In switching from carnist to vegan, the easiest option to us seemed to just swap out the animal ingredient with a fake food equivalent. An easy way to transition, right? Eh. Not so much for us. Skimming through forums and blogs, we found plenty of vegans enthusing about certain alternative foods. I don’t know how long they were vegan, but it must have been quite a while for them to think that some of these foods are replacements for meat and dairy. Milk was fine, but meat and cheese would seem to be a greater challenge. It’s only when we tried something that claimed to be like a certain food, we appreciated how much goes into the identity of food–look, texture, smell, taste–and that just any one of these being amiss makes for an uneasy experience. It’s the food equivalent of the dead eyes of one of those robots made to look as close to a human as possible–and not quite succeeding.
Here are some of our experiences, starting with the bad, the ugly, but thankfully ending on the few examples we’ve tried of the good stuff. Now, these are just our opinions, and you might LOVE some or all of these, so it’s always worth trying them yourselves. A lot of these are recommended and successful brands, so they’re certainly doing something right for their customers. We’re just sharing our experience of them because we found this process a little disheartening, and wanted to show that while it can be a trial, we found some things we liked for us, and it helped us to some conclusions around what type of vegan food we want to be eating…
We had high hopes of replicating a pepperoni pizza with these vbites pepperoni style slices. After all, if we make a stand for animals and the environment by cutting out animal products, but still get to have our favourite pizza, how cool would that be? Sadly, we’ll never know. This looked like discs of rubber, and smelt like it when we cooked it. In fact, the smell was so gross I couldn’t even bring myself to eat it. As soon as it was under my nose I felt like I was taking in fumes from melted plastic. My other half was braver than I, and tasted it… Not only did the pizza go straight in the bin, we then had to take the bin out of our home as it stunk the place up so much. If aliens made pepperoni without ever seeing, smelling, or tasting pepperoni, then this would be it.
Ok, I’m not a cheese fan. I have only ever been able to eat it melted on toast, pizza, and in a, well, melt. My other half though, I would consider him a cheese fiend. Back in the day, I think he would put cheese on anything just because he’s an adult and he can. These violife cheese slices smell like cheese and look like cheese, and in a sandwich my other half said it tasted like very mild cheese. However, when we had this melted on toast it melted as expected, but took on this gooey texture, but not like melted cheese, more like thick glue. It also lost its cheesy taste in the process too, and it just wasn’t cheese on toast, so it went in the bin too. My other half hasn’t asked for this again in our shopping trips, so I’m thinking that’s a bad sign. This with the fake pepperoni would make one unholy pizza. We also tried the Sainsbury’s Free From grated cheese, and that was chalky ‘raw’ and rubbery when melted, and just didn’t work. I had an Ask pizza in a restaurant and the mozzarella cheese melted into what looked like… well, I won’t say what it looked like, but the thought of eating that congealed white liquid made me gag. Oh, and while we’re on cheese, nutritional yeast flakes are NOT a parmesan replacement. We didn’t find them remotely cheesy. While they are nutritious, I’m sure, their similarity to fish confetti style food is also little off-putting and I find it hard to get past the comparison to want to sprinkle it on my spag bog.
The Bad (or ‘meh’, if we’re being fair)
Vbites cheatin rashers looked like a spread of two coloured pastes which had congealed. I can see what they were trying to do in replicating the rind (which I always used to trim off actual bacon myself–bleurgh!), but it just looked wrong. It actually cooked up to look better and took on a really bacon-like texture, sadly it didn’t taste anything like bacon. If a Frazzle crisp ever mates with cheatin rasher you would end up with the perfect rasher of fake bacon. I ate a whole sandwich of this, but only because I was really hungry and fed up with throwing food away. Such a shame.
We love spag bog, chilli, and shepherd’s pie. So, fake mince should have be a staple in our freezer. We tried, Quorn, Linda Mcartney, Morrisons, Fry’s, and maybe some others I can’t remember. None of them were right, they either smelt funny, had a bitter aftertaste which came through the sauce, or had a rubbery texture. We were so disappointed. There was always something off in one way or another. Then we found that lentils and beans and diced mushrooms and veg can pretty much take the place of mince in all of our favourite meals. So, no fake mince for us.
‘Meat’ strips by Fry’s and Quorn, and there was another brand which escapes us at the moment. We thought these would be perfect for fajitas and stir fries, and while they kind of look the part, and smelt okay while they were cooking, they had the texture of thick spongy bread in the meals themselves. Sadly, these were a fail for us, as they just didn’t have a pleasant texture. We preferred veg fajitas and stir fries instead, which is a shame as these would’ve given us a staple protein fix.
We knew this vbites fish style steaks wasn’t a chip shop cod replacement, but we used it as such, so grabbed a bag of chips from the local chippy and set them on the side with these. While it looked right as a fish style steak and had the right texture, it didn’t smell or taste like a fish steak. I lost interest after a few mouthfuls as it was tasteless beyond the breadcrumbs and wasn’t doing anything for me. We both agreed we wouldn’t be having them again. Just chips form the chippy now then, I guess.
Thankfully, these vbites fish style finger look, smell, feel and taste the part in a fish finger sandwich. One of our dirty meals was always a fish finger sandwich, lashings of tartar sauce, a packet of Tyrells salt and vinegar crisps and a pint of cider. These didn’t quite match up to the chunky fish fingers we’d been having, so I don’t see us having these again, these are spot on for the fish fingers of my childhood, so hand for my niece if I need to make her tea or something.
Thankfully, we can also say something nice about Fry’s and Quorn when it comes to chicken nuggets. We never used to really eat these before we went vegan, but tried them–for science–and again, I wouldn’t know that this wasn’t the product of a mistreated animal that’s had its beak burned off, fed hormones, brutalised and stunned and watched its friends die on its way to the same fate. I’d eat these again as a dirty snack.
Fry’s sausage rolls, smelt, looked, felt and tasted spot on. I would challenge anyone to eat these and not think they were made from some really dodgy bits of meat like regular sausage rolls. I was never one to eat sausage rolls very often, but knowing that this isn’t mystery meat makes them even more appealing to me.
Fry’s dog free hot dogs are spot on too. I would never touch a proper hot dog, but I gave these a go, and felt much more comfortable in doing so. With fried onions, ketchup and American mustard, these were really tasty.
Bute Island sheese seems to be the best ‘cheese’ we’ve tried. I say ‘we’ but I gave-up on subbing cheese into my life. My other half tried several of the cream cheeses at the Vshow–and went back for more he liked it so much. So, it looks like we have a cheese winner!
So far, the last five are likely to only come out as ‘party’, dirty snacks and meals or picnic food. Not regular snacks or meals as such, and despite my other half’s love of cheese, he hasn’t gone and bought any.
Considering most animals are jokingly said to taste like chicken, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard to make something that tastes like chicken. In fairness, these don’t claim to be chicken substitutes, which is probably just as well. And while these don’t taste like chicken, they are inoffensive, in that they have a nice texture, they add a bit of substance to a meal, and they have protein, not the strongest prais, but we have these once a week for an easy meal of pasta or a stir fry. They’ve become staples, and I look forward to the meals these are in, but I think that’s more about the meal as a whole, rather that these little cubes of something extra to go with the veg and rice or pasta.
Vbites vegideli duck style pieces have the look, the smell (maybe), the texture, and the taste of hoisin duck pices–spot on. In fact, I would say I can’t believe this wasn’t a real live animal kept inhumanely and killed to feed an outdated notion of what we should be eating. The only thing that stopped us having it again is that it was a bit pricey, and we found the Quorn vegan pieces in hoisin stir fry sauce hit the spot for us at a fraction of the price.
Amy’s Manhatten burger is a decent meat substitute burger, and Fry’s chicken style burgers are pretty good chickeny too. In fact, nearly all the burgers we’ve had from other brands have been satisfying enough. These are the ones that have become our go to burgers though. We never used to eat burgers that much because they are a bit naughty, but we’ve been having these every couple of weeks now with potato wedges and veggies, and pretty much guilt free.
Fry’s schnitzels look, feel and taste just as I would expect they should. Okay, perhaps not chicken tasting as they could be (although there is an argument that meat only tastes of what you season it with…), but we didn’t have schnitzels much at all, so whatever these might be like, they are really nice. We look forward to these. We usually have them with mash and veg, or brown rice and beans and veg. We have these once every couple of weeks or so.
Linda McCartney’s vegetarian sausages are probably the best fake sausages we’ve tried. They’re not glossy bangers, but they have the look, and the texture, and actually have a porky taste too. We get to keep bangers and mash and veg and onion gravy, and we also have something for a cooked breakfast too! I look forward to eating these, and out of all the things we’ve tried, I think that’s high praise.
We’ve had a lot of disappointment in trying to swap out meat and cheese for fake meat and cheese, which made the switch to vegan food a little harder for us. Also, we went vegan for the animals and the planet, but since we’ve been reading more and seeing more on documentaries about how a plant-based diet is so much better for us. A lot of the foods I have listed here could be considered vegan ‘junk food’. A lot of them are processed, and while we aren’t getting the fatty squiggly bits of fat and gristle from animals, these fake foods can have a lot of oil in them, and some could have questionable chemicals and nutritional values, also, my squaeamishness around processed meats has followed me into our plant-based diet, and I look at some of these fake meats wondering what the f*** I’m eating… So, this has meant that the journey through the uncanny valley of fake meat was not our destination, and that the meals we’ve enjoyed the most and look forward to are the ones made with veg, pulses, legumes, and tofu (I know, I know, this could be called ‘processed’), and usually the ones made from scratch.
So, what do we eat? In our next post we’ll be sharing the meals that have become our staples and our favourites–meals that we really enjoy–with links to the recipes or where you can find them.
The lifestyle change for me and my partner to vegetarian and then vegan has been a process of giving up life-long staple, favourite and comfort foods.
Beyond the peace of mind this gives me I find myself wondering whether I will ever see food in the same way again, and enjoy it as much as I always have.
This irregular series of non-preachy blog posts will follow us, two regular guys, meat and dairy eaters for all our lives, as we explore the reasons for and the challenges and rewards of a plant based diet as we go on our new veg munching adventure…
Next up: What these vegans are eating…