Meatless Meat: A Culinary Revolution?

Illustrated by Bridget Rios

Frankie Newton

Contributing Writer

Vegetarianism and veganism have been on the rise all over the country, with a prominent presence in the state of California. More and more restaurants are beginning to offer non-meat alternatives. Even fast-food chains have created their own vegan options, such as the McPlant at McDonald’s or KFC’s Beyond Chicken Nuggets (although whether these menu items are actually vegan is debatable as they are cooked using the same ovens and fryers as real meats, respectively).

Options like these beg the question: if vegans refuse to consume foods that come from animals, why try to emulate meats and cheeses in their own dishes? And why should they demand that chains as prolific as McDonald’s have faux-meat options when there are much fresher and healthier foods available that do not try to imitate meat? 

The answer to both questions is that a significant number of people who are vegan (or trying to be vegan) may have previously eaten meat and enjoyed the flavors and textures associated with it — but for any number of reasons they now choose to eat food that looks and tastes the same without a single shred of animal meat.

There are several reasons why people choose to go vegan. One of the most common reasons is rooted in not wanting to contribute to the animal agriculture industry and the tremendous presence of animal cruelty and loss of animal life within it. Another explanation is that it minimizes negative effects on the environment, such as high levels of greenhouse gas emissions that occur as a direct result of cow farms. 

However, the combination of animal products dominating the culinary world and the lack of awareness on the consequences of meat production continues to promote a diet that includes meats and cheeses. People who choose to make a transition from an animal-based diet to a vegan diet may appreciate having options that are similar to what they are used to, such as plant-based chicken or burgers. 

Although it may seem contradictory for vegans to imitate meat, these types of dishes are especially important for easing into a plant-based lifestyle. Those who want to indulge in more vegan food should first and foremost seek out or create meals that they can afford and enjoy, which starts with recognizing the textures and flavors that they may have liked as meat-eaters. 

The advent of meatless options in restaurants and grocery stores also encourages more people to go vegetarian, or to at least broaden their diets. Even if, say, McDonald’s regulars are unable to commit to a fully plant-based diet, adding products like the McPlant may help them expand their diets to be part-plant, part-meat. Research suggests that high intakes of red meat are linked with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and affordable plant-based burgers alongside normal menu items could be essential in maintaining moderate to low intake. 

There is so much opportunity in the culinary world to create delicious meals, regardless of whether it contains meat. Vegetarian and vegan recipes are becoming more visible and available in restaurants, and social media blogs such as PlantYou or FitGreenMind make it easier than ever to begin a partial or fully plant-based diet.