Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Faking It

At a Scottish festival this summer, I was tempted by a can of vegan haggis. It ended up going home with me ... even though I already had at least two recipes for vegan haggis in cookbooks at home. There's something irresistible to me about the idea of veganizing such a veg-unfriendly dish. (For those not familiar with it, my dictionary describes haggis as – and readers with delicate sensibilities may wish to skip the next line - "a Scottish dish made of the lungs, heart, etc., of a sheep or calf, mixed with suet, seasoning, and oatmeal and boiled in the animal’s stomach.")

Vegetarians seem to have two schools of thought about such "meat" products as vegan haggis. Some dislike them. For some, it's simply that the flavor or texture isn't appealing. In that case, there's no sense arguing with taste.

Others have more philosophical objections to faux meats, and here, controversy can bloom. The reasons have some merit. Why try to imitate meat, some wonder, when the vegetable kingdom offers so much to enjoy? Others are squeamish about them – they feel so strongly opposed to the cruelty inherent in meat production that they don't even want imitations of it. And, there is the concern that it gives ammunition to militant carnivores, who can argue that vegetarians face such privation that they must turn to pallid imitations to be able to bear their austere diet. "I could never be a vegetarian," they say. "And why even try? – Even the vegetarians crave meat!"

Still, I'm a fan of these fakes. Tony Weston, the creator of one of those vegan haggis recipes mentioned above, states the case succinctly in his Taigh Na Mara Cookbook. "If something tastes good and it's not caused harm to anyone or anything in its production then I can find no logical reason to deprive yourself of another flavour in an extensive range of healthy flesh-free alternatives," he writes.

And I've found that faux meats can be a way to introduce friends to the vegetarian lifestyle and show them that it can be as comfortingly familiar as they could wish. One of my favorite dishes of all time is Munro’s "Chickenly" Pot Pie, which uses Smart Menu "Chick'n Srips" from Lightlife in the filling. Recently, an omnivorous friend declared "I want to be a vegan!" after a few bites of this pie.

What side of the faux-meat divide do you find yourself on?


At 12/19/2006 5:57 PM, Blogger Countess said...

A quick step back to the veggie eating road trip experience: We just got back from a road trip to Colorado to visit family and, veggie-wise, it was a tad difficult. There was the Subway standby and cheese-less pizzas. Cracker Barrel's menu now warns that veggie sides can have meat seasonings, but I sure didn't expect the bacon bits in the garden salad! The biggest problem is being tired and having to think too much about what to eat.

Now current: I've been vegetarian for about 35 years and "in the beginning" was very happy to have meat substitutes. Loma Linda made Big Franks and Tender Bits (faux chicken bits). My favorite back then was Wham (you can guess which faux it was). As the years progressed, I became less and less enchanted with meat substitutes because of the texture and possible association of taste to the critter the substitute is supposed to be mimicking.

Having said that, Smart Dogs are my favorite and here's a recipe I love:

(Remember I'm not a kitchen gal, so the measurements are flexible)

Preheat oven to 350. Boil 4 Smart Dogs and chop into bite-size pieces. Empty one large can Bush's (I hate that name) veggie beans (or two smaller cans of other brands)into a margarine smeared medium size casserole. Add the Smart Dog pieces. Saute one small chopped up red onion and one small diced green pepper until slightly tender and dump into casserole. Add a very small drained can of diced pineapple chunks (keep the juice), a "dollop" of brown sugar, barbecue sauce to your taste, some of the pineapple juice and a tablespoon of vinegar. Bake for 25 minutes.


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