Faux-blood oozing, lab-made mock meat cannot be the perfect alternative for vegetarians – or carnivores
EXCERPT: If millions of Indians can have perfectly satisfied and sated lives for millennia without eating or hankering after meat — even Virat Kohli says he feels stronger and fitter after turning vegetarian — why do so many people think that plants must ape meat in order to be accepted? So much so that even GM ingredients are deemed acceptable?
Will vegetarians vote for this mock-meat version?
Reshmi R. Dasgupta
The Economic Times, November 9, 2019
Is it Impossible to be truly vegetarian?
Faux-blood oozing, lab-made mock meat cannot be the perfect alternative for vegetarians – or carnivores.
In this age of organic whole grains, cold pressed coconut oil, turmeric latte and the like, you are handed food that contained— among other things—methylcellulose, cultured dextrose, leghemoglobin, mixed tocopherols and zinc glutonate would you say “Yum!” or “Yuck”? Judging by the latest earnings report of Burger King, it’s the former. The Impossible Burger—a concoction of proteins, starches, genetically modified yeast [GMW: In fact it's genetically modified yeast-derived proteins] and other laboratory-made delights — has become a hit when the ‘woke’ world is advocating going back to natural and seasonal food. Though its ingredients list reads like the back of a shampoo bottle, its fake-blood-oozing lure is apparently irresistible.
This acceptance of double standards when it comes to meat substitutes is curious indeed. And the question that must particularly strike desi vegetarians is whether faux-meat — especially those that closely replicate even that metallic taste of blood like the Impossible Burger — can be considered yummy by anyone except closet carnivores.
The ‘discovery’ of leghemoglobin and its use in the Impossible Burger is significant. All living things including plants contain ‘heme’, which in animals (including us) is carried by blood. Impossible Burger’s inventors have used iron-rich heme molecules in soy to replicate the flavour and smell of meat-blood for the patty [GMW: The heme in the Impossible Burger is a component of soy leghemoglobin, derived from yeast that is genetically engineered to express a gene from the soybean]. Yum or yuck?
The West mistakenly believes that most vegetarians abjure meat only because they object to the killing of animals and if that inevitability was somehow averted, they would take to it happily. They are truly mystified to learn that most Indian vegetarians not only don’t want to taste (much less long for) meat, even the smell repulses them.
Chinese restaurants are famous worldwide for their ‘mock meat’ preparations, but Chindian ones stick to Gobi Manchurian. And while soy chunks are now regarded as ‘sabzi’, its granule or keema version is relished as a ‘healthy’ alternative to meat by Indian nonvegetarians only, not by ‘strict’ vegetarians longing for that forbidden taste.
The very real meatiness of the Impossible Burger—and breathless descriptions of how closely it echoes the flavour of beef in particular— will certainly put off Indians, perhaps even many non-vegetarian ones. As Indian meats are never left blood-dripping rare in any preparation, a prime attraction of Impossible faux meat would be redundant.
Can this plant-based red-meat-like protein pulled off the impossible: get people to vote with their mouths on its so-called planet saving measure to rid the world of the environmentally harmful meat — mainly beef and pork — industry? Its soy and other plant based ingredients will also have to be grown somewhere to create this ‘meat’ after all.
The idea of lab-grown and genetically modified ingredients smacks of frankenfood. Like the recent scare by the FDA in US about the antacid ranitidine may increase the risk of cancer — now downgraded by the same agency as being as harmful as a chargrilled steak — it is not impossible that this concoction may be indicted one day too.
If millions of Indians can have perfectly satisfied and sated lives for millennia without eating or hankering after meat — even Virat Kohli says he feels stronger and fitter after turning vegetarian — why do so many people think that plants must ape meat in order to be accepted? So much so that even GM ingredients are deemed acceptable?
Plants have their own intrinsic flavours just like meats. Would anyone consider eating a steak that tastes like broccoli? Or a chicken cutlet that has the look and flavour of cottage cheese? Unlikely, as vegetarians (most, if not all, of them) won’t eat meat even if it tastes like a vegetable. That’s the difference between them and meat-eaters.
Instead of extracted ‘potato proteins’ (like the Impossible Burger) why should a committed vegetarian not just relish an aloo tikki or rajma burger? The only meatlike veggie Indian vegetarians accept is the fibrous kanthal (jackfruit). Surely a yen for fake blood indicates forced adherence to vegetarianism without respect for its flavours?
Nothing “plant-based” that comes from a lab can be better than what is grown in season, in soil without chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and eaten in an undeconstructed form. No yum or yuck dilemma there. What Earth needs is not lab-grown meat and fake meat but food— vegetables and meat—ethically produced and eaten in moderation.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.