Why fake meat will never be a substitute for a chicken wing – National Post

Even though I grew up as a vegetarian, I knew that when it comes to eating chicken wings, you have to use your hands. The first time I had them was at a Super Bowl party. After 20 meatless years, I turned full omnivore. More than the texture or flavour, what I remember from the first bite was the primal feeling of eating meat straight from the bone.

Growing up in a vegetarian household at least a couple decades ago makes you different. Most of my classmates ate meat regularly, many daily. Because of how meat-focused meals have traditionally been, it doesnt surprise me that such a large percentage of the vegetarian food industry would be devoted to replicating meat products. Nor is it all that surprising that vegetarianism would expand with more options that supposedly taste like meat.

Before graduating high school, it felt as though I had consumed a lifetimes worth of soy, seitan and tempeh made to look like (and yet only occasionally taste like) beef, pork and chicken. Most of the mock meats were gummy and grey, slathered in artificial smoke. They seemed to exist beyond the realm of the natural world, created in laboratories where people wore latex gloves and protective glasses. It was only on a rare occasion like eating at Montreals legendary ChuChai restaurant, which offers an impressive array of Chinese fake-meat alternatives that Id ever desire a second helping.

Limp and flavourless, the fake chicken options in particular seemed ghastly. Perhaps the texture of the bird is difficult to replicate, but I suppose we should be thankful that forays into fake chicken have been limited. I would hate to imagine artificial chicken wings, fake cartilage included. The dystopian vibes alone would be too much to handle.

Undeniably, there have been technological strides in the fake meat market in the past decade. Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger capture the texture and taste of beef. But why has this become the goal? Why undertake this culinary fraud? The more realistic the meat, the more I think of the grey slabs of petri-dish flesh from Brandon Cronenbergs Antiviral. In this Canadian science-fiction film, an out-of-control celebrity culture has created an industry of laboratory-grown human flesh steaks intended for popular consumption. Imagine Soylent Green for a new and willing generation; Soylent green is people? Sounds delicious.

Whenever a new pea protein product or unholy concoction of chemicals and plants is introduced I also think of that first bite of a chicken wing. When it comes to abandoning vegetarianism, you go through a lot of the same motions as those who adopt it. You dont suddenly go decades without eating chicken wings to a feeding frenzy without considering where this new food is coming from. Its impossible to escape that once, not long ago, it was alive.

Like a child who believes that an egg comes from a supermarket and not a chicken, many of us are detached from the production of the food we eat. In an age of sterile plastic-wrapped shopping experiences, its easy to lose track of where the meat we consume (real and unreal) comes from.

In that sense, meat alternatives represent a type of fulfilled fantasy. It comes from essentially nothing. Its easier to not think too much about where this so-called food comes from. And yet, they remain heavily processed. And make no mistake: Theyre not good for you just because theyre vegan.

For this Super Bowl, as a matter of personal taste, when tasked with finding a vegan alternative for wings, Im more likely to throw some buffalo sauce on roast cauliflower than pick up any variety of fake meat. While it cant capture that primal feeling of eating meat from a bone, its also not pretending to be anything that its not. It feels more authentic than something made in a lab. And if you really want to play meat-eater, its probably best to drop the fork and knife act, and get your hands dirty.

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Why fake meat will never be a substitute for a chicken wing - National Post

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