A guide to your supermarket's imitation meats.
Flight 2: The "Cows" Come Home
Most of us had fairly high expectations for the fake beef flight, if for no other reason than the raging popularity of Boca Burgers, Gardenburgers, and other hamburger alternatives that have gone mainstream in the past few years. (Click here to learn which of these are the best.) Sadly, the "beef" was one of the most disappointing elements of the evening (and also the point at which one guest demanded a bowl into which to spit partially chewed samples, as one might do at a wine tasting). Special dreadful notice goes to Worthington'sSavory Slices (unclear which savory meat these were meant to be), which not only came out of a can and smelled truly horrifying but also tasted so bad as to be ranked worst by all six panelists. Comments included, "tastes like eating suede," "something removed in a doctor show," "oh, my God," and "you've got to be kidding." Loma Linda'sTender Rounds (canned fake meatballs) fared better, garnering raves such as "not bad," "doughy meatball," "kinda good," and "please don't make me put this in my mouth ever again."
The two "beef strip" products were served in their own sauces. Lightlife'sSavory Seitan did not fare well, with tasters objecting to both the texture ("gristle," "rubbery and wrong") and the taste ("not even close" and "had to spit out"). The big winner in fake beef strips was clearly Lightlife's other product, Steak Style Strips, which was deemed "close to steak," "beefy," "wow I'm converted." Some objections were logged as to its appearance ("looks like eyebrows"), but on the whole this product passed with flying colors.
The beige beeflike products Bad Similar to cocktail meatballs Savory Seitan Tastes like real boots though
PRODUCT TASTE RANKING Savory Slices 4 Tender Rounds 2 3 Steak Style Strips "Beefy" 1
The beige beeflike products
Similar to cocktail meatballs
Tastes like real boots though
Flight 3: The "Fowl"
By this point in the tasting, it was clear that not only stomach linings were fraying, but so were some formerly close friendships. The decision was made to skip three of the seven products in this group, focusing only on the fake turkey products. Worthington's Turkee Slices—imitation lunchmeat—got mixed reviews. Some testers attempted to guess which cat food it was meant to be, while others declared it "yummy and smoky" or "not too bad." No one was impressed by the look or texture of the stuff, however. Comments here ranged from "hairy" to "stringy" to "gnarly." Lightlife's Roast Turkey Slices, which came out of a packet as opposed to a can, received a slightly better reception. Whereas every reviewer agreed that it was "tasteless," everyone also felt that it truly did resemble real turkey slices.
The final product of the evening was the pièce de rèsistance, Turtle Island Foods Inc.'s famous Tofurkey. We purchased the 1-pound version, designed to serve four. We forgot to make the suggested gravy and thus were left to eat what was, in effect, a large, puffy bread filled with stuffing. It had been molded inside some meshy substance, which made it look like it was wearing a sock, engendering several "sock monkey" comments from the testers. In terms of taste, comments ranged from "breadlike" to "bread" to "bland" to "breadlike" again, although everyone commented on how excellent the stuffing was.
|The beige poultry products|
Yummy but creepy consistency
Roast Turkey Slices
Has that bland lunchmeat flavor
One hates to be a reactionary, but sometimes absolute relativism is an evil unto itself. Plunging neck deep into the world of meat alternatives made it clear that the good Lord may have put cows and soybeans on different ends of his great classification system for good reason. Pigs rarely aspire to be asparagus. And wheat should not strive to be meat. With enough sauces, and marinades, and spices, a filament of gluten can pass for a strip of steak. But no one should be forced to eat three full courses of products that are all, as one of the artists among us observed, shaped either in circles or blobs. And no one should have to choke down stringy, tasteless, or chewy morsels just because they are coated in a sauce that might once have coated something at McDonald's. Call me a food fundamentalist, but the land in which meat and tofus collide is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel.