It is very easy to do vegan meat replacements poorly.
There’s a reason the diet gets a bad rap. So many vegan products are prepared with no flavor and questionable texture—and, bottom line, they taste nothing at all like meat. I mean, I get it. I have been to horrific vegan restaurants, bought way more than anyone’s fair share of cardboard-like meat substitutes, and have heard every reason to give up on the diet every since adopting it in 2000.
In fact, until a few years ago, there were very few vegan restaurants or faux-meat products I’d openly share with friends for a justifiable fear of mockery. Thankfully for my ego (and great love of enjoying meals with the non-vegan people I love), times are changing.
Companies have upped their game a thousandfold since the turn of the century; and what used to be a box of tofu here, a frozen veggie burger there, has taken over entire sections of supermarkets and created new technology that rivals the minds of the world’s greatest science-fiction writers. Startups such as New Harvest and Memphis Meats are in laboratories right now experimenting with ways to grow meat from cultures that do not require animals beyond an initial, cellular contribution.
While those products (and inevitable debates) are set to reach the public within the next four to seven years, in the meantime there’s no shortage of ridiculously delicious faux meats that will right your karmic balance and make you think twice before your next hilarious vegan ribbing.
Field Roast has been around for two decades, and borrows its grain meat recipe from seventh-century Buddhist monks to deliver hearty meat alternatives with a firmer texture than plain old tofu. The product line today includes deli slices, sausages, various roasts and burgers, and has broadened further to take on the cheese industry with unbelievably good vegan Chao Slices.
Definitely try: Celebration Roast
Sweet Earth Natural Foods is the brainchild of a corporate couple Kelly and Brian Swette, who used their experiences in engineering and marketing (Kelly) and sitting on boards for the likes of Pepsico and Burger King (Brian) to launch their own healthy, vegetarian food business. Sweet Earth offers breakfast “meats,” burritos, patties, strips, and crumbles that are low in fat and absolutely delicious.
Definitely try: Benevolent Bacon
Beyond Meat is making big, tidal-wave-sized ripples in the meatless community. Their healthy(ish) products are derived from pea protein of all things, and the company has an insane backing: including a board of directors sitting a former CEO of McDonald’s, and investors like Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, as well as Bill Gates.
The food from Beyond Meat, which includes strips, burgers, and crumbles, is insanely good—and you should be able to find it nearby, as it’s now available in 11,000 stores throughout the country (including big-box stores like Target and Walmart).
Definitely try: Beyond Burger
In spite of being new to the scene, Gardein is everywhere from Walmart to your favorite specialty health food store in town. The company offers frozen meals as well as ingredients, from faux sausages to fish filets—which are daring, but unbelievably yummy.
Definitely try: Beefless Tips
Vegetarians and vegans alike have turned to Tofurky since 1980 for its silly-looking but highly functional holiday roasts. The company has continued to be a staple in any non-meat diet, broadening its offerings to include deli slices, vegan pizza, sausages and veggie dogs.
Definitely try: Hickory Smoked Deli Slices, Kielbasa
Chances are, if you have a favorite vegan restaurant that serves kickin’ faux meat, it came from May Wah’s. This Manhattan-based storefront started as a mom-and-pop shop that is now New York state’s largest distributor of vegetarian foods. They ship anywhere, supply a staggering number of vegan restaurants with their fake meats, and packs a serious punch to anyone who ever said vegan meat is unpalatable.
Definitely try: Vegan Smoked Drumsticks