By John Keeble
I think I might have egg and bacon for breakfast tomorrow – I know it will be completely vegan and cruelty free. Actually, I probably won’t … just the thought of it puts me off even though I know it is animal-free.
Animal-free? How can that be? Ah, well, that is part of the enormous food changes gathering pace across much of the world.
My dilemma about eating animal-free products mimicking animal-cruelty originals also marks an interesting sea change in veganism: animal consumers are becoming the new vegans, and the vegan dinosaurs like me shun even animal-like creations. Tricky to get a grip on? Try it from my prospective.
The widespread effort now is to reach carnivores wanting to transition into plant-based food for the sake of their health and to combat animal cruelty and huge damage to the planet. This is being advanced at an astonishing rate by an army of angels, including entrepreneurs, wanting to save people, animals, and our home as it spins through space.
Recently consumer reasons for change have expanded to include social inequality with millions of people facing food insecurity and conflict while the vast majority of farm-produced crops go to fatten animals for the rich nations to eat while people in other nations starve. This is a dynamic situation: it is a refugee and migrant driver to add to the growing force of climate change.
While long-term vegans cheer on the angels, many refuse the animal-like products and home recipes simply because they are so like meat, dairy and fish.
This is playing out in strange ways. For example, my meat-eating hiking buddy Steve Ekholm loves the Beyond Meat vegan burgers at Cuchi Suco BBQ restaurant. I tried a Beyond Meat burger at Negroni rooftop eatery overlooking Parque Calderon and had to pass it on to another diner because it was too realistic.
“If Beyond Meat burgers can help a confirmed carnivore like me cut back on the real thing, it has to be good enough to creep you out!” Steve told me.
“******, I can’t eat this!” was my reaction when I tasted my burger. It was too-meaty, too realistic. Fortunately my good-natured, non-vegan dining companion was happy to take my vegan burger and give me her fries in exchange.
The foresight, courage, principles, skills and creativity of chefs, social media cooking specialists, bloggers, nutritional scientists, investors, and commercial companies are making vegan meals so healthy and attractive that they are easing the transition from eating animals to plant-based nutrition.
While many innovations are startlingly apparent in eateries and retail outlets, significant lower-profile work is being done to produce vegetable nutrition and protein at costs lower than animal alternatives. The market for this is potentially enormous as processed food companies move to cheaper and healthier plant-based options.
A worrying aspect of this is that the big meat and dairy firms will not go gracefully. They are trying to create ever-cheaper products by increasing the exploitation of animals with mega-farms and faster slaughterhouse processes. In other words, cruelty added to cruelty in the name of profits and their customers who refuse to accept their culpability in financing it.
Non-vegan developments include laboratory grown meat. Commercial enterprises in Singapore and Israel have people eating meat grown without animals and the US is likely to follow soon. They have some way to go to upscale laboratory development to commercial production, thus reducing the costs to the consumer and making it a viable product. The big advantages: no animal cruelty and a fraction of the environmental and climate damage that the meat and dairy industries cause. It may not score so well on the social equality scale.
However, most diet efforts to combat global warming, health issues, cruelty to animals, and social inequality have come from plant-based specialists.
Hence vegan eggs and bacon for breakfast … homemade at present but commercial companies are looking for product development. A day rarely goes by without new plant-based meals and ingredients being announced for eateries and retail outlets. And the internet is teeming with plant-based recipes and demonstrations ranging across the world’s cuisines.
Veganising animal options is not new. I recall three decades ago going to an intensely religious festival in Thailand. It was a blend of Taoism and Buddhism and I knew all the food was vegan. But I still could not eat “pork” made from tofu. It was easier for me to photograph the blood of the “enchanted horses” (people) who had spikes through their faces as part of the nine days of worship welcoming the nine Emperor Gods of China.
Try-Plant is one of those offering vegan fried eggs. It states with the recipe: “There’s nothing we can’t make vegan! This 100% plant-based fried egg looks and tastes just like the ones you’re used to! The creative tofu-based alternative is high in calcium, protein, iron and has 3.5 times less saturated fat than chicken eggs. Why not give it a try!”
Connoisseurus Veg blog, published since 2013, is among those offering vegan bacon. The blogger, named only as Alissa, says with her recipe: “Vegan bacon made from coconut? OH YES! Crispy, smoky, just a tad sweet, and so amazingly delicious, you’ll never miss the real thing!” If that recipe does not work for you, try one of the others.
At the moment, it is a lot easier (if less healthy, and certainly cruel and exploitative) to crack open a chicken’s egg than to make vegan egg. But every innovation starts as an idea. The best enter a process that finally makes them cheap and everyday easy for the consumer. Using egg replacers for cooking is remarkably easy now.
Many dishes, like “whole-cut vegan steak”, are available and easy now for those in the right place to take advantage of the offers – distribution is taking time but that, too, is expanding at a rapid rate. This is especially true of the US and the UK.
VegNews reported: “Indonesian vegan meat start-up Green Rebel recently debuted Beefless Steak at two of the largest steakhouse chains in the country. The whole-cut vegan steak is available at 29 locations. Made with soy protein and shiitake mushrooms, the Beefless Steak offers a similar taste and texture to its animal-based counterpart but without the need to slaughter animals for food.”
In Cuenca, vegans (and vegetarians) rarely encounter difficulties in getting excellent meals in restaurants. Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, pizza, Ecuadorian, fusion and so on. Several – like the popular YuA, Good Affinity, El Oasis and Fratello restaurants – are exclusively or mostly vegan and attract a wide clientele. Cuenca Vegans & Vegetarians Facebook group welcomes anyone going towards veganism and which is not limited to vegans and vegetarians (except in the subject of posts). It has more than 570 members, and you will be welcomed.
At home, nutritious and tasty vegan meals are easy and the time and the cost are very low indeed. Pasta dishes are simple, of course – though some are a little more time-consuming and some mimic meat: Vegan Beef Ravioli with a Savoury Mushroom and Walnut Filling, for example. Asian vegan dishes can be fantastic – try 50 Chinese Inspired Dishes. Whatever cuisine or meal type you want, you can now find vegan options with no more effort than googling.
One of this year’s surprises: vegan BBQ on-the-bone ribs. You can make this dish yourself but, with the commercial rush to meet market growth, it is entirely possible that something similar will be offered retail by BBQ season 2022. And if this recipe does not work for you, take a look at all the other vegan BBQ “meat” recipes and demonstrations of YouTube and other social media platforms.
This year, Beyond Meat is partnering delivery platform DoorDash to offer vegan BBQ burger kits in 14 US cities… and there are hundreds of retail and home-recipe burgers to choose from. A full investigation might take longer – Google just told me that it had found 161 million references to vegan burgers.
A few vegan meal developments have caught my eye over the past month or two, though some seem rather like extreme fashion when you buy your clothes at Macy’s. They are fun, anyway, and transitioning and new vegans are going for them:
Vegans, per se, are not the target for vegan creations being likened to, or named after, meat, dairy and fish alternatives. In fact, it puts off people like me while attracting those who want to retain the ideas and tastes of animal and fish meals as they consume healthier and cruelty-free meals. They are the big market.