COMMENTARY | There's a new meat substitute available, one that closely mimics the taste and texture of chicken, it actually fooled Mark Bittman, a New York Times food critic, according to ABC News. In the test market in California, Whole Foods apparently can't keep up with the demand for "Beyond Meat" and the Northern California frozen foods coordinator for the chain, Mathew Mestemacher, says if it keeps selling at the current rate, the product might find its way to more shelves in as little as two weeks.
It's made from extruded plant protein, a combination of soy, pea powder, "carrot fiber" and gluten-free flour, but it's supposed to be more palatable than it sounds. Besides, "extruded plant protein" is an easier sell than say the Quorn line of meat substitute products, which uses the technical-sounding mycoprotein instead of "fungus" to describe the main ingredient of its faux meat.
I am not a vegetarian, though I sometimes think of myself as vegetarian-adjacent. Technically, I'm what's been dubbed a "flexitarian." I rarely eat meat at home, and if I do, it's usually part of a frozen meal.
But my diet isn't based on morality or the healthiness or nonhealthiness of various forms of animal protein. It's basically a preference; I'm not crazy about many kinds of meat so I'm not going to the trouble of properly handling and cooking it, though it's fine when someone else does.
I've tried the Quorn products, which I find delicious, but my body does not. My issues are nowhere as severe as those that others have reported, prompting the Center for Science in the Public Interest to suggest the FDA require the fungus-based imitation chicken product carry a warning label.
I'll probably try this one too when it hits my Whole Foods, if for nothing more than curiosity. I am the person for whom "good for you" processed foods are made because I want to believe there is no internal contradiction.
Yet I always wonder about the real vegetarians who buy these foods and I get caught in a kind of a loop. If you don't eat meat for moral reasons, shouldn't the concept of meat -- real or otherwise -- gross you out? And if you don't eat meat for health reasons, is a maximally processed pressed together substitute really that much better for you?
What we eat is a complex, complicated matrix these days, with each food choice unleashing a cascade of questions: Is it local? Is it humane? Is it bad for the environment? What is extruded plant protein, really, and why did it take ten years and two professors to make it?
In a way, I think these products are a tiny attempt to cheat nature, a way of saying our brains can dominate the rules of nutrition and calories. If we think about it hard enough, we can have it all.
And yet I'm still going to try it. Though I might pass on some of the products to come. Ethan Brown, the company founder, says the product can even imitate fish. Now that's an offering I can probably refuse.