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January 09, 2008

Faking it

If you're a radical carnivore, or if you've experienced fake meat only by eating Tofurky, one of the worst fake-meat products ever invented, you probably object to the concept.

In my household, though, we eat a lot of fake meat products, because keeping kosher means not eating dairy and meat at the same time. It's always nice to use fake meat so we can use real dairy products -- like "cheeseburgers" using veggie-burgers called "Grillers," or tacos with fake beef but real cheese.

I won't say we're aficionados, because we're always learning new things about fake meat products. For example, in today's Washington Post food section, there's a long article on the subject, along with taste tests of several products. (Sadly, you won't see at that link what the internal headline was in the dead-tree version, the headline on the jump page: "Is That Real Meat on Your Plate, or the Work of Seitan?")

The article distinguishes between philosophical and pragmatic vegetarians:

Of course, some vegetarians might relish the idea of eating a pig's foot made of soy protein; others, however, would rather starve than chomp on an ersatz appendage. Why, carnivores might ask, would someone who shies away from meat want to dine on a simulacrum of it? Why not just eat your veggies? It all depends on what kind of non-meat eater you are: philosophical or pragmatic.

Philosophical vegetarians, says Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, avoid meat for ethical reasons and prefer foods that taste and look like plant life. Conversely, pragmatic vegetarians love meat but not the nutritional pitfalls that come with it. "They want [vegetarian food] to taste like ground beef," Wansink said, "but without the animal fat."
Me, I find it interesting that a vegetarian, knowing that a food product is plant-based, would object simply because it looks (and perhaps tastes) like meat.

I once had a discussion about the kashrut version of this issue with a friend, who told me that a relative of his won't put non-dairy cream in his coffee with a meat meal, because it conflicts with the spirit of the rules, even though, if it's really non-dairy, there's no question that it's permissible to have it with meat.

Being something of a wiseguy, I asked him what his relative would say about this: Suppose a married couple, in intimate moments, pretended the spouse was someone else. Would they be committing adultery in spirit?

This hypothetical question really piqued his interest. He started spinning out another hypothetical that involved the husband dressing up as a cowboy, and I forget the rest, but I needed to cover his nine-year-old son's ears.