Fake No More


The newly tripled-in-size Downtown corner market Brooklyn Fare has transformed into a corner supermarket with all the requisite specialized food products the expanding Downtown population might require. These include around six varieties of truffle oils, exotic produce including fiddle-head ferns, and small, caulifloweresque figments in orange or purple that look like fractals. The merchandise also includes the full range of Applewood organic meats (“we’re ANTI-antibiotics”) and every kind of vegetarian faux meat.

In search of a lazy dinner for one recently, I picked up a Tofurkey unsausage-topped pizza with the famous Daiya vegan cheese that’s supposed to be different than all those other awful fake cheeses. (“It Melts!”– a sad claim for a “cheese” to have to make, but when it comes to nondairy cheese imitations, it’s a relevant one.) I didn’t have high expectations to begin with, but this meal was a heavy, underwhelming, and fake waste. It left a metaphorical bad taste along with the wee shreds of this Daiya substance stuck to the roof of my mouth.

When I first moved to Brooklyn as a vegan in ought-one, I was in hog-hugging heaven over all the plant-based food options so readily available. I couldn’t get over the fact that you could get soy milk at the bodega. Even better, there was a natural foods market in walking distance (Perelandra in Brooklyn Heights) with every animal-free product I could possibly want! (This was before such items trickled down to the shelves of mainstream supermarkets and suburbia.) Now this, I thought, was civilization. This was one big reason to take on the struggle of living in NYC sans trust fund. More and more of my new neighbors were turning on to this herbivorous way of life, it seemed.

And being vegan in Brooklyn worked well for a long time, until it didn’t. My (former vegetarian) bff says only two of her friends are semi-veg anymore. One of those is me, and we’re both eating seafood and poultry.

Why do so many lay down this cause, after taking it up with such vigor? I often wondered that as my semi-veg husband and my own vegetarian friends dropped off, one by one, each of them murmuring when they came out as reformed carnivores that burgers are soooo good, and wait til you try them.

For one of my major intervening factors, see: Cheese, the indisputable deliciousness of. Moving to the Deep South for three years threw a massive wrench in my dietary works. A wrench made of butter. There, I ate local eggs and dairy, fish our neighbors caught and shrimp just off the boat. This was better than store-bought products.

But another intervening factor, I believe, is simply age. There will always be some hardcore holdouts, but not all activists remain ardent forever. Anthony Bourdain wrote in Medium Raw about putting away his Dead Boys T-shirt after his daughter was born, because he’s through being cool–nihilistic teen punks no longer applied to his 50-something life. My own change feels not like a backslide or something to be ashamed about, but like another way of maturing. I’ve reevaluated and admitted my old beliefs no longer made sense.

The more I read about food, the less I saw a plant-based diet as the most noble one. I began to see it a well-intentioned but dishonest diet. It’s not what the diner really wants. I also believe that for most people following the diet, especially the ones who then unfollow, it’s not enough nutritionally. I for one lacked energy and fell into naps too easily. The oft-cited protein/energy concern for herbivores never made sense to me until I tried real chicken again, and a light bulb (of energy) turned on. Veganism is a culture of bloggers protesting too much about how much they’re not missing the now-forbidden meals they grew up loving, and “Look at this vegan version I made–it’s so sinful!” (There’s a loooootta mention of sin when vegans describe food.)

I gave up meat in 1994, so it’s not like I couldn’t hack it–No one can say I didn’t give it the old college and mega-extendo post-college try. It just no longer felt like the right thing to do.

I had to acknowledge that as much as I love certain vegetable dishes, I was spending way too much time trying to make plant matter act like meat, dairy, and eggs. Mind you, this is not a phenomenon that ever happens in reverse.

With fish and poultry (and red meat, no doubt) you can make something simple quickly, you don’t have to marinade it for an hour, then fry it for 40 minutes, then add various spices and sauce to make a tofu sodium bomb. These real foods are lovely and they sustain you. Once I accepted the nearly universal truth that humans eat animals, and that’s how we got our big brains (brains which sometimes make you think you should eat pretend substitutes instead of the food you really want), I made new rules from there. Whenever possible: organic, free range, sustainably raised, anti-antibiotics. No mystery meat. It’s not with every meal, and I still know mean ways to prepare vegetables–just sometimes they appear along with other things besides vegetables on the plate. More and more of my new neighbors are turning on to this conscientious omnivorous way of life, it seems.

When you switch from cooking veggie chili to turkey chili, I’ve discovered the resulting dish is no longer a million-bean colon-taxing overload, but a more complex and enjoyable meal. Omnivorous cooking is less about “How do we make up for the missing elements?” and more about “What elements would make this even better?” For either version of the dish, the supplies can be purchased four flights downstairs from my apartment at Brooklyn Fare. But with a little animal protein in my diet, I have more energy to climb back up those flights once again.

15 Responses

  1. McGrok -

    Great post. Honest and thoughtful. I am an omnivore, and protein is a big part of my diet. There are various reasons that people give up meat. Part of it for some is the process, the corn fed, mass-produced, etc. I eat meats bought from farms, and grass-finishe. (big difference there in omega 6/3, inflammation, etc.)

    I happen to believe that we were designed to eat protein, and I agree. Having said that, my libertarian tendencies will always put me in a position where I will defend one’s right to be a vegan, or whatever else, and would never tell them what to do, as long as they don’t tell me. The guy up the street raises his sons to be vegetarians. That, to me, is a crime, because of the lack of protein, and soy aint the answer, unless you want overdeveloped girls and underdeveloped boys.

    I have done a lot of research on this, gone to seminars, and sought my answer from a purely nutrional and health perspective. You don’t NEED to eat red meat…I do, but you can get plenty from birds and fish. Good luck!

  2. viviane valvezan -

    As a former 20-year vegetarian who now occasionally eats “organic, free range, sustainably raised, anti-antibiotics” meat, I agree with some of your points: yes, I think a lot of vegans/vegetarians go back to meat because of age, but it also depends on the individual’s reason for giving up meat in the first place.

    For those that care about how animals are treated for those that chose vegetarianism for environmental reasons, it’s still true that it’s wasteful and harmful to the environment to raise animals for food, but there’s now a lot more small and local farms offering small-scale, environmentally sustainable, humanely treated meat options that didn’t exist before.

    I’d say another reason people are falling off the veg wagon is that the young vegetarians aren’t learning how to cook but are instead relying on a diet of boca burgers, soy and fake food. When I first became a vegetarian, we didn’t have all these processes, pre-packaged options that groceries carries today. To be a vegetarian meant knowing how to use spices and knowing how to cook. I have yet to meet a vegetarian under 30 who isn’t 90% relying on processed vegetarian food. Of course that gets boring and unhealthy.

    I still believe in the vegetarian diet. I believe it’s best for the planet, the animals and ourselves. Eating animals is linked to disease, factory industrial farming is linked to disease and environmental pollution. But, I’m glad to see people turning to local farms, sustainable and humanely raised food and hope that consumer choices drive our food to be safer and better for us and the environment. It is, however, a more expensive choice that a majority of Americans are unable to make.

  3. McGrok -

    @viviane, I respect your thoughts, and I agree with HOW you procure your meats, and it’s what I do.

    In terms of a couple of comments “it’s still true that it’s wasteful and harmful to the environment to raise animals for food” and “Eating animals is linked to disease,” I guess that I would say if you are referring to your caveats of mass-produced, inhumane, corn-stuffed animals, I agree. If you mean it as a blanket statement, I guess I would say that it’s only what we’ve been designed to do for all of evolution. (just look at our teeth.)

    It’s what humans have been doing forever, and it’s what humans will continue to do. Animals have been eating other animals since before humans were in existence. I respect you and your concern for the planet, and share many concerns, but eating animals, especially if it’s from local farms, and grass-finished, has led to me dropping 40 pounds, and getting much, much stronger and fitter.

    If you want to be healthy, give up sugar and processed grains, and eat protein and veggies. You’ll never be healthier.

    In terms of methane, and the scale of production, that’s a Malthusian issue.

  4. Flynn -

    I am a 20 year lacto-vegetarian myself, and I have a lot of energy, eat a balanced diet (I do eat cheese/milk products), and I exercise regularly. (I often wonder how much exercise people who say they have no energy on a veg diet actually do, and how much inactivity affects this.) I think a big reason people give up on being vegetarian is an inability to cook, or lack of interest in cooking. There are so many vegetarian and vegan cookbooks now, including lots of fast meal ones out there. It sure is easy to stick a piece of meat in the center of your plate, but if you spend a little time learning to cook, and learning about nutrition, you can easily make yourself 3 meals a day that are vegetarian and healthy with generally not too much effort. You don’t need to rely on prepacked foods, veggie burgers, etc. Americans eat much more protein than they need, and it’s easy to get protein from non-meat sources if you just think about it (nuts, beans, soy, seitan/wheat gluten, quinoa, broccoli, as a few examples).

  5. McGrok -

    @Flynn, I like a lot of what you said, and it’s interesting…. “Americans eat much more protein than they need, and it’s easy to get protein from non-meat sources if you just think about it (nuts, beans, soy, seitan/wheat gluten, quinoa, broccoli, as a few examples).”

    Soy has shown to increase levels of estrogen…there are reports of girls developing too soon, boys being underdeveloped. What is “too much” protein, in your opinion? and there is not really a MATERIAL amount of protein in gluten, broccoli, etc.

    I don’t mind at ALL that you are a vegetarian, in fact, I think it’s great. At the margin, it keeps protein prices low for the rest of us.

    I think my favorite line is “Americans eat much more protein than they need.” So we get the oikophobe angle as well.

    Everything that I have read (which is different from what you are reading, I am sure) says that you need about a gram of protein per pound if you are trying to put on muscle. So, for example, my 3 sons, they need to eat a lot of it. We talk about animals, farms, where we get the animals, how they are treated better…they help me to gril lamb, steak, chicken, etc. We do pork, and they LOVE it. (Because they are designed to eat it.)

    As I said Flynn, I respect your right to be a vegetarian, but I do take issues with your blanket statements about Americans, and how we eat more than we need, and I also think it’s absurd to say that it’s “easy” to get protein from non-meat sources. It’s anything but.

  6. Anonymous -

    What does the term “semi-veg” even mean? You eat poultry and fish so you’re “semi-veg”? What if you added pork? Would you still be semi-veg? What is the tipping point at which one is no longer “semi-veg”? What nonsense.

    It seems like you’re the one with the guilt if you have to describe yourself as such.

  7. saras -

    As a vegan–a not-so-long-ago-turned vegan, I find the take on vegetarianism and veganism presented here to be unsettlingly narrow in response to the question it asks: “Why do so many people lay down this cause, after taking it up with such vigor?” The response lightly makes a trend out of what is an important issue to some people and could stand to be taken more seriously, even if not adopted as a way of living, by others. Because burgers for carnivores are good? Because of age? “A way of maturing”? To call vegetarians “hardcore holdouts”, as if being vegetarian is like continuing to love a band that was really only good for the teenage years, is unsettling. I’m not a self-righteous vegan. I get that some people don’t want to give up their meat and cheese and the like, but rather than dismiss vegetarianism/veganism as a trend, it’s worth being informed about the likes of factory farms, for example, as well as how raising animals en masse to keep up with current human consumption negatively impacts our environment. It’s also worth being informed about the nutritional aspects of vegetarianism. There is a good amount of evidence of and testimony from vegetarians and vegans who have plenty of energy and nutritional balance, and some may be better off than their meat-eating counterparts, depending on the quality of food each is eating. As viviane valvezan (below) points out, a vegetarian doesn’t have to eat “fake” food. Also, I don’t mean to nit-pick, but the cheese pictured isn’t the famous Daiya cheese (which is actually the best vegan cheese I’ve had and does melt, plus it’s soy-free). I choose it when I choose to eat fake food.

  8. Anne -

    Dear everyone: Please stop using terms like semi-veg, part-time vegan, flexitarian, etc. You wish you were vegan/vegetarian (maybe you have the guilt mentioned by some other poster). But you’re not, and you should own up to and be proud of your choice, and if you’re not proud you eat meat, then maybe you should rethink your choices.

    You eat some vegetables, you eat some meat – you eat like people who don’t have a label for the way they eat, or, if you must, like an omnivore. Please stop diluting the concept of vegetarianism/veganism. The end result is I now have to explain what I mean when I say I’m vegetarian (“No, I don’t eat just white meat. No, I don’t eat fish.”) instead of just “vegetarian” being good enough.

    A few other vents. On the topic of “humane” meat – the animal was still slaughtered. You still are responsible for an animal’s death. We should congratulate you that it died quickly? No.

    The protein issue – I hate it. There are plleeennnty of healthy, energetic vegetarians out there. We don’t have to eat tofu 24/7 to get that protein. Stop making everyone think we’re unhealthy.

    Re cooking to make up for missing elements – this suggest that the author never truly embraced the vegetarian diet. I’ve been veg (lacto/ovo) for 12 years now. I realized recently that my viewpoint on veg cooking changed. When I first went veg I centered meals around which meat substitute I had on hand, just like most Americans structure a meal around whichever meat they have (e.g., Oh, we have steaks? Okay, then let’s do potatoes and salad.) A few years ago I realized I no longer planned meals like that, focusing instead on building from whatever vegetables I had around. I think this is an important step to make if anyone is going to be serious about eating veg. It makes your cooking more…genuine if you will. It causes you to seek out new ingredients, new methods. You discover other sources of the nutrients you need. And – I no longer want any sort of meat substitute really. Honestly, they kind of gross me out. (Boca chicken patties are so realistic they even have the dead bird smell down pat, I swear!)

    And lastly, not ever vegetarian is some sort of activist. Some of us are just content with our personal choices. I’m not going to “outgrow” my well-thought-out decisions.

  9. McGrok -


    I have to agree with everything that you said, actually. I would agree with the mass production, (although it becomes a malthusian discussion.) I get mine from local farms. And there is more to the vegan story, (although it will never be for me!) I don’t object to a more even-handed discussion.

  10. McGrok -


    “The animal still dies” LOL!!!! That’s awesome!!! Yes….fyi, animals have been dying for years, and years, and years. Welcome to evolution. I happen to think that free grazing naturally for a few years is better than being in a pen stuffed with corn.

    Yes, animals die so that my family can eat. I’d do it myself if I had to. With a knife, if I didn’t have a gun. or a bat, if that’s what it takes.

    Animals get eaten. it requires death. I would never tell you to eat animals, so please, get off your high horse. (Before I kill it and eat it.)

    Just for you, I am going to eat some extra dead animal this weekend. I hope that you can smell if from my grill.

    “The animal still dies.” LOL. Yes. that’s how it’s been working for all of evolution. Thanks for pointing it out.

  11. McGrok -


    What in the hell makes you think that I seek your congratulation or approval? I don’t judge my actions based on another person’s soy-stuffed approval.

  12. McGrok -

    @Anne, don’t the plants die when you eat them? They can’t even run away! Harmless, defensive plants that don’t hurt anyone! Plant murderers!!!!

  13. Jordan -

    I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since I was 8 years old. My decision to remain vegetarian as an adult is political, ethical, health-related, and economic. Fake meat products constitute a negligible portion of my diet, and I’ve never felt a craving for meat.

    Colleen, you just sound like a lousy vegetarian who never really understood how to eat properly.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)