Saturday, June 30, 2018

Vegan mince hits the shelves

When I lived in Sydney in the early 1990s there was a market research firm just up the road from my house. One day they popped a flyer in our letterbox and I signed up to occasionally take part in taste tests and focus groups. It was fun. Two or three times a year they'd call and ask about a product; if I used that type of product and fitted their demographic requirements I'd find myself tasting chocolate, or looking at shampoo ads, or describing the 'mouth feel' of biscuits, or whatever. One time they had a different proposition. Would I like to take a selection of vegetable protein (essentially, fake meat) products home, cook and eat the items over a week or so, and return to discuss them in a focus group? Why not, I said. They were ... weird. Vegetable protein manufactured to look and (sort of) taste like bacon and sausages and hamburger patties. I was unconvinced back then and still am. Plenty of simple, delicious vegetarian food options exist. There's no need for manufactured products masquerading as meat. (IMHO.) Anyway ...

... recently fake meat made it to the news here in Australia. The Woolworths supermarket chain was criticised by the meat industry for placing a vegetable protein product among its red meats:

Frankly, I think putting the product alongside actual meat was a genius marketing move. Whereas most people wouldn't even have noticed this product otherwise, the meat industry's bluster and outrage alerted us to it! The stuff looks remarkably like minced beef but consists of a bunch of vegetable products:

I tried cooking with it last night. My usual deconstructed samosas recipe worked well with vegetable protein rather than meat. My partner didn't even notice until I told him what we were eating!

I'm in two minds whether I'd buy it again, though, and whether it's a better option than meat. Yes, no animals died to make this product. Which is nice to know. But when you read the fine print it turns out it is made in Denmark and imported to Australia. What?! As someone who tries to buy and consume local food, I'm not comfortable with my dinner ingredients travelling right around the world. And ... again ... do we really need to eat artificial meat? Why not just eat legumes, or tofu, or tempeh ... or fresh veges?

On the other hand, I'm finding it hard to feel sorry for the protesting meat industry. They are complaining that calling the product 'minced' is misleading, and that the word should only be used for meat. I disagree. This is my mincer. I have used it to mince many foods, both plant-based and meaty:

Mincing is the process of cutting or chopping into very small pieces (thank you, Macquarie Dictionary). If manufacturers of finely-chopped fake meat want to use the term, then so be it ...

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