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The bogus-meat fad may be over

How does a food fad progress as it sweeps across the West?

Well, it does okay until it comes up against a newer food fad. Then, the older fad falls into disrepute while the new fad has its moment in the sun.


We are all aware that veganism has been the reigning food fad in many Western countries for several years now. In fact, holier-than-thou Indian vegetarians have treated it as a validation of their lifestyle and have claimed that it proves that even Westerners have recognised how Indians have always got it right.


   Yeah. Sure.


   There are two huge elements of hypocrisy to this claim. (Or stupidity; take your pick.) First of all, Jainism requires its adherents to be vegetarians. But Hinduism does not. Except for a few upper castes (Brahmins, Banias, etc), Hindus are not necessarily vegetarian. (And even Brahmins in many Indian states are not vegetarian). So this business about vegetarianism being an integral part of the Hindu way of life is bogus and only really gained ground once Gujaratis (my people!), the majority of whom are vegetarians, began ruling the country.


   Second, Western vegans hate Indian vegetarians almost as much as they despise American carnivores. The fashionable Western argument for veganism is not based on any moral principle or religious stricture.


   The argument is strictly pragmatic. The Earth is under threat from climate change caused by the production of greenhouse gases. One of the prime causes of this is the rearing of animals (especially cattle) for food. Vegans argue that if we stopped eating meat, we would stop rearing livestock and the production of gases would decrease.


   So far, so good and guaranteed to please any pious Indian vegetarians. But the case for veganism goes further. All around the world, cattle are reared not just for their meat; they are also reared for milk. So vegans do not touch dairy products.


   Indian vegetarians, on the other hand, love paneer, ghee, milk, malai, mithai, dahi, etc. Non-dairy-eating non-vegetarians may actually do less damage to the earth than paneer-loving vegetarians. Much of the meat we get in India comes from wild goats and there is no rearing of cattle for food purposes; it is all done for the milk.


   Western vegans also have a problem that Indian vegetarians do not: many of them love the taste of meat. So, billions of dollars have been spent over the last decade, in attempts to create industrial processes that will allow manufacturers to shape vegetable products into approximations of meat.


   Many restaurants in the West will now offer meatless-meat burgers and, as the technology advances, other kinds of meatless products that mimic the taste of meat have become available. Some of them use beetroot to imitate the look of blood to tickle the taste buds of non-vegetarians who have gone vegan ‘to save the planet’.


   I have said this before and I will say it again: most of those vegetarian ‘meat’ products are disgusting. If you prefer to eat a non-meat ‘steak’ or a fake egg, chances are you don’t really like food anyway.


 "No matter what you think of the evidence, there is no doubt that there is a growing backlash against ultra-processed foods in the West."

   But there is now a new problem for the mock-meat industry: veganism and bogus meat are last year’s thing. The current fad is the revolt against ultra-processed food. At some level, this makes sense.


   Most people who care about food know that packaged products often contain high levels of sugar and salt. Even products that you don’t expect to contain sugar — say soups and breads — can contain more sugar than is good for you. And some packaged food has thrice as much salt as one would use if one made the same dish at home.


   We are also aware that many industrial packaged foods use chemicals that we are not familiar with. We assume that they are safe because no food company can use chemical additives, preservatives, etc, if they have not been cleared by a government body. Many of us avoid packaged foods that are packed with chemicals anyway as a matter of course.


   None of this is at all controversial; most of it is, in fact, commonsensical. I checked my own fridge while I was writing this column, to see if it contained anything that was packed with chemicals. I found a raising agent (chemical) in a packet of McVitie’s chocolate digestive biscuits (which I am partial to). McCain potato products had a small amount of a soya derivative, which seemed okay. Other than that, there was nothing chemical in my fridge.


   Liquids were different. Most sauces have chemical stabilisers but I reckon that this is not such a big deal because I don’t consume them often or in large quantities. The only non-natural liquid in my fridge was Diet Coke, which I drink a lot, and in which the only natural ingredient is water.


   So, except for the Diet Coke, I have always thought I was not a big consumer of processed foods. But the new anti-ultra-processed-food orthodoxy goes even further. Anything made in a manufacturing plant is bad, by definition.


   The evidence for this comes mostly from observational studies. You are probably familiar with the sort of study. Scientists give one sample group a normal diet while another group gets the diet being investigated. At the end of the period of study, the scientists declare that the people who ate the normal diet are fine. The people who ate the diet being investigated, however, became fat / had heart attacks / lost their hair / went mad, etc.


   Observational studies are rarely conclusive because they don’t always explain the actual effect of the food in question on the body. To do that, scientists would have to tell us what organs and bodily processes were harmed by the diet being investigated. Probable cause and effect are not enough. We don’t have anything like that yet when it comes to ultra-processed foods. There is no credible science; just theories and observational studies.


   On the other hand, we turned against cigarettes only on the basis of observational studies, long before we knew how they caused heart disease or cancer. So observational studies do have their place even if they are not necessarily conclusive.


   No matter what you think of the evidence, there is no doubt that there is a growing backlash against ultra-processed foods in the West. Sometimes it is silly: don’t eat any biscuits, throw away that bottle of ketchup or never eat a baked bean. But when it comes to foods that depend almost entirely on industrial processes, the claims of the anti-ultra-processed-food activists have a certain intuitive appeal.


   Unfortunately for the companies that flog so-called vegan-meat, their product is made entirely in factories. It is the ultimate ultra-processed food.


   This is bad news for an industry that was already facing questions about economic viability after US meat companies launched a massive attack on its processes. Newspapers abroad are full of reports about how the vegan boom is ending.


   According to The Times (London), British manufacturers of vegan food are cutting back. The sausage company Heck has cut its vegan range from 10 options to two. Nestle is removing its plant-based brand Garden Gourmet from supermarket shelves. Oatly has withdrawn its dairy-free range from ice-cream shops. Innocent, the smoothies-maker, has discontinued its dairy-free-range. In London, branches of the vegan Clean Kitchen Club have closed. The Vurger Co, a vegan restaurant group, has gone into administration.


   So the bogus-meat fad may be over. Which is fine with me. If you want to be vegan, just eat roti, dal, sabzi and chawal while avoiding ghee. It’s tastier than the meatless-meat rubbish. And it’s much healthier.



Posted On: 30 Jun 2023 11:30 AM
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