QUICKPOST: Obsessed with vegan/plant-based “meat”!

Sadly this is a picture of a real ham, vegan/plant-based meat is not quite this advanced yet!

Obsessed with vegan meat! (Links to follow)

My name is Tosin, and even though I myself am not a vegan, I am obsessed with vegan/plant-based “meat” (and cheese). This is for the following reasons:

Actually, the truth is that I LOVE meat! Actually what I love is food itself. Oh my goodness! I love fast food (KFC, McDonalds, pizza…never been a great fan of Nandos!), I love fine dining, I love simple hearty meals, I love Nigerian food, I love food from different cuisines, I have spent many happy hours perusing various recipes online, and dreaming. I almost cried when I went to Morrisons the day after Halloween last year (2020), only to find that they were completely out of stock of pumpkins, which stopped me from being able to make a pumpkin fondue recipe I’d seen online. (Obviously I was not going to go on Halloween itself, was I?!)
The truth though is that I usually read over the recipes, and leave it at that. I don’t usually go further to actually make the recipes. Until now. The truth is that I am slightly bored, and eating delicious food always helps a little to lift my spirits. So now I plan to actually go out and make those recipes.

As part of loving food, I love meat. I love unprocessed cuts. I love red meat: I love beef, goat, lamb… (I did NOT love kangaroo the one time I tried it, but I bet it was the way it was prepared. That said to me it does not really feel like “cattle” anyway, not like cows and lambs, animals which seem to lend themselves more naturally to meat production – animal activists will probably disagree with me that no animal species “naturally” lends itself to meat production…)
I also love processed cuts like minced meat, sausages, bacon, bratwurst and continental sausages, pepperoni, chorizo. I love the taste of pork and ham.
I love poultry: chicken and ducks and I don’t remember ever eating goose but I’m sure I would love that too!
I LOVE fish and seafood! I love prawns and crabs and mussels and scaly fish. Of scaly fish, I love mackerel and smoked salmon especially – although mackerel scales are apparently tiny – unfortunately they make up for that by being very bony inside!

And oh my goodness, I love cheese. Many of my food dreams involve gooey pools of melted cheese. Whether we are talking brie, or camembert, or cheddar, or feta (or more likely the Lidl feta substitute!) or mozzarella – I love it all!

And yet I also love my body, and I want to look after it. I am also very eco-conscious and aware of the demands of various types of food on the planet. And because of various things I have come to be aware of, there are good reasons for limiting my intake of various types of meat and cheeses.

So my hope is that vegan meats and cheeses will be able to step into the void, and ideally replicate as far as possible the tastes and textures of various types of meat and cheeses so that I can hopefully enjoy these delicious tastes as much as I long to, while also doing good for myself, my wallet, my body and the planet.

So here are a few of the things I have become aware of, these will be things that many of us are similarly aware of:

Reasons to avoid:
Social Justice reasons: Integrity of seafood industry, or lack thereof, corruption and murders etc (SEASPIRACY DOCUMENTARY)
Eco/Animal welfare Reasons: Overfishing, bycatch, levels of pollution and infection in fish farms
Health reasons: High levels of mercury in fish (although I was always happy to ignore that before the social justice reasons listed above compelled me to decide to stop eating fish altogether)

Poultry: REASONS TO AVOID (Chicken)
Social Justice/ Human abuse reasons: None that I am aware of, although it is probably only a matter of time before an abuse of human workers comes to light
Eco/Animal welfare reasons: Widely documented suffering of chickens in chicken industry. I have to put my hands up and admit that I still very much eat chicken – and very cheap chicken at that. Just a couple of days ago as I was putting a tray of very cheap chicken drumsticks into my shopping basket, I thought to myself that I have to stop eating this cheap meat. As I write this, said tray of cheap chicken is sitting in my fridge, waiting to be cooked…
Health reasons: Hormones that are pumped into chicken meat, residual diseases caused by overcrowding in chicken production barns.

I think that other poultry besides chicken is probably a lot safer to eat at least in terms of animal welfare, at least for now simply because production has not reached the industrial levels of chicken production, so the competition is not as high and there is not the same temptation for producers to drastically cut corners to secure more market share. I hope I’m not being naive in suggesting this.

Pork and pig products, reasons to avoid:
Social Justice/Human rights:
– Human workers being mistreated, human workers in meat-processing factories being more likely to catch COVID due to perhaps shoddy practices or insufficient workers, ill workers being forced to work despite being ill.
*Animal welfare:
– Same documented animal welfare issues as in other meat-production routines, overcrowding of animals leading to easy spreading of diseases
– pigs not getting enough space to forage freely, leading to potential mental distress of the animals
*Eco: Huge consumption of resources like water, land that could be otherwise used to grow crops, also potential for contamination of water sources from chemicals and effluents from farms. Methane release from pigs contributing to greenhouse gases.
*Actually I have not specifically read this in relation to pig farms, however by deduction from other accounts of rearing other animals it seems clear that exactly the same things will happen in pig/pork farms.
– Even if pork production was completely free of social justice/human rights/animal welfare/eco considerations, pork itself is known to be a particularly unhealthy meat, with serious consequences for human consumption, causing higher incidences of cancers etc. This is the one reason why I have largely stopped eating pork products. However, I love the taste of pork, as I love everything else, and I miss especially bacon and sausages!
– The ways of processing pork for instance various nitrites/nitrates used for “smoking” meats are often in themselves considerably bad for human health.
– Hormones pumped into the pigs which might linger to affect health of human eaters

Red meat: Reasons to avoid:
Social Justice/Human rights:
As above with pork production
Animal welfare: widely documented suffering of animals used in meat production. Thankfully the UK has fairly stringent animal welfare laws, but even they are often condemned for being too lax by true animal activists, and of course there will always be a hopefully small percentage of people who seek to ignore laws altogether. What is more concerning, and this is true of all animal products, is when animals are farmed or reared in countries without the same animal welfare laws as the UK, and then their meat somehow finds its way into products sold within the UK. So there is the possibility that you could end up with an item where you don’t know the animal welfare conditions it was produced under… That said I can categorically tell you that animals produced in Africa, at least the Nigeria of my upbringing in the (ahem!) early 80s, enjoy far greater welfare than those in the West, even in the UK, laws or no laws. This might not be true in terms of healthcare, but it is definitely true in terms of being free-range. This is for the simple reason that animal production had just not been industrialised in Nigeria to the same extent as in the West, so it is all still very small scale, individual farmers and their freeholdings, rather than the giant factory farms we are used to in the West. Even till today many families still slaughter their own animals. I remember driving home from the market in the early 80s with live chickens squawking in the car, and plucking the now dead chickens from scratch, and that smell when my Mum would singe the chicken flesh on the flames of the gas cooker to make it easier to get rid of every last trace of feather… Even the last time I went to Nigeria approx 5 yrs ago you would see farmers leading out their cows along the very same road where cars pass, and so many apparently unclaimed chickens and their chicks, happily running about free range, even in the middle of the city (Lagos, Abuja etc.) And the meat from these animals famously tastes better too, perhaps because they have not been subjected to the same intensive breeding schedules that might maximise eg meat yield above other things. Actually, all the food famously tastes better back in Nigeria, perhaps for the same reason. As Nigeria industrialises along with the rest of Africa, everything I’ve described above is all sadly likely to change.
I used to think that (UK) goat meat would be safe in terms of animal welfare, because goats are notoriously so stubborn that it is hard to farm them in the same way as for instance cows, and they need to be reared outside so they would reliably have plenty of space to roam (or so I hoped). However, apparently animal abuses in goat farming are just as rife as in the farming of other animals. Which is a particular shame for me because I truly love the taste of goat meat.

Health issues:
– Widely documented health issues from consuming red meats and high levels of saturated animal fats: higher cholesterol, greater likelihood of developing colo-rectal cancers, heart diseases, greater chance of developing diabetes.
– Hormones pumped into animals which might linger in their meats.

Animal welfare issues: Treatment of male calves, calves being separated too quickly from their mothers, animals being kept artifically pregnant to increase milk yield.
Eco reasons: Same environmental considerations as with meat production; I recently read an article which suggested that dairy production could actually be worse for the environment than just regular meat production
Health reasons: hormones given to cows which are still present in cow milk, other unexciting things also being present in milk!

Health consequences of eating too much animal fats; increased incidence of heart diseases, diabetes etc

And yet I dream of being able to eat delicious food ideally without having to ration myself for health reasons. I dream of gooey cheesy lasagnes, I dream of cheesy soups, hotdogs and burgers slathered with ketchup and mustard (must research human rights abuses in the tomato and mustard growing industries. Actually I’m already sadly aware of human rights abuses in the European fruit and veg industry, including widespread sexual harassment and abuse and workers living in squalour.) Also fast food: vegan fried chicken, delicious pizzas with stringy melty cheese and faux pepperoni. I honestly can’t believe how many brands are now producing vegan “fried chicken” products which certainly look convincing. I would love to test these and see how convincing they actually taste.

I dream of being able to just put together a delicious “bacon” and cheese sandwich, and then later that day perhaps have a cheesy, “beefy” pasta dish, without having to worry about the health consequences of eating too much meat in one day. Actually there was a time about a year and a half ago, when I bought lots of cheesy beef lasagnes from Tesco, because I love cheesy minced beef lasagne so much. After eating about 3 in a week, I could actually feel my body complaining. At the moment my freezer is full of beef but for health reasons I am only having one small portion every couple of weeks and the rest of the time I eat chicken – hence the cheap chicken currently sitting in the fridge!

I hope that vegan meats and cheeses will enable me to fulfil all these food dreams, in a healthy way, then I could save real meat for special occasions, or even cut it out altogether. If only eating it once in a while, I could spend money on real meat that has been reared carefully under excellent animal welfare conditions. I am hoping that these vegan meats will allow me to have all the taste and texture I am dreaming of, and enjoy “meat” perhaps multiple times in a day, even processed “meats”.

I know that you can’t go completely overboard even with vegan meats and cheeses, as they can still be high in salts and fats etc. However I am not planning to go completely overboard. Or perhaps I can phrase it this way: knowing that I can afford to let myself go a little bit overboard now and then, enjoying an absolutely delicious diet, while knowing that I am hopefully not giving my body anything to complain about, (so still being careful to eat wholegrains and fruit and veg etc, sticking to homemade food as far as is possible, finding ways to “healthicise” all these foods, perhaps making my own wholewheat burger buns, sticking to my existing wholewheat pastas etc, continuing to make time to exercise).

I’ve actually been dreaming about these things for at least three and a half years, but cost was always the consideration. Now however, vegan meat is becoming more mainstream, so the prices are coming down. Also there is now a very wide selection of meat substitutes available across practically every kind of meat, and also cheese substitutes, and they keep getting better. So it seems like now is my time!

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