In this four-part series, Naa Ako-Adjei documents a month of eating vegan, including recipes, restaurant write-ups, and product reviews. Click here for Going Vegan for A Month: Week One. Or read the last two installments: Week Three and Week Four.
When I started my month-long vegan diet a couple of weeks ago, I thought the hardest part of being a vegan would be giving up my daily cheese consumption, but in reality it’s avoiding all the hidden animal products in my food.
Every time I try to put something in my mouth, it seems like the food industry is trying to sabotage my already shaky attempts to stay vegan. I know I sound more paranoid than Glenn Beck, but there are a startling number of foods that are seemingly vegan but actually contain animal by-products. Turns out cracking the code is easier than trying to figure out what food doesn’t have hidden animal products.
As an uninitiated vegan, I just assumed that any food with the word soy on it meant it was safe to eat, but it turns out that a lot of soy products have milk-derived ingredients. Some soy cheeses have casein, a milk protein that helps the soy cheese melt and some soy yogurts use milk-based cultures. I also had to be careful with soy burgers and other soy-based “meats” because most brands used eggs to bind the ingredients together.
I already knew that wine and most cereals were forbidden, but I was really annoyed to discover that refined cane sugar is filtered with animal bone char. Even fruit juices can have animal-based ingredients because red food coloring is sometimes made from the female cochineal beetle. But perhaps the most frustrating discovery was when I learned that fortified foods are often not vegan because the vitamins may be derived from animal by-products. For example, vitamin D can be made from fish oil.
Less than two weeks into my vegan diet and I was exhausted from trying to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat so I decided to exclusively eat fruits, vegetables, lentils, and grains. But about half-way through the second week of my diet, I was so desperate for “meat” I went ahead and bought vegan soy burgers.
Shopping presents challenges for vegans (Photo Wikimedia Commons/Arbas2010).
Clearly, the scientists who created soy burgers hate vegans. These had the disturbing texture of a pencil eraser and tasted vaguely of gasoline. It would have been faster and less traumatic for me to just lick my exhaust pipe. I debated eating the rest of the burger because I was starving, but I decided that hunger was preferable to finishing my test tube burger.
But because I still had a craving for meat, I didn’t let the first bad experience stop me from trying other vegan meat. Over the course of a few days, I tried several other vegan meat products. All the mock meat I ate was universally bad, though some were worse than others. Mock meat may look just like real meat, but its taste and texture is thoroughly disappointing. It’s like going out with a witty, good-looking man only to discover that he likes to pick his teeth with the salad fork.
I’ve now concluded that when people tell you fake meat tastes just as good as the real thing, they have either lost their ability to taste food or they have stock in the company that produces these products. How else can I explain why anyone would like meatless meatballs?
Because it would be wrong to not warn unsuspecting readers about the vegan meat that I taste tested, here is a list of what I tried, so you don’t have to. I know that there are some meatless products that I didn‘t eat, but after sampling a dizzying array of chemically infused mock meat, I would rather watch a marathon of Keeping Up with the Kardshians than to ever eat vegan meat again.
Wild Wood Veggie Burgers (Photo courtesy La Vida Veggie/Sarah).
BURGERS: The first burger I tried was the Wild Wood SprouTofu Veggie Burgers (Shiitake). They had no cooking instructions because they were ready to eat but I heated it through so it wouldn’t be cold. The texture was somewhat reminiscent of a turkey burger, but it tasted like spoiled moo-shu pork. Morning Star Farms’ Grillers Vegan Veggie Burgers had to be kept frozen so I had to pan-fry it for 10 to 12 minutes per the package's instructions. When it was done, it had a soft texture with an overwhelmingly salty, vinegar taste.