Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If You Like Fried Chicken and Roast Chicken Do Not Read This – But If You Want to Reduce Animal Protein in Your Diet There is Good News

From Mark Bittman, America’s Best Food Writer

Very few people have heard of Mark Bittman,  but his is unquestionably the best food commentator in America.  His regular recipes and video’s in the New York Times were the best food advice ever, he just didn’t get the glamour jobs like the hero’s of the Food Network or the great restaurant chefs. 

It’s not just that Mr. Bittman is an engaging personality with a great food credentials.  He genuinely cares about the environment and health and nutrition, and since he left active recipe writing he has devoted himself to improving America’s diet and educating Americans on just how their food is grown and (sorry) slaughtered.  Mr. Bittman is no raging vegetarian, but he, like the rest of us, wants to reduce animal protein in the diet for both health and humane reasons.

Mr. Bittman - Make His
Recipes and You Will Enjoy

So now Mr. Bittman has found a vegetable produced substitute for chicken which in his gourmet opinion is as tasty as the real thing.  Mr. Bittman admits he is not a favorite of the fake meat industry.

My personal approval of fake meat, for what it’s worth, has been long in coming. I like traditional meat substitutes, liketofu, bean burgers, vegetable cutlets, and so on, but have been mostly repelled by unconvincing nuggets and hot dogs, which lack bite, chew, juiciness and flavor. I’m also annoyed by the cost: why pay more for fake meat than real meat, especially since the production process is faster, easier and involves no butchering?

But now says that he has found a chicken substitute that is as good as the real thing.

But in October I visited a place in The Hague called The Vegetarian Butcher, where the “butcher” said to me, “We slaughter soy” — ha-ha. The plant-based products were actually pretty good — the chicken would have fooled me if I hadn’t known what it was — and I began to consider that it might be better to eat fake meat that harms no animals and causes less environmental damage than meat raised industrially.

And here is how he describes the experience with new company that may be in the market this summer.

On its own, Brown’s “chicken” — produced to mimic boneless, skinless breast — looks like a decent imitation, and the way it shreds is amazing. It doesn’t taste much like chicken, but since most white meat chicken doesn’t taste like much anyway, that’s hardly a problem; both are about texture, chew and the ingredients you put on them or combine with them. When you take Brown’s product, cut it up and combine it with, say, chopped tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise with some seasoning in it, and wrap it in a burrito, you won’t know the difference between that and the chicken. I didn’t, at least, and this is the kind of thing I do for a living.

This new product is not for the vegetarian market, it is for the general market.  It is for those of us who would like to reduce consumption of animal protein, but are unable to adjust our diets to do so.

Brown does not see his product as a trendy meat replacement for vegans but one with more widespread use. (His production is at an early stage, but Whole Foods is planning to start using his products in prepared food soon. Retail sales of his “chicken,” which does not yet have a trademarked name, are expected to begin this summer.)

Perhaps it will replace some of the chicken in a McNugget, or become a meat substitute at Chick-fil-A or Chipotle. (Department of Agriculture regulations already permit up to 30 percent soy products in school lunch meats.)

All of this would be great, because here is how Mr. Bittman describes the choice before us.

Would I rather eat cruelly raised, polluting, unhealthful chicken, or a plant product that’s nutritionally similar or superior, good enough to fool me, and requires no antibiotics, cutting off of heads, or other nasty things? Isn’t it preferable, at least some of the time, to eat plant products mixed with water that have been put through a thingamajiggy that spews out meatlike stuff, instead of eating those same plant products put into a chicken that does its biomechanical thing for the six weeks of its miserable existence only to have its throat cut in the service of yielding barely distinguishable meat?

Yeah, read that description and we’re all ready to get in line at Whole Foods for the rollout.


  1. Dear DPE:

    "Isn’t it preferable, at least some of the time, to eat plant products mixed with water that have been put through a thingamajiggy that spews out meatlike stuff?"

    Ah, but this is the heart of crux of the nub. As George Lakoff might write, the very quest of "meatlife stuff" makes the case that vegetarianism is a failure at least on the grounds of appealing to the taste buds. The Holy Grail of vegetarians has been to find something to substitute for meat - because vegetables qua vegetables stand so poorly on their own that the goal has been to create some sort of faux meat. Tofu hot dogs. Bean patty hamburgers.

    When the vegetarians can create a faux meat - or whatever - that tastes *better* than the real thing, I shall be the first one there with my little fork and spoon.

    Yrs, Elsie.

  2. Hopefully we all will, or at least in my case close enough will do.