by Mike Todd
“Come on, try it,” I said to my wife, Kara, nudging the cube of who-knows-what toward her.
“Uh uh,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh, try something new, Evan,” I said, reminding her of the phrase we employ 27 times a day in our vain attempts to get our four-year-old son, who is 90% chicken-nugget-powered, to eat something that can’t be dunked in ketchup.
“The whole idea is freaking me out a little,” she replied. That’s exactly the effect the little cube was meant to have.
I’d first heard about this chicken substitute in a 2012 Slate.com article by Farhad Manjoo, titled, “Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out.” In that article, Manjoo said that a new company called Beyond Meat had created the best fake meat yet, so good that it even fooled a New York Times food writer.
The article stuck with me, even two years later, because I am a vegetarian sympathizer, which means that I lack the willpower to be an actual vegetarian, but I’d like all the animals that I eat to know that I like them a lot, even before they’re covered in melted cheese.
Over the years, I’ve fed my brain a steady, growing diet of cognitive dissonance. I’ll dive over the couch to keep Kara from squishing a spider and then go back to dipping my bacon in au jus (which, translated from the French, means “what happens when you wring out a cow”). While I know that eating meat is bad for the planet and not such a great deal for the animals, either, its deliciousness makes it awfully easy to rationalize. Bacon, after all, is just a tiny sliver. The pig will hardly miss it.
In the movie “Interview with the Vampire,” Brad Pitt’s character becomes a vampire consumed with guilt at the idea of killing people for food. He tries to tame his hunger by feeding on rats, but it’s ultimately not enough. “Oh, come on, it’s not that hard to not kill people. I do it all the time,” I remember thinking.
When I attempt to make a meal out of squash, though, I get a little more sympathy for vampires. Vegetables are my rats; I might survive, but I refuse to enjoy them.
So when we went out for lunch recently and the restaurant had a little sign proclaiming, “All chicken dishes available with Beyond Meat chicken-free strips,” I thought, well, today’s my clucky day. “Can I try that with the fake chicken?” I asked, surprised to hear my voice saying those words.
Back at our table, Kara watched me take the first bite of a buffalo not-chicken wrap. “How is it? Can you tell?” she asked.
On the one hand, it felt good knowing that the only thing that had to die to make this lunch was my sense of apprehension. On the other hand, my hesitant hopes may have been a little too high. I was expecting fool-a-food-critic fake chicken. What I got was closer to fool-a-food-critic-who’s-still-recovering-from-a-root-canal fake chicken.
“No, it’s fine. I mean the texture actually feels like chicken. It just seems like they had to cram some spices in there to keep my soy radar from going off,” I said.
I took out a cube of the chicken-like substance and put it in Kara’s plate, nudging it toward her.
She wasn’t as curious to try it, but when she could tell we were headed toward “here comes the airplane, into the hangar” territory, she relented.
“Yeah, I mean, pretty close, I guess,” she said, chewing and shrugging.
So while we may not be ready to move beyond meat quite yet, it seems hopeful that perhaps we’re closing in on it. Maybe someday we’ll even sneak a soy nugget past Evan.