We are an ovo-lacto vegetarian household, although Morningstar Farms makes me a lazy vegetarian at home.
In our ecology of food we still purchase mass-produced, vegetarian burgers, recipe crumbles and chik patties. It’s an easy dinner to warm one up, prepare a couple of side dishes, and call it done.
I came up in a household where variations of hamburger played a number of roles. Mother made burgers, chili, taco meat, meat loaf, meatballs, and many other dishes using various cuts of ground beef. To a large extent, our current use of meat substitutes is to evoke memories of that long ago childhood.
A couple of homemade vegetarian burger patties wait in the freezer, and I look forward to finding or inventing a recipe that hits all the notes of satisfaction. Maybe then we can quit using outside products. In the interim, manufactured meat substitutes create a predictable, inexpensive, convenient source of food comfort.
I recently read Anthony Bourdain’s book, Appetites, in which he wrote about hamburgers. I don’t know if he approved of manufactured burgers, but using inexpensive buns from the wholesale club, I took his written explanation and videos and made a hamburger sandwich that proved to be quite delicious. A burger and fries (made from local potatoes parboiled and frozen after harvest), with home made dill pickles, is my go to dinner when my spouse is working. The manufactured burger patties fit the recipe just right.
I mentioned the Bourdain story to a friend. His response? “You do know he committed suicide?” Guess I’m not too worried about that possibility. For now, meat substitutes remain in our food ecology.
Tradition and memory play a role in our food culture. It wouldn’t be that difficult to figure out the nutritional content of food products and construct a generic meal designed to meet nutritional needs. The dialectic between nutritional science and memory waxes and wanes, and a desire to serve memory seems unlikely to be suppressed. As Chef Matt Steigerwald said, “Food is important.” I submit a corollary, “Food we grew up with is also important.”
I’m not really a vegetarian, except at home where I am a lazy one. From time to time, at social events, or when I’m in a hurry, I’ll eat something containing meat. Suffice it that the industrial meat complex is not sustained by my meager consumption of its products.
When I worked a summer job at a meat packing plant, one of the measures of our work among summer help was whether or not we’d eat what we made. That depends, I said. We made things like fertilizer, rendered lard, chitterlings, organ meat and other exotica which haven’t had a place on my plate ever. Back in the day, when I was single, I occasionally bought white bread, packaged bologna, and yellow mustard to make sandwiches, although those seem like ancient times. There were enough FDA inspectors around the plant to engender a feeling that the food products were safe to eat. I’m not sure that remains the case and my exposure to it is minimal.
It doesn’t seem human to be regimented or formulaic in the kitchen. If it were, why wouldn’t we have a home robot prepare all our meals? I’m no robot and flourish in an environment where each kitchen session is a blank slate. There are also times when a burger, fries and a dill pickle make me feel like home. That has little to do with nutrition.