11 April 2011

The mock meat debate: Is it okay for vegans and vegetarians to consume?

The issue of whether it is ethically correct for vegetarians and vegans to eat faux meat has long been debated and become somewhat of an enigma.

As vegans we strive to live a humane lifestyle by eliminating all animal products from our diet and that sometimes comes with the price of feeling alienated at social or family gatherings. That’s where faux meat comes in, for many vegans it has served as a lifeline and a way to fit in.

With the new brands of faux meat tasting and looking pretty close to the real thing, these products have contributed to more people becoming vegan by serving as a gateway food to becoming and staying vegan. Which is great because it has saved the lives of many animals that would have otherwise been slaughtered.

However there is also a dark side to faux meat which has quickly become a million dollar industry.

Mock meat is heavily processed which obviously isn’t all that healthy. Additionally, if you plan to eat soy-based faux meats it is advised to purchase organic products since organic foods are not permitted to be genetically modified.

You also might want to consider the company behind mock meat production. Although you might be eating a faux meat your overall purchase could be supporting cruelty. For example, Morning Star Foods is owned by Kellogg’s and Boca Burger is owned by Kraft.

The question that has arisen recently, is it ethically correct to eat something that looks similar to the real thing even though its vegan?

Even though I feel faux meat is great for a lot people, I personally do not agree with the decision to consume these products. Let me clarify something, I became vegetarian in 1997 and later vegan. At the time I was transitioning to a completely animal free diet for the most part packaged faux meats did not exist. A lot of people did not agree with the diet or know what it meant to be vegetarian. As a way to make sure meat was not put in my food by mistake I learned to recognize it by texture.

To be honest I feel if you become vegan you are doing it for ethical reasons and by eating something that looks,tastes and has a similar texture to real meat you are inadvertently adding to the stigma that some people have that vegans are closet meat eaters.

I do agree products like Gardein and Field Roast are great for many people who want to make the transition to a vegan diet. The Los Angeles-based food chain the Yard House now offers 25 meat free dishes made from Gardein. Omnivores are even surprised how similar the faux meat tastes to the real thing, thus making it a feasible option to eat instead of chowing down on the real thing.

I guess when it comes down to it mock meat consumption is a double edged sword. It’s great because it makes it possible for more people to become vegan. Although a lot of store bought brands are processed as time goes by faux meat is evolving and becoming healthier creating a market for "homemade" brands. Either way you’re choosing to say no to the cruelty of factory farming.

At the same time you have to wonder what kind of message we as vegetarians and vegans are sending by choosing to eat faux meat and is it the kind of message we want to convey?

Jodi Truglio | email
Jodi is a strict vegan and animal rights advocate that grew up in up-state New York. She holds a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. In her spare time Jodi enjoys doing yoga and pilates.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants