Going vegetarian was probably one of the easiest things I have ever done. I have never really liked meat. I ate it mostly because that is what everyone else was usually eating. Plus, after preparing endless hamburgers and frozen chicken samples as a sample girl in college, I honestly lost my appetite for any sort of animal meat. But I wanted to share some of my thoughts on meat alternatives:
A Meat-Centric Culture
So why am I obsessed with meat alternatives?
Plant-based buffalo wings
Fake fish sticks (my personal guilty pleasure….)
My mind automatically wants to center meals around some sort of “meat”. In so many American households, meat is the main course, so the go-to meal is some sort of animal meat plus a side of veggies. Pot roast and potatoes. Grilled chicken and veggies. And Thanksgiving day is absolutely an obvious example. The veggies are put on the side -literally- so that meat can be the center of attention.
And now, vegan and vegetarian companies are capitalizing on the fact that Americans love easy-to-prep meals that have a meaty substance, which, as a marketing major, is something I can greatly appreciate. They have found a market that is becoming increasingly more popular, and are selling more alternatives than ever.
According to a post on Forbes.com by Janet Forgreive: “Sales of plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods including meat, cheese, milk and eggs grew 17% over the past year, while overall U.S. food sales rose only 2%, according to data from Nielsen and the Good Food Institute. The market for such foods totaled more than $3.7 billion.”
The Impossible and Beyond Alternatives
Some of the most insane vegan alternatives are the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger. They are plant-based burgers that are supposed to look (and the Beyond Burger even “bleeds”) exactly like meat.
I remember ordering an Impossible burger at Full Sail Brewery in Oregon, and I seriously picked it apart because it looked so much like real meat. To be totally honest, I was a little freaked out. Because I genuinely do not like meat, I also do not care for these alternatives. I would rather have a southwest black bean burger or mushroom burger.
However, I do think this is a critical step. Creating a product that can taste like meat can hopefully urge people to try a plant-based diet, without sacrificing the taste that they love. One of the best things I have seen recently is the Burger King commercial showcasing the new Impossible Burger. Burger King does not reveal to the customers that they are eating something that is solely plant-based until after they have finished the meal. I personally would rather go to a local vegan joint rather than Burger King, but I still appreciate the effort.
Another important thing to note is that the Beyond Burger is soy-free and gluten-free, which are often pain-points for vegan skeptics trying vegan foods.
Plant-Based on a Budget
One of the biggest drivers in trying to steer away from meat alternatives is the pricing of the products. Meat alternatives are significantly pricier than just buying plain old beans in bulk. When I have the time, prepping my meals from scratch is much more cost-effective.
Even if I simply want BBQ jackfruit, it’s so much cheaper to buy jackfruit in a can, and then season it myself than it is to get a preseasoned jackfruit package. Paying attention to the products you can season yourself can easily cut down your budget by a great amount.
If I am craving meat alternatives, I often stock up when I get coupons from Smith’s, or to be totally honest, Winco has the best bang for your buck in the frozen vegetarian section.
Eating Whole Foods
I would like to say that I try as hard as I can to eat only whole foods when making my meals, but I definitely get lazy. If I don’t plan a meal ahead of time, my go-to is always a Chick-Fil-A copycat sandwich or a Veggie Burger. While I try and opt for Black bean burgers or ones that have ingredients as whole as possible, it’s hard to avoid processed alternatives when taking the easy road.
This is one of the diet goals that I am working towards. I am trying to look at meat alternatives as a special treat, just like any other processed food, instead of making it the main focus of my meals.
Instead, I am stocking my fridge and pantry with whole veggies and fruits. Not only does this offer nutrient-dense meals to keep me healthy, but it also keeps my brain healthy. It urges me to use a more creative approach to cooking, instead of getting stuck in a rut of meat and a veggie.
On this note, I don’t remember the last time I bought anything frozen. I know that frozen broccoli is just broccoli, but by having the fresh stuff is soooo much better. The taste is better, but it makes me use the products before they go bad, instead of letting them just sit in my freezer and get freezer-burned.
Sustainability and Meat Alternatives
This goes along with eating whole foods. Unless you are making your own meat alternatives from bulk scratch (my brother has made “chicken” wings from wheat protein, and trust me, it was a mess and a half that took a total of three hours.. even though they were amazing), meat alternatives are usually heavily packaged in plastic.
By getting whole foods or bulk items, you are able to cut out a significant amount of waste. Other vegan alternatives items like Vegan ranch dressing or Vegenaise can usually be found in recyclable or reusable glass, but meat alternatives are exclusively found in plastic-wrapped packages, no matter if it’s frozen or refrigerated.
One of my favorite brands of frozen vegan goods, Quorn, is my favorite simply because the “meat” patties come only in a recyclable cardboard box and not in plastic inside the box. I usually buy this brand solely based on this fact. I have not found other brands that follow this same packaging protocol. (Thanks Quorn!)
- You don’t have to center your meal around meat. Let plants take over your plate!
- If you like meat, try the Impossible or Beyond burger!
- Processed vegan foods can make being plant-based very expensive. Make these items a special treat.
- Focus on whole foods. Relying on meat substitutes can have negative effects on your diet if you aren’t careful.
- Being vegan should also go hand in hand with trying to reduce waste. Think twice about packaging.
What are your thoughts?
Your fake-fish-stick lover and full-time plant-eater,