Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are you really vegan (or should you be) if you crave a lot of fake “meat”?

Back when I became vegan more than 20 years ago, Vegetarian Times had articles in it all the time about what it “really” meant to be a vegan, asking questions like, “If you think meat is so terrible, then why do you even want the ‘pretend’ stuff?” There were kind of two camps: the “purists,” who thought it was silly and made one a bit of a traitor to squash soy-based, artificially flavored, ultra-processed gelatinous mush into the shapes of the very “dead animal” foods one purported to disdain, and the folks who just wanted guilt-free burgers as close to the real thing as possible without having to think of the poor dead cow who might otherwise have sacrificed its life for that burger.

I have to admit, this has never been a particular quandary for me. I never liked meat (actually, it made me rather ill) and was very relieved to find out that I didn’t have to have it. So eating an artificially flavored soy-based substitute has never held particular attraction and I’m fine with unadulterated beans and rice, tomato-y cabbage stirfries with chickpeas, that sort of thing, with an occasional nod to fake burgers and whatnot if I’m going to a cookout (never have been able to find a burger recipe that’ll hold together on a grill).

Therefore, I don’t really know the experience of craving meat and thus needing a fake meat substitute to satisfy that craving. However, I suspect that if I did, I’d have a touch of the real thing now and then instead of lots of the fake thing.

First of all, I think it would likely be a healthier option; as I’ve said previously, I think we’re all just a bit different and need different things, so if we crave just a touch of meat, are we doing ourselves any favors by ignoring it? I’m not saying you should go ahead and just give yourself over every night to a 16-oz. porterhouse; that’s not healthy for anyone (as our burgeoning waistlines can attest), but just a touch now and then.

Second of all, I think we might very well be doing the environment a favor by doing the occasional nod to meat vs. eating lots of processed, overly packaged fake meat. It takes a lot of energy and resources to super-process and then package soy into the stuff that looks like meat. It takes a lot of energy to produce the meat itself, too, but I’d still think the resources are fewer for the meat you’d eat a bit of once a week versus the soy stuff you eat a lot of every day in the attempt to squelch cravings.

Certainly, the animal cruelty of the meat industry is enough to make anyone with even a hint of compassion want to turn away from it forever, physical needs notwithstanding. For myself, I’ve had no trouble doing that, since I already had an aversion to meat even before I found out the true conditions therein. Even so, I can still somewhat identify with the struggles vegans who still crave meat face when they try to avoid it, because I have my own guilty tugs when I pluck my kits’ chicken wings out of the freezer to thaw for their dinner. But I do it anyway, because I think it’s best for them. So I’d wonder whether we should all do ourselves the same favor, if we need it, and give our energies to changing the meat industry instead of perhaps wasting them trying to "willpower" ourselves into complete veganism, if it's unnatural to us.

1 comment:

  1. Right on!! I've had this revelation a lot of times and glad to see that someone else has thought along these lines. I do not believe in consuming copious amounts of ultra-processed soy products in place of meat. Of course, I believe that everyone can lead a happy vegan life with the right resources. Plus, it's not only bad from a resources standpoint (water, energy for processing, etc.) but having a diet that is 98% soy (soy milk, soy burgers, soy chicken, soy cheese, etc. you see my point...) cannot be healthful.