It’s 2019 and meat is the enemy. After a brief stint with vegetarianism when I was 12 (in my case: attention-seeking) I predicted that ‘we would all eat vegetables and bugs’ in the future, so it was only right to load up on meat now. That position has become indefensible. Scientists have warned we have to cut western consumption down by 90% in order to stave off climate change. The icecaps are melting, extreme weather events are becoming more common, and it’s all got a bit grim. Eating meat-alternatives doesn’t have to be! The reliance on tofu is out (my personal quibble is that anything that lists one of its singular advantages as not tasting of anything, whether it is for the professed purpose of soaking up other flavours or not, is worth avoiding). It is now easier than ever to forgo meat. I tried Sainsbury’s offerings, and identified the best (and worst) of the bunch.
The God of meat-free alternatives. Quorn was here first, is incomparable in a crisis, and is available all over the world. Admittedly, Quorn mince and God diverge on more accounts than they are similar- including the former’s mycoprotein constitution. I spent the evening after trying Quorn chilli con carne waxing lyrical about its properties to anyone who would listen, culminating in my originally devised slogan: there is nothing meat can do that Quorn can’t do better. Properly disguised, what is essentially a fungus tastes like a curiously tender meat. It won’t go off as quickly, or go dry in your fridge if you leave it half opened (a pet-hate). Approximately two hours after my performance as a one-woman Quorn publicity machine, however, my stomach swelled up to the size that can only be accurately described as resembling the pre-partum condition. I spent the rest of the evening doing vigorous stretching to clear the trapped wind. A fair trade-off.
The new kid on the block. Unlike Quorn, which looks vaguely like the crumbs you find in between your toes, meat-free mince attempts to court the transitional vegetarian by disguising itself as meat. It is from the ‘meat-free farm’; they have squeezed the textured soya, pea and rice protein into mince-like tubes; it is pink in the packet, and turns grey when cooked. In short, it is mince, but not. It tastes, looks, feels (but doesn’t smell) like meat. It’s very workable. I judge it somewhere between the consistency of a dough and a paste, so you can manipulate it into burgers and meatballs. The packaging is oddly frivolous. The Meatless Farm Co. has clearly graduated from the innocent smoothie school of flippantly personal design. On a meat product, this would be controversial. On this mince, it’s only dimly off-puttingly twee.
Vivera benefit from shawarma being a generic name for chopped unidentifiable meat. The meat-free version, as a result, has a wide spectrum of potential flavours it can gesture towards in its own profile, which reduces the likelihood of shooting for one and missing. The packaging, like the Meatless Farm Co., appeals to former – or current – meat-eaters. The graphic (of a vegetable chopped into meat-like ‘cuts’) is reminiscent of a butcher’s blackboard. In my extensive and rigorous study, I have realised you don’t really chew meat-free alternatives the same way as meat. They sort of dissolve in your mouth. This shawarma was the same, but the resultant taste left by the dissolution was not unpleasant. The only disconcerting element was my ensuing realisation that each individual piece was so perfectly and identically shaped that they could have only been pressed out of moulds. Then I remembered I was not eating meat. That the shawarma suspended my disbelief for so long is testament to its weird half-similitude.
Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages:
If Quorn is the meat-free God, Linda gave us the Jesus. You might dispute the comparison of a rehydrated textured soya protein (the morphology of which is vaguely phallic) to the coming of Christ. You have clearly not tried Mrs McCartney’s vegetarian sausages.
AND THE REST:
Quorn Vegetarian Ham Slices:
This tastes like the aftertaste of ham. More properly it tastes like if someone who had never tasted ham, but had heard what it tastes like from someone else, decided they were going to make ham slices. The ham consultant at Quorn is wholly unqualified for their position. Appearance-wise, it looks like someone ate ham, it came back up, and they pressed it into ten charmingly identical and uniformly coloured beige slices. That is to say: uninspiring.
Quorn Bacon slices:
Someone at the Quorn product development facility is laughing because, as far as I can tell, this product is the Quorn ham slice cut into a different shape.