Firstly, let’s answer THAT question. The one meat eaters get so irate about, and that vegetarians find the most tedious.
“Why do vegetarians and vegans want meat alternatives?”
It’s probably the same reason you eat meat. Often, vegetarians seek meat alternatives because meat tastes great. There’s nothing like the flavour or texture of it. It’s really that simple.
Meat also provides protein. It’s not difficult to cook protein rich meals from cheese, eggs, beans and soy. It’s just sometimes easier to rely on the protein provided by meat alternative products.
Evolution and the Environment
For me, there are two much more sensible questions.
Humans are made to eat meat. Over thousands of years we’ve evolved into omnivores. Yet it’s only in the last fifty years that so many humans have started to eat meat on such a big scale.
In the UK, you could eat a different pork product for every meal, every day for a month, and never see a live pig. The same goes for most other meats. Some of your living relatives may have grown up eating meat just once a week.
For a start, heavy meat consumption can create health problems. It’s been linked to increased risk of developing stomach and pancreatic cancer. High levels of saturated fat can lead to increased cholesterol and put you at risk of heart disease.
And where are all those pigs? Pigs are the planet’s third most intelligent mammal. Taking a moment to find out how they’re treated during meat production might shock a lot of people.
As mentioned, meats provide important proteins for us. Nobody here is saying that people should stop altogether. But we could all cut down. Meat Free Mondays are a great idea to start cutting down on meat consumption.
We chose five meat alternative products to review as a family. The reviewers were
Me – I’ve eaten no meat for 16 months but still don’t refer to myself as a vegetarian.
Anna, my wife – she’s not eaten meat for 16 months either, and badly misses chicken.
Tom, my eldest – he’s 8 years old, mostly vegetarian by his own choice, but eats chicken occasionally, and finally,
Harvey, my youngest – he’s 5 years old. He’s a great meat eater, but a very good vegetable eater too.
Cauldron Lincolnshire Sausages
Meal: Sausage, Mash and Peas
We’ve tried many different types of veggie sausage over the past 16 months, and these are the clear winner for us.
It’s not a sloppy sausage made of potato and vegetables. It’s been made to replicate an actual pork sausage. Importantly, it has a fantastic flavour and texture – one that you can really associate with a Lincolnshire pork sausage.
Harvey’s review is king here because he had a normal pork sausage less than a week ago!
Anna: Definitely the best veggie sausage I’ve tasted, fantastic in a sandwich.
Tom: Great sausage flavour.
Harvey: Good, like a normal sausage.
Quorn Wafer Thin Ham
Meal: Ham and English Mustard Sandwich
Have you ever ripped open a packet of wafer thin ham, grabbed a handful and dangled it into your mouth? Lovely, isn’t it? If you manage to do that with this stuff and keep it down then you’re a better man than me.
Eating this straight out of the packet is pretty rank. It also has to be said that if you eat it this way it tastes nothing like ham whatsoever.
Yet, Tom and myself love it! Ham and mustard, beef, horseradish and rocket, turkey and veggie stuffing. Making a bit of effort transforms these veggie meats into something great!
Anna: Not my thing, wouldn’t have again.
Tom: Loved it.
Harvey (real ham is his favourite): It was a good sandwich.
Tesco Chicken Style Pieces
Meal: Chicken Bhuna with Peppers
One of the things we’ve really missed since becoming veggie is a decent curry! This is an old family recipe which my mum was given by a Goan guy when we spent some time in Kuwait. It was always made with chicken. Now we normally cook it with a shed load of peppers or add in a tin of jackfruit.
The chicken style pieces added a little something extra to the meal. They bulked it out and added some vital protein. What they didn’t bring though, was decent texture or flavour.
The pieces didn’t absorb the curry flavour at all. Instead, they clung on to the fake roasted chicken flavour that had been added to them (like chicken flavour crisps).
Anna: Spongy and fake tasting.
Tom: Not very creative with the square shape, like the taste though.
Harvey: Only like it a little bit, not that much. Tastes funny.
Tesco Mince Made with Soya
Meal: Shepherd’s Pie
Our version is packed with veg; celery, carrots, swede and onions, but it lacks a little something. Adding in this mince means that visually it looks a lot more like a Shepherd’s Pie. It fills in the gaps between the veg for a start.
It also gives a bit of texture to the dish – although it’s certainly not adding any flavour.
Anna: Finishes off the dish nicely, good to know you’re getting the protein.
Tom: The food is good but the mince is a bit squidgy
Harvey: I like it.
Quorn Fishless Fingers
Meal: Fish Fingers, Chips and Peas
The easiest meal of the week, and the one that I was dreading most. This is not something I would ever buy – when I ate meat I had no love for fish. I did eat cod fish fingers in sandwiches though, as I found cod to be the least ‘fishy fish’.
Quorn pieces with added fishy flavour didn’t appeal.
The smell of fishiness put me off even before I ate one. When I did eat one I have to admit they did taste and have a texture like a fish finger. Not a cod fish finger but a cheap mushy one made from a random fish. The type of fish fingers that are usually grey inside.
If you like fish, these are probably good, I wasn’t a fan and ate them covered in salad cream.
Anna: I like them, I would buy them again and would enjoy them in a sandwich.
Tom: They’re OK, quite fishy but OK. Wouldn’t want them often.
Harvey*: I like them, I want them again
*Harvey finished these in a flash!
Meat Alternatives – The Wrap Up
As a vegetarian you soon discover the sheer variation in taste and possibilities that vegetables provide is enormous. These meat alternative products don’t really compare, and in my eyes, should struggle to exist. But they do exist, and they have a role to play.
They’re great when you first stop eating meat, they make you feel ‘normal’ at mealtimes. They add something to meals that is difficult to replicate with veg alone. The Shepherd’s Pie looked and felt so much better with the mince added.
Are meat alternatives tasty on their own? Absolutely not. You have to create a meal around them. Even the cauldron sausages need sauce, mash or bread to really appreciate them.
Are they nutritious? They’re no superfood but for providing the protein that vegetarians lack? They’re useful, not to mention incredibly simple.
Mostly, it’s just nice to fit in sometimes. If you’re having a sausage sandwich for breakfast, can’t I have the same?!