Friday, May 18

PATIENT ANSWERS TO 'GOTCHA' QUESTIONS

This may be a recurring series. Meat-eaters tend not to think about the full picture of their food choices, for the obvious reason that once you think it through it's very problematic, to say the least. Yet with the unwitting arrogance of being safely ensconced in the conventional majority, they often seem to believe, bizarrely, that they have come up with an angle on vegetarianism that will trip up vegetarians - people who have permanently altered their behavior due to (usually) in-depth thinking about their food choices. "What about plants?" is one classic example. "But animals eat other animals" is another.

This entry is about a question I've addressed multiple times previously, often in conjunction with discussing Horizons restaurant, which last year dropped animal-based terms from their menu. The question is: If vegetarians really don't like meat, why do they eat meat analogues like veggie burgers, veggie dogs, Tofurky, etc.?

I'm bringing this up today because that Associated Press article will appear in various newspapers, with writer Ted Anthony doing a creditable job of trying to answer what he seems to think is an original question. The piece is worth reading (although this sentence is a true head-scratcher: "You might think the nation's pre-eminent animal-rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, would oppose meat substitutes on philosophical grounds." Huh? Who in the hell would think that and why?), but right here I'd like to dispense with this issue once and for all: There's no mystery, no irony, no contradiction in the concept of faux meats whatsoever. There are several good reasons for vegetarians to support this portion of the food industry, and some of them point to unasked questions about the other portions.

* HABIT - Almost all vegetarians started out as meat-eaters. And just like current meat-eaters, it's comforting to eat a type of meal you're used to, one that has the rich protein source as its centerpiece. The difference is that continued meat-eaters take this to the extreme, refusing to change what is increasingly becoming a negligible aspect of the taste, texture and overall satisfaction of their meal even in the face of overwhelming reasons to do so.

* BRIDGE - Whether they eat them themselves of not, vegetarians can promote meat analogues to show curious meat-eaters that vegetarianism is not an ascetic choice. Meat-eaters who are actually open to raw experience rather than cultural conditioning may opt to choose more plant-based foods once they try these.

* SHAPE - An unspoken assumption is that meat analogues are mimicking the "animal" aprt of animal-based foods, just because they play off the name or the context. But stop and think about it: Other than, say, the UnTurkey, is there a popular meat analogue that actually mimicks the look of a cooked animal? Despite being constantly referenced as such, Tofurky certainly doesn't. Burgers, hot dogs, baloney, sausage, ground "beef" - these are overwhelmingly the popular items, and they work well without meat because they're already completely unrecognizable (hmmmmm, wonder why?) versions of their animal sources. Packing a bunch of food into a thin, edible tube makes for a good and practical format for eating, but there's nothing about it that requires or inherently references animals.

* CONVENIENCE - This takes off from the last sentence, but sometimes you want foods that are quick & easy to make. Our food industry has put a lot of time and effort into packaging animal foods in this way, much more than they have plant-based foods, so meat analogues are one quick way piggyback on that history. (And please don't bother giving me grief about "piggyback" - linguistic cliches is a whole nother blog entry.)

* TASTE/TEXTURE - This seems hard for meat-eaters to grasp, especially since they seem to hope that there is some inherent taste for blood in humans that helps justify their habit, and that vegetarians are all trying hard to deny. But it's not that meat analogues deliver the "taste of meat" (some do, to a lesser or greater extent, but if anything that can be ascribed to "habit," above), it's that sometimes, in addition to other tastes and textures in a given meal, you want a taste that's rich and salty, a texture that's juicy and chewy, that goes with other things on your plate. That's fine, nothing wrong with it. Meat analogues fill this function without needlessly dragging in dead animals to support it.

OK, I hope this clears up this issue once and for all for everyone who has been confused about it. Now that I've gone to such lengths to answer it, I trust that this question will never, ever need to be asked again. Thank you.

1 comment:

Seth Tibbott said...

Excellent job with this explanation. This is a very common question that reporters and others ask us here at the Tofurky factory in Hood River, OR. As you point out, there is no contradiction here.