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January 20th, 2001

Battle of the Fake Food

Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you to the first Battle of the Fake Food!

Given that I’ve been on a dietary change as of late (much less meat), I’ve been discovering that there are basically veggie (and sometimes vegan) equivalents of almost everything. I’d like to share with you my thoughts on these items.

Burgers: Veggieburgers aren’t unheard of, anymore. I think everyone has heard of Gardenburger, thanks to their very hep cat ads a few years back. But there’s also Boca Burger, which I have yet to try. Last night I had two Gardenburgers with the usual fixins (ketchup and cheddar on one, BBQ and cheddar on the other). The verdict? Very good. They cook up pretty much just like meat burgers. The overall flavor is unique in a good way; the consistency reminded me of ribs at times. They are spicier than meat burgers but not nutso. Overall, I give them a rating of 9 out of 10.

Hot Dogs: I’m not a frequent hot dog eater, but I do enjoy them now and then (plus they’re ridiculously simple to cook.) I tried the Veggie Dogs brand available at Whole Foods. I figured I’d try these out on the Foreman Grill (don’t laugh – it’s a good product) but, sadly, the grill wasn’t up to the task. The end result were slightly gummy hot dogs, with a marked difference in consistency versus the real thing. I will give them another chance, but not on the grill. The jury’s still out, but my holdover rating is 5 out of 10.

Ice Cream: If you’re vegan, Tofutti is your option. It’s amazing how much stuff they actually make – everything from pints of the dessert to ice cream sandwiches! I’ve enjoyed the Vanilla Tofutti, and it is an excellent substitute for ice cream. Consistency is dead on, flavor is spectacular, and it’s definitely worth your time. I say 10 out of 10.

Chicken Nuggets: These, along with french fries, have been favorites since childhood. They’re also easy to cook. Morningstar Farms offers Chik Nuggets, as an alternative to the real deal. No disappointments here. The consistency is close but not quite chicken-like but – and this is the test of any food for me – I can actually enjoy them without condiments. That’s good stuff. The price is right, too. The Chik Nuggets get 10 out of 10.

Soy Milk: We close with soy milk. It’s important to note that tastes vary by brand, sometimes wildly. And it’s nowhere near as cheap as cow’s milk. So, in my judgment, it’d better be something special. Thankfully it tends to be just that. I first tried White Wave chocolate soy milk to much applause: you can taste the difference, but it tastes quite chocolatey. Thickness is good, too. At my local Dominick’s, however, they feature the Sun Soy line. The chocolate milk is quite similar to White Wave in flavor but is just a wee bit thicker, which is fine with me.

The white milk is another matter. While Sun Soy claims it’s "good enough to drink straight", make no mistake: this doesn’t resemble white milk. It didn’t pass the milk and cookies test, but it blew through the milk-in-coffee and milk-over-cereal tests impressively. The chocolate soy milks get 9 out of 10, while the Sun Soy white milk gets shafted at 5 out of 10.

And there you have it. -pm

Posted in Food and Beverage

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 12:28:50PM
Paul -- I pretty much agree right on with you on all of these. I like Boca burgers slightly more than Garden burgers -- especially the Chef Max and Vegan offerings. Melt a little soy cheese on top and you're golden.

The other night I made soy pizza again (using soy cheese, soy pepperoni, and soy Canadian bacon with an organic tomato and basil sauce)... it was outstanding. And almost no saturated fat (which is where regular pizza can really hurt you). Huyen and I ate an entire pizza in one sitting (four pieces each) and didn't get that uncomfortable feeling you get after eating Papa John's/Dominoes/Pizza Hut pizza. The only complaint I have is that we need to find a tastier crust than the Giant brand.



FROM: Robert
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 12:32:19PM
Have you tried Morningstar's Black Bean burgers? Very awesome, but don't eat more than one at a time. It will wreck you.



FROM: Robert
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 12:34:38PM
Ryan--Thanks for reminding me that I need to get a pizza tonight. I'm thinking "real" Canadian bacon and pineapple.



FROM: T.S. Murphy
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 1:04:41PM
One of the problems with meat substitutes is that they are packaged food. So how can you be sure of what you are eating? I make almost all of my food from scratch (including bread, cereal, etc.), so I know exactly what is in there. Packaged foods are overpriced, usually frozen, usually loaded with unhealthy preservatives and artificial flavors.

Also, hot dogs (unless you're lucky enough to live in Chicago), hamburgers, and chicken nuggets are basically junk food and are on the bottom of preference list even for dyed-in-the-wool carnivores. The best vegetarian food is that which has been designed from the ground up to be meatless (Indian food, for example), instead of eating the same type of food which is almost but not quite as good.

That disclaimer said, my favorite brand of veggie burgers is the one which comes in the red package (which I believe are vegan), and I forget the brand name, but they are moist and yummy. I find Gardenburgers & Boca burgers to be too dry and tasteless.

Yes, Morningstar chicken strips are amazingly close to real chicken. I have to wonder what's actually in there though. There was an astoundingly insightful article about the 'flavor industry' in last months Atlantic Monthly, which I heartily recommend you check out, which talked about how flavors in packaged foods are engineered for big bucks. I can only assume that these type of products use loads of artificial flavors to achieve their taste.

Another good brand of packaged veggie food is Amy's (or some such?) which make vegetarian frozen dinners of enchiladas, meat loaf, and lasagna, all of which are very good (but expensive - about $3-$4 per meal, and the above disclaimers about quality apply)

I think veggie burgers and such food would be far, far healthier & better if made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Anybody ever tried any recipes?

And, yes, soy milk (and rice milk!) are both impeccable.



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 2:09:39PM
Terry -- agreed on the issues of packaging... that really deals with any frozen foods. Unfortunately, making everything from scratch isn't practical for many people (myself included), though cooking "from the earth" is certainly preferable.

I absolutely love vegetarian Indian food... in fact, pretty much all vegetarian ethnic food (of any sort) I've had I've enjoyed thusfar. I just wish more of it was available more easily... the "American diet" is still so prevalent it's hard to get away from.

One thing I've been digging in recent weeks are veggie gyros. There's one place near me that offers meatless ones on their menus and this other place that I just ask to "leave the meat out and put more of everything else in." They taste outstanding, and the cucumber yogurt sauce (tzatziki) is so, so good.



FROM: Robert
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 5:11:45PM
Ryan--Have you ever been to the Harmony Cafe in Georgetown? It's a Chinese place that caters to the vegetarian substitutes. I was there for lunch today and I got the tofu steak in tangy sauce for an appitizer and the vegetarian Kung Pao chicken. Yum yum!



FROM: Aaron
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 5:34:39PM
There is a pizza joint near my house run by Muslims. I don't know their nationality, but they have pictures of Mecca all over the walls. They make a great veggie pizza. I often pop in there for a slice. I joked with one of the employees that they offer pepperoni and sausage. He winked and said something like, "I won't eat it, but I'll serve it to you if you want." We both had a good laugh.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 5:45:33PM
Terry,

While I only have a few minutes, I wanted to hit on some of your points and see what you think.

First, regarding the "actual ingredients" - you're correct, but I believe the timing of your argument to be purely coincidental. As Ryan noted, this applies to ALL frozen foods - it's like mystery meat, only with foods! There obviously needs to be an element of trust involved, but I don't see this as applicable to just the frozen foods I mentioned. It's true of everything we buy that is prepared - from tacos to dishes in fancy restaurants.

I also did see the Atlantic Monthly story on flavors, and found it quite interesting. While I'm not disagreeing with the possibility of said foods using these flavors, there is no evidence either way here.

I do disagree with your comment that the foods I mentioned are "on the bottom of the preference list" for even hardcore carnivores. I think that this may be true only if you take a majority of the world into account; this is very arguable for the US, where people thrive on fast foods. People love cookouts. People love hot dogs. These are common American staples, and that's not going to change anytime soon (unless we encounter Mad Cow here as in Europe.) Americans are very reluctant to change. I imagine that my choice of foods to check out supports that, in a way. But to claim that these foods are bottom-rung is very misleading.

Finally, while I agree with both you and Ryan that while being able to create an entire meal from scratch is the most desirable, it simply can't be done on a regular basis in American society. Make no mistake, I'd love to be able to drop everything for a good number of hours a day and harvest my own foods, and create my own meals. But the practicality of that while taking everything else in life into account is questionable.

I just keep thinking about how if this was Slashdot, you'd've been flamed left and right already. :)




FROM: Paul
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 5:48:14PM
Oh, and as a side note, another Whole Foods had about five or six different brands of veggie burgers. Boca, Gardenburger, Amy's, 365 (house brand), and a few others, but the one that stuck out: Hard Rock Cafe Veggie Burgers. That's some marketing.



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 9:11:21PM
Paul -- I actually had a Gardenburger at T.G.I.Friday's last week... it was good, of course, but they mark the food up so much there, I could have bought two PACKAGES of Gardenburgers for the price I paid for one there. Unfortunately, there aren't exactly many veggie options at RubyT.G.I.ApplebeeTuesdays.



FROM: Robert
DATE: Saturday January 20, 2001 -- 10:48:25PM
Ryan--You pay for the atmosphere. Duh!



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Sunday January 21, 2001 -- 1:36:44AM
Robert -- LOL!



FROM: T.S. Murphy
DATE: Monday January 22, 2001 -- 10:54:49PM
I absolutely love vegetarian Indian food... in fact, pretty much all vegetarian ethnic food (of any sort) I've had I've enjoyed thusfar. I just wish more of it was available more easily... the "American diet" is still so prevalent it's hard to get away from.

Me too! There's some great Indian restaurants in Portland, but I don't know how to make Indian food, and it's far too expensive (and time-consuming) to do take-out all the time. I wish they'd can some of that stuff to sell, though probably the real solution is to learn how to cook Indian food.

One thing I've been digging in recent weeks are veggie gyros.

I don't know if you've seen it, but there's this packaged mix they that you can mix with tofu to make your own veggie gyros at home. I tried it once, and it didn't come out well AT ALL, it was just this brown much that didn't cook well. :-) I'll have to go searching for a real one though, it does sound good.

I do disagree with your comment that the foods I mentioned are "on the bottom of the preference list" for even hardcore carnivores. I think that this may be true only if you take a majority of the world into account; this is very arguable for the US, where people thrive on fast foods. People love cookouts. People love hot dogs. These are common American staples, and that's not going to change anytime soon

Sure, in terms of sheer quantity, hamburgers and hot dogs are the highest consumed meat foods, but the best meats (such as high end seafood) are much less substitutable with vegetarian food than the staples. I still meat dishes converted to vegetarian ones are not the best vegetarian dishes.

Finally, while I agree with both you and Ryan that while being able to create an entire meal from scratch is the most desirable, it simply can't be done on a regular basis in American society.

I'm not going to argue your point, but being a vegetarian if you don't cook a lot is much more difficult than by an omnivore if you don't cook. Almost all of the staple prepared foods have meat. I look at this as an argument to cook, so you can choose your ingredients. :-)

I just keep thinking about how if this was Slashdot, you'd've been flamed left and right already. :)

I wonder how many of the Mountain Dew guzzling, pizza devouring, and Doritos munching Slashdotters care about the food they eat. ;-)

I actually had a Gardenburger at T.G.I.Friday's last week

I've had that too there also, but I always thought that menu item was a token, sort of like the high-end coffee shops that have a couple of kinds of (always bagged) tea.





FROM: Ryan
DATE: Monday January 22, 2001 -- 11:23:57PM
I don't know if you've seen it, but there's this packaged mix they that you can mix with tofu to make your own veggie gyros at home. I tried it once, and it didn't come out well AT ALL, it was just this brown much that didn't cook well. :-) I'll have to go searching for a real one though, it does sound good.

Well, the veggie gyros I eat don't have any substitute meat or tofu in them... strictly vegetables and the cucumber yogurt sauce on soft pita bread. Very, very yummy. A nice side product is that I don't feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating it like I did when I had the beef or lamb gyros before.

I wonder how many of the Mountain Dew guzzling, pizza devouring, and Doritos munching Slashdotters care about the food they eat. ;-)

Hmm... as long as the pizza you mentioned is cheese pizza, that's a vegetarian meal! ;)

I'm not going to argue your point, but being a vegetarian if you don't cook a lot is much more difficult than by an omnivore if you don't cook.

Kind of. Since there are "meat replacements" available for so many types of meat, it's not all that difficult for non-cooks to get by as vegetarians. Generally, I'd say that a frozen Boca Burger is going to be better for you than a Big Mac (or whatever the closest equivalent is).

I've had that too there also, but I always thought that menu item was a token, sort of like the high-end coffee shops that have a couple of kinds of (always bagged) tea.

Don't even get me started! ;) Actually there are some decent bagged teas (the Tazo teas seem to be nice and flavorful), but I much prefer to buy my tea from a store where tea is not an afterthought.

Incidentally, I'm going to briefly (and quietly) plug my Veg Blog. I now owe Paul a free plug of his own. :)



FROM: T.S. Murphy
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 12:37:37AM
Well, the veggie gyros I eat don't have any substitute meat or tofu in them... strictly vegetables and the cucumber yogurt sauce on soft pita bread. Very, very yummy.

Oh! I misunderstood. Yes, this does sound very good.

Hmm... as long as the pizza you mentioned is cheese pizza, that's a vegetarian meal! ;)

Well, sure, but it is about the least nuritious meal you can have, even if it happens to be vegetarian. :-)

Kind of. Since there are "meat replacements" available for so many types of meat, it's not all that difficult for non-cooks to get by as vegetarians. Generally, I'd say that a frozen Boca Burger is going to be better for you than a Big Mac (or whatever the closest equivalent is).

At the very minimum, there is less variety. E.g., how many brands of canned vegetarian chili are there? Only a couple, compared to dozens and dozens of meat-based ones. But this is a PLUS for vegetarianism: it encourages you to cook to seek out variety, and keeps you away from fast food. :-)



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 9:16:43AM
Well, sure, but it is about the least nuritious meal you can have, even if it happens to be vegetarian. :-)

Indeed... though I haven't seen many unhealthy vegetarians, it's certainly easy enough to fall into that rut!

At the very minimum, there is less variety. E.g., how many brands of canned vegetarian chili are there? Only a couple, compared to dozens and dozens of meat-based ones. But this is a PLUS for vegetarianism: it encourages you to cook to seek out variety, and keeps you away from fast food. :-)

True. I haven't been to a fast food restaurant in years (aside from the occasional stop at a McDonald's during a long drive to get some fries).

I just got Lorna Sass' Short-Cut Vegetarian cookbook yesterday. Looks like it has some good recipes in it, all less than 20 minutes, including preparation time.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 9:40:09AM
To support Terry's argument a bit, ever since I cut down on meat, I have been cooking more - but I've also been cooking more since I moved out. As long as my pal Elizabeth sends me soup recipes, I'll be fine.



FROM:
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 12:45:57PM
Indeed... though I haven't seen many unhealthy vegetarians, it's certainly easy enough to fall into that rut!

I know at least one unhealthy vegetarian (he eats mostly french fries, or so I'm told). I also know/knew a rather unhealthy vegan, but it's debatable as to whether or not this person was truly vegan since she made a lot of concessions like scraping cheese off some stuff mushrooms.

On the subject of veggie gyros . . . How 'bout falafel (sp?). That stuff's the bomb. It ended my hatred of black beans. Now I can honestly say I love all beans (except for that "vegan"...).



FROM: Robert
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 12:46:32PM
Whoops, I forgot to sign my name above.



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 1:06:01PM
I was wondering who that mystery man was. :)

Falafel is excellent... Mama Lucci's in Leesburg has some really good falafel (and their hommus tahina is also quite good).



FROM: Paul
DATE: Tuesday January 23, 2001 -- 1:06:56PM
Falafel rules.



FROM: frank0
DATE: Monday February 5, 2001 -- 7:52:58PM
Falafels do indeed rock - though the Unsigned comment has me a bit confused with the black bean reference. The falafel that I know and love is made from chick peas (garbanzo beans). The best DC area falafel hands down can be had at Quick Pita in G'Town, just kitty corner to the Subway facing M St. I miss that joint, it used to be a staple of mine back when I lived in DC. Nice, cheap falafels, these $1.50 hummus sandwiches made with their to-die-for hummus and with a little tabouli for good measure, all served to the sounds of Middle Eastern music blaring out of an old boom box with no bottom. The good old days...

And how about some nicely seasoned Daal (lentils) on basmati rice, complete with Nan bread fresh out of the Tandoor oven and the kick-a spicy yogurt sauce made just for dippin' - ah yeah, it can only mean The Food Factory. I'm speaking of the one located in Arlington, since I've never been to the one in Herndon, of course. I could go on to extol the the virtues of their Tandoori chicken kebabs, but I don't want to piss of the veggie posse.

And I second Robert's comment about the Morningstar black bean burgers, best of the bunch IMO. Though I'm kinda liking the Veggie Medley Gardenburger these days.



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Monday February 5, 2001 -- 11:24:57PM
Frank -- I'm the only member of the veggie posse here, as far as I know. :) One thing I know -- you've got my mouth watering.

All this talk of falafel made me go out and have one at Mama Lucci's the other night. Mmmm... tasty.



FROM: Sarah
DATE: Saturday April 7, 2001 -- 3:33:23PM
Just stumbled into this conversation, but I have to agree with most of the stuff that's being said. I personally dig Boca Burgers, but in a pinch, M&M veggie burgers, or Yves will do. I'm a vegetarian, and I think that people who eat meat need to think of these not as subsitutes, but as "hey! these kinda taste like _______!". A lot of people expect exact replications of their fave animal products, which usually doesn't happen. (p.s. tofutti chocolate supreme is to-die-for!)



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Saturday April 7, 2001 -- 7:28:37PM
Sarah -- I agree totally. If you go into trying a new veggie food expecting to taste exactly like meat, you'll more often than not be disappointed.

BTW -- I just tried Tofutti Chocolate Supreme the other day... absolutely OUTSTANDING. I also was introduced to Peanut Butter Swirl Giant Brand (!) "Dreamy Tofu," which is also incredibly good. I'm not totally sold on Soy Dream vanilla yet, though. I just wish that the Tofutti brands were a little lower in saturated fat.



FROM: Heather
DATE: Sunday February 8, 2004 -- 6:42:11 pm
Has anyone ever heard of garbanzo bean coffee? I've had some before and the only place someone can get it is in Puerto Rico and Orlando. I was wanting to know of a web site or something.



FROM: jk
DATE: Sunday February 8, 2004 -- 10:00:08 pm
Heather, I think the spelling might be "gorbanzo" bean...I could be wrong though. Try searching variations on the spelling and I am sure you will find something.



FROM: MTW
DATE: Sunday March 28, 2004 -- 10:57:48 am
Heather:

Here is the recipe for making Garbanzo bean coffee which can only be purchased in Puerto Rico;

Garbanzo beans (chickpea) coffee - Roast ckickpeas at 300° until dark brown - the color of roasted cofee beans. Then grind the beans in a coffee grinder to the same consistency you desire in regular coffee grounds. These beans seems to do better in a percolator, or boiled and then strained, rather than the quick-drip-through coffee makers.



FROM: Susan
DATE: Saturday April 24, 2004 -- 3:05:21 pm
Does anyone know how to make your own Boca Burgers from scratch? What goes into them? Any ideas?



FROM:
DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 3:06:39 pm



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