgiving), but in the years following, I've occasionally tried eating vegetarian or even vegan for a few days or weeks. Placing limitations on my diet forces me to evaluate my (sometimes bad) eating habits and prompts me to fall in love with new dishes. Case in point, "beetloaf".

Recently, I have been considering going vegan again for a short period of time. Not because I feel bad about eating foie gras. Not because I want to eat more vegetables. Because, rather, I have become absolutely fascinated with Beyond Meat.

This start-up has received significant attention for the way in which it's innovating the production of plant-based meat substitutes. What Beyond Meat claims to do better than any other player in the market is create faux flesh (i.e., "chicken" strips) foods whose texture is nearly identical to that of the real thing.

The major selling point, it seems then, is not just that it's more affordable than meat (currently the majority of their products are less expensive per pound than the animal flesh equivalent) but that you can't tell the difference.

That's terrific for people who for health reasons can't eat meat or who are understandably disgusted with the factory farming in this country or who recognize that eating animals is not particularly good for planet Earth. Or all of the above, because in my personal experience, most long-term vegans acknowledge all three reasons as motivations for their consumption practices.

But what about those who embrace the vegan lifestyle because they don't think it's just/right/fair/defensible for one animal species (humans) to prioritize its existence over the existence of all other animal species? Those people (and sometimes I count myself as one of them) who don't believe that human needs and desires should always already take precedence over those of other living things?

For those vegans, I don't understand why it would be appealing to engage even in a masquerade of animal consumption. The material degree of separation between eating chicken, for example, and eating something that resembles chicken is not, I think, great enough to render the inherent immorality of the original act (if you think it's a problem).

For readers of this blog, you know I obviously don't [think eating animals is always and necessarily immoral]. So I can't speak for vegans and vegetarians who do subscribe to this ethos.

But if you do, and you're reading, let me know how you feel about Beyond Meat.

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People like myself who think that humans should not raise and kill animals for food usually don't have a problem with how meat tastes. We object to eating the flesh of animals (and their byproducts) because by purchasing and consuming these products we directly support these practices with our dollars, and fail to take a stand against wrongdoing.

There is nothing wrong, however, with eating plant food that tastes like meat. It is a taste many of us have grown up on, we like the taste, and no animals are killed or harm to make the food. So win-win! 

Craig Wilkins
Craig Wilkins

Lots of us go vegan for animal rights reasons, but still love burgers, hot dogs, etc. Why wouldn't we eat stuff that tasted like the stuff we grew up on? I didn't give up fried chicken sandwiches because they tasted bad.

MadMac topcommenter

Intriguing--it's food--go figure. Based on Michael Pollan's book "Food Rules," as well as Mark Bittman's "Vegan Before 6," I've been toe-dipping in the vegan pond. And, the more I read the more dubious I am about commercial meat processing. But while I've found a lot of vegen recipes appealing, meat substitutes give me the heebee-jeebies. The soy-heavy products scare me and I've heard from many how a lot of the plant-based "meat" taste like yuk. I'd be interested in reading more about Beyond Meat and their products.  

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