Mr. Canny’s veganism has opened up a whole new world of food for us. It’s been a total bust at times – I’m not going to lie – like trying to find a dairy-free cheese which melts that doesn’t make me shudder. On the other hand I’ve rejoiced in some of the delicious food we’ve tried in restaurants, and it’s certainly changed my palate for the better. It was pretty exciting to visit New York and try out what can only be described as vegan gastronomy. I did a lot of research beforehand about where to eat, and it transpired we spent as much time seeking out these quirky eateries as we did up the Empire State Building or Lady Liberty! We certainly didn’t struggle and found many places offered vegan alternatives as standard. My plan is to do a list of places to eat if you’re a vegan, veggie or dairy-free and visiting the city that never sleeps but, the meantime, I’m going to focus on some of the more outlandish food we experienced and discuss what we perceive to be the future of meat-free food.
I read an article from Jay Rayner regarding veggies and he specifically mentioned meat substitute products. In a nutshell, he feels we should embrace the humble sprout and not eat Quorn. I see his point to a degree, and know a fair few in the vegan community who are wholly plant-based and will not eat processed products but, because of the world we live in and because many of us come to meat-free later in life, this isn’t always the best way. I won’t denigrate anyone who wants to have a vegan hot dog on occasion. To be honest, the very questionable ‘meat’ that goes into the standard means I’d advise most people to chose the meatless versions instead! You are not a ‘bad vegan’ if you eat a Linda McCartney sausage, although too much of anything processed is not a good thing – no matter what your lifestyle choice is.
It made me think about whether veganism will ever become as widely accepted as vegetarianism is now. I was veggie over a decade ago in Newcastle and dining out was tough. Unless you liked mushrooms you were screwed. The blog has demonstrated how the food landscape has shifted even over the last few years to eating more consciously, with a definite rise in ‘nose to tail’ dining establishments in my home city springing up too. The movement towards sustainability has also impacted on the science community, with billions being used to develop products that could potentially solve the issue of people going hungry in the world. There’s certainly is enough food to go round, but the crops grown are often ploughed into animal agriculture as opposed to being used to feed families. I suggest anyone doubting this to watch Cowspiracy. Some may say its propaganda, but I’ve witnessed first hand its power. It was the turning point for the man who told me a meal was half finished if there was no meat involved. A man who had hunted, fished, stripped back carcasses. Mr. Canny was not squeamish about animals and meat, but he was aware of the growing problems we face with the environment, and that was enough for him to re-programme himself after 37 years of eating meat to become plant-based.
I posted a photo of The Impossible Burger, a product which has taken many years to ‘perfect’, on some of the vegan and vegetarian walls I’m involved with. You can read more about the fascinating development of it here. The response showed a polarised view on the future of meat substitutes within the community, with some claiming finding it appealing was related to how long you’d been vegan. I dispute this vehemently. Mr. Canny says he’s not vegan because he doesn’t like meat but because he doesn’t place the life of another over his own taste buds. There are some vegans who will not touch an Impossible Burger because of how realistically mimics meat, no matter how long they’ve avoided animal products. It looks, smells and tastes just like a meat patty. You can see the pink centre, replicating what Byron and the like sell every single day to millions of happy customers who know – but simply don’t give a fig – about animal welfare. No amount of ‘harassing’ will turn some off meat, it’s that simple. My Dad is one of those folk, but I’m sure if he was given one of these burgers and was told this was the future and would be cheaper than meat, I think he might just change his ways.
“It’s too realistic!” were the cries. Yes, it is supposed to replicate ‘the real deal’. I’d much rather folk were offered these than a hunk of cow. This is the bigger picture. If you’re vegan, you’ve already done your research and made an informed decision. There are still billions who want to eat burgers and who don’t think tofu and lentils are the best thing ever. Some vegans took our view and said they’d try it because – ultimately – it didn’t come from an animal and is made from plants. Surely the way to make a positive change is to wean the world off the very products that are given as reasons they could never be vegetarian or vegan in the first place? Give them fantastic alternatives and maybe the years of cognitive dissonance will melt away. The vegetarian and vegan communities should be championing this as one of the most influential ways to stop industrial scale animal agriculture.
I’d take a punt and say there were people queued up outside David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi who weren’t even vegan, such is the power of these alternatives. We visited a French vegan restaurant called Delice & Sarrasin – yes, FRENCH – who were dedicated to creating alternatives for dishes that form the very canon of their cuisine. How about an escargot made from mushrooms, or a chicken leg complete with bone made from bamboo? There were times I found myself recoiling, but that was because I wouldn’t have eaten these as a meat eater. I came away from New York energised about vegan food and resolved to make the permanent switch myself.
Trying out the sandwiches at Terri, another of New York’s great discoveries for us, showed that even the smaller establishments have embraced the concept of providing great meat substitutes. Their take on the ‘Filet O Fish’ from good old Maccie D’s was given a huge thumbs up from Mr. Canny. Made from palm hearts, it demonstrated how nature’s own can be used to realistically recreate the taste and texture of animal products. After visiting Redragon in South Shields I can say there are also local restaurants in our area that are trying to push the boundaries of vegetarian and vegan food to make it more appealing to those who may not have considered it in the past. I look forward to seeing what the next few years hold and will endorse any product that either reduces or stops people eating animals, full stop.
Thanks for reading,