We’ve long been told to reduce the amount of meat we eat in our diets – and it’s no secret that many of us try to fit meat-free meals into our eating plans.
Vegan alternatives to meat became increasingly popular because they allowed those who usually ate a lot of meat to gradually wean themselves off a carnivorous diet – without resorting to eating vegetables alone. There are countless brands – but have you ever stopped to read what’s inside these vegan meat substitutes?
It’s cynical greed that gets me. Turn on primetime TV or allow ads to slide on YouTube, and every food processor and retailer seems to be taking advantage of the vegan movement, promoting their products as healthy and virtuous.
I have nothing against veganism if you are someone who is committed to going vegan. Ditching animal products completely isn’t for me, but few people would disagree that as a nation we should be eating less meat and more vegetables. Although there are compelling arguments that free range meat can have positive effects on the planet, particularly in the UK where it can go hand in hand with the less drastic versions of rewilding, avoiding meat from Intensive farming makes sense for damage. it does to the environment as well as the animal welfare issues involved. Experimenting with meatless meals is not a bad plan. So what exactly is the problem?
Are the best meat alternatives actually healthy?
The problem is that while it is possible to have a healthy vegan diet (with care and vitamin B12 supplements), many of these vegan meat substitutes or meat analogues, as they are known in the industry, are not healthy at all. They fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, first identified by Brazilian academics as part of the NOVA classification. UPFs are now widely recognized by food experts as unhealthy and possibly addictive, blamed for the rising incidence of obesity and ill health around the world.
NOVA divides all foods into four categories. “Unprocessed or minimally processed foods” refers to raw ingredients such as fruits, vegetables and meat. The second category, culinary ingredients, covers the tastes of flour and oil, while the third, processed foods, includes cheese, for example tofu or bread if it is made only from flour, yeast, salt and water.
The final category is ultra-processed foods, products that typically come in packaging and include ingredients and processes you wouldn’t use at home, according to NOVA, “especially flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to mimic sensory qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to conceal undesirable qualities of the final product”. In other words, products – I hesitate to call food – that is manipulated to deceive us, to make the ingredients seem more palatable, or more durable, or somehow better than they actually are.
While a grilled chicken breast would count as minimally processed, or possibly “processed” if you include a little salt and oil, these “BBQ Herbal Chicken Gourds” are undoubtedly ultra-processed, containing more 30 ingredients including methylcellulose, maltodextrin and dried ingredients. glucose syrup. Not so appetizing, but it’s not just a matter of taste. UPFs don’t just fool our palates, they also mess with our bodies, triggering hormones that encourage us to overeat.
Yet somehow the food industry is determined to sell us the message that vegan products are inherently wholesome and wholesome. Even the word vegan has been tossed aside, likely because it has connotations of abstinence and dinners that taste like hair shirts. Nowadays, everything revolves around the “plant”. Tesco has named its vegan range Plant Chef, M&S has gone for Plant Kitchen, Morrisons has Plant Revolution, Waitrose is called PlantLife. Asda chose Plant Based. The other day I came across a chutney proudly labeled “plant-based.” Yes, chutney, as if chutney was never made exclusively from plants. After that ? Vegetable jam? A vegetable apple?
The vegan or vegan diet
This lovely word “plant” has a whiff of nature, countryside, health, fresh air, natural foliage. Sainsbury’s Plant Pioneers range even sports a cheeky green leaf that stands out from the logo, although there’s nothing green about the beige Cumberland mushrooms or the oddly orange smoked bacon strips, both of which contain more than one dozen ingredients. Yes, some of the ingredients are derived from plants, but aside from the herbs in the mushrooms, you’d have to go far back to find many green leaves. The factory as in the manufacturing plant looks like a closer association.
The vegan movement is multiplying television campaigns. A recent Viva advert shows a cute couple petting their dog before ordering a take-out delivery of pulled pork. The ‘Just Meat’ delivery man (geddit??) arrives with a live piglet and a cleaver, while the dog whimpers. Shocking, sure, and you could say a reminder of where our meat comes from is long overdue (though this cute piglet looked way below slaughter weight to me). But the length to which we delude ourselves about food in the supermarket refrigerated cabinet and how it gets there is not limited to meat. A movie showing the industrialized process that goes into making the textured plant protein in vegan sausages or the culture vats of citric acid (the acidity regulator in many processed foods) would be equally heartbreaking.
Despite all my apprehensions, these vegan products have a place, but not as healthy foods. If chicken nuggets or seafood sticks or cheap sausages are your favorite thing (no judgment here: I have a thing for old Caramac bars, the essence of ersatz confectionery), then it’s worth definitely worth reaching for the fake bacon and the beefless got-beef. Many of them are incredibly accurate copies of meat junk food, which means there’s no earthly reason for an animal to be raised in cramped conditions to turn the turkey over when a indistinguishable product can be made from soy protein.
But please don’t kid yourself that this is healthy food. It’s junk. While health experts urge us to eat more vegetables, that’s not what they mean. They mean real vegetables, you know, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. The herbal kind.