The Chinese has this saying about “ abstinence of the mouth and not of the heart” （斋口不斋心/口齋心不齋） literally describing people who would not eat real meat, but their vegetarian food is made to resemble meat in shape. There are vegetarian fish, shrimps, BBQ pork, chicken and dishes on the table that mimic their “meat” versions. Some people question this and ask is this the way to go Vegetarian? When you are eating plant based, should you be making your food to look like the real meat and taste like real meat, and named the dishes as real meat dishes? This is at the centre of today’s plant-based meat movement; how should Vegan “Meat” be constituted? Or we should drop “meat” from the description totally? We need a new language to describe the new food, or should we be advancing a new category of food?
Vegetarianism has existed for a long time in Chinese diet. Central to the menu is dishes made from Soy, especially dried soya sheets. Cooks can make all kinds of meat-alike dishes using these material, and on the menu vegetarian bbefore the dish’s name. So you are in fact not eating real meat, but in your imagination you are eating meat! A Vegetarian roast duck does not quite taste like the real roast duck, but the dry taufoo sheets create a crispy chewy dish that is positive to the pallete. It is actually an all time favorite to diners.
The 6th Protein
Since time immemorial, humans consume beef ( meat from cows) lamb ( meat from sheep); chicken ( meat from poultry birds) pork ( meat from pig), and seafood ( fish, shrimps and other harvest from the sea) ; a variety of animal based ingredient to form their diet. In fact in the past when the world had fewer people, most of these meat are foraged or hunted from the wild, these livestocks are not domesticated and collectively they do not posed threat to the environment. People who are near the water eat from the water, people who lived by the mountains eat from the mountains, ( 靠山吃山，靠海吃海）； the land and water in a particular region breed and nurture the people there (一方水土养一方人)。 When people hunt or forage in the wild, there is no distinction between carnivorous and vegetarian, to survivie the people in the early ages ate what was available in the area and in the season.
With modernisation, livestocks are domesticated and bred on a large scale in industrial factory-like farms. People’s habit changed, and a new culture emerged suggesting that more protein, mostly from animal are a better diet; and a more affluent diet, only the rich eat more meat, so it becomes an aspiration for the poorer families; to be able to eat more meat is upward mobility. If the eating culture has gone in a different direction, that is more plant protein taken mainstream and central to the urban people’s diet, then we wouldn’t have this food-induced environmental crisis and health tragedy. We need not worry about the large footprint of cattle rearing, the consumption of water and grain by rearing animal livestocks and do not have to deal with the carbon emissions from their discharge. And fewer people will get sick from an acidic diet of eating too much animal protein. There is now general agreement that only with “diet change,” can we have less ” climate change.”
So if we labelled protein from beef as meat No 1, Lamb as No 2, Chicken as No 3, Pork as No 4 and Seafood as No 4, then today’s plant based protein will qualify as Meat No 6. Plant based protein is a new category and should have its own taste, texture and aroma, different from Meat No 1-5. And we should not imitate or try to recreate meat 1-5 using plant-based ingredients.
Why should there be blood in Meat No 6?
Manufacturers use beet root and mangosteen peel to extract dark red juices to infuse into the vegetarian substance, add flavouring to make the blood in the meat. These beef like taste and texture; let the consumers have the experience of eating “meat with blood,” that taste just like beef. Personally I think this is remarkable innovation but wonder whether we are going in the right path for the development of plant-based “meat.” Is this necessary?
I would like to advance a thought to you. Since we are leaving livestock and animal protein behind, maybe for some no totally, but drastic reduction in the amount to consume. We are focusing on creating a plant-based protein substance for food that is by itself delicious and interesting, the question is should there be any resemblance of taste or texture to any of the meat from No 1 to No 5; should plant based meat be on its own; a new taste, a new texture, a new umami that is memorable to the taste buds, and bring health benefits to the body. The true test of success is people come back for more because it is just tasty and delicious.
I wonder what you think? Do you agree that plant based protein should be called Meat No 6, a new protein or “meat” that have its own taste and texture profile?
Foong Wai Fong, Founder of NangkaRIa.