Friday, January 16, 2009

Meatless in New London

No, I'm not going vegetarian. But I have been thinking lately that it would be better for my body - and the planet - to eat a little less meat. Or a lot less meat. It really does seem like every meal revolves around protein sometimes, doesn't it? (Of course, that is because meat is DELICIOUS.)

I read a lot, and sometimes I read random things. A few months ago in an airport, I noticed a copy of the infamous diet book Skinny Bitch sitting unattended on an empty seat. No one ever came and picked up, so before boarding the plane, I swooped it off the seat and into my bag. I wanted to see what all the fuss over this book was about.

Basically, it was a "sassy tome" (publishing house marketing words, not mine) written by a former model and a former model casting agent about how cutting all meat, dairy, caffeine, and most alcohol out of your diet is the only way to be healthy and skinny. Needless to say, it's a little extreme, yet I think the basic principles outlined did have a point. We probably all should eat less meat - better for us, better for the environment, etc. And I get the majority of the book's points about dairy: I mean, we really ARE the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species (although I think cheese is the most glorious food on the planet).

However, I do not necessarily agree with the book's assertion that the only way to be completely healthy is to replace all of these things with vegan products made to simulate them. I mean, a veggie burger or crumbled tofu are certainly a good protein substitute for hamburgers and taco meat. But have you ever read the label of vegan "cheese" or vegan "bacon"? There's just as many scary-sounding unrecognizable ingredients as there are in a Kraft single (processed "cheese" food?) Instead of eating all this fake stuff, wouldn't we be better off maybe to cut drastically back on the meat but to fill that void with fresh fruits and veggies? To be fair, the book does advocate fruit and vegetables in a big way. But almost every recipe in the accompanying cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, contains multiple fake ingredients.

I decided to do a little experiment and but back on meat for one week to see how it went. I decided on lunch, a meal I normally fill with leftovers from the previous night's dinner (I figured we could eat the leftovers for dinner the next night and save me some cooking - two meals for the price of one). Just out of curiosity, I bought some of these vegan substitutes to see how they tasted.

My first meatless/dairy-free meal consisted of a Boca burger patty (which I have eaten before simply for the convenience of being a microwaveable food) with vegan bacon and vegan cheese (I got tired of typing to quotation marks around "bacon" and "cheese" - you guys know what I am talking about).

The vegan cheese - or Veggie Slice, as I believe it was called - looked exactly like a Kraft Single...which is something I never eat (I buy sandwich cheese from the deli counter). It was even encased in individual plastic sleeves (shouldn't vegan products be more environmentally friendly than that?)

The vegan bacon was pretty weird looking from the get go - first of all, it was maroon; second, it tore apart really easily. Also, the flat strips did not curl up or shrivel at all when cooked. It went from being a semi-soft maroon strip to a crisp maroon strip. I stacked the bacon on top of the burger and melted the cheese over the whole thing - it took longer than regular cheese to melt - and apprehensively took a bite.

It tasted like nothing. I mean, it tasted like Boca Burger, which if you have ever had one, you know has a pretty distinct taste. But not only did the vegan cheese and bacon not taste anything like cheese or bacon, they just didn't taste like ANYTHING. I was kind of disappointed - I was expecting more. Even more terrible would have been OK - totally tasteless, however, is just not worth it.

I ate the fake cheese and fake bacon on a ground chicken burger the next night purely to save some calories and found myself also saving taste as well. Honestly, instead of using these products to cut weight you should just skip them all together. I am more mad about ingesting 80 calories of tasteless cheese and bacon than I would be about eating a naked burger.

So...although I still am actively trying to cut back on meat and some dairy, the only fake products I am keeping on the menu are the Boca burgers, Morningstar Breakfast Patties, and Silk vanilla soy milk. I am willing to swap out meat for soy products occasionally, but I am done trying to substitute things like bacon and cheese. And since I hate real mayonnaise, I can safely say I will never try vegan mayonnaise.

Some things just aren't worth it.


Jennifer said...

I was thinking about getting Skinny Bitch awhile back. I never did because I was not sure it was really going to say anything that I haven't already heard. From the few excerpts I have read I am very surprised that they advocate fake foods.

I have to agree that we really should cut a lot of the crap out. It is far better for us and the environment. Not to mention the cost of meat these days! You should check out the book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. I got it for Christmas and it has a recipe for just about anything!

Rose said...

I was just looking at Skinny Bitch tonight. I read the first couple of chapters and quickly realized that when they said "vegetarian" they meant "vegan." I don't think I could make it without dairy and actually have felt better since I've been eating more (the blood type diet book says that its good for my type...). I stopped reading the book because it made me even more confused about what is good and what is bad.

I agree with trying to eat less meat, though. I've been actively started to choose more meatless meals. I think the reality is that I am always going to want to eat meat, but I can definitely eat more vegetables and less of the processed foods.

John said...

While I enjoy the Boca Burger, my real favorite is the Boca Chicken patties. I haven't had a real chicken patty since the UConn dining halls since I discovered Boca's version. Super convenient and with lettuce and tomato you'd think it was the real thing.

Alison said...

I would highly recommend reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver if you haven't yet. It actually made me stop eating fake vegetarian stuff because, although it's convenient to microwave a Boca product, it's full of preservatives and sodium and basically as far as you can get from "real" food. Kind of like the vegetarian version of McDonald's. I think the best, healthiest, most environmentally-friendly diet to eat consists of foods that are as close to their natural state as fruits and veggies and fresh, locally farmed meat and dairy. I feel a million times better after eating a fresh, preservative-free meal than fake vegetarian food out of the freezer.