Real Vegan Food

A grillfull of fake vegan food.

A grillfull of fake vegan food.

It’s BBQ season and I enjoy grilling up a plethora of plant-based vegan sausages, burgers and meats. Inevitably though somebody will (not necessarily disparagingly) call this food “fake”. I usually jokingly quip with a correction like “Nope, it’s quite real, see?!” or something like “No, here’s a fake burger!” while chomping cartoonishly at an imaginary sandwich in my hand. But I understand the point, it’s trying to be something else. 1

For years companies have been rushing to meet the growing demand of people like myself who wished to have their burger and eat it too. They scoured the plant-based kingdom for ingredients that provided the taste and texture of the old familiar animal foods. These ingredients get processed, combined, boiled, dehydrated, fried, condensed, extruded, and (you get the point) otherwise tortured in a search for a better analogue (all for profit of course). 2 The meat versions have gotten pretty good. Dairy products, not so much. 3

But is guacamole made with peas still guacamole? 4 Is chocolate pudding made with avocado still pudding? But hey, I’m no purist when it comes to these things. Sometimes though, even I have a knee-jerk reaction to the bounds for which ingredients challenge the original meaning of the word. So maybe the wheat gluten burger IS fake. Make the pea protein cheese IS fake. Should we say instead make up ridiculous words like “chik’n” or “chreese”. Or maybe say “vegan cheese” or “vegan meat” further diminishing the word vegan to mean “not as tasty”?

But wait, there may be an solution. A solution that not only solves this quibbling conundrum, but brings about the vegan world 5 vegans have been fantasizing about. Recently things have been happening. They’ve been happening so low under the radar though that this revolution may arrive with a whimper and not the bang most would assume. Three words: real vegan food.

By that specifically, I mean there are efforts to make animal foods utilizing nature’s own biological technology 6 and cutting out the middle animal. Here are a few recent examples of people I’ve recently met who are working on such exciting projects:

New Harvest
New Harvest is a 10 year old non-profit with intents on making conventional meat production obsolete by any means including cultured meat.

Muufri
Muufri is a small business savvy startup with plans to make sustainable animal-free milk from the bottom up.

Real Vegan Cheese
Counter Culture Labs and BioCurious are two teams of biohackers and citizen scientists embarked on a project to make the first real vegan cheese by getting baker’s yeast to make milk proteins. 7

While the logistics of in vitro meat currently seem overwhelming real vegan cheese is apparently less so. Once we have vegan milk, cheese then can be made from the ground up employing age-old traditional methods. This  animal-free cheese then is a holistic natural product of nature identical in the most important ways. 8 Not only that, but we can customize it minimizing known health effects of allergies and intolerances. The body of scientific nutrition literature applies too so there will be less unknowns unlike the current slapdash plethora of untested amalgamations for which we are currently being subjected. 9 And all that just scratches the surface to the benefits real natural vegan food can bring.

How lucky that the one thing fake food makers have been having a helluva time trying to mock might be right under our microscopes?! A good vegan cheese is the holy grail for vegans and this goes beyond any dreams of plant-based versions. How short-sighted and uncreative is it to rely on the limiting toolset of plant-based materials? It’s time we grow up and leverage the cutting edge technological tools to create a more just future. The “vegan world” will not come as a result of will power and belabored kitchen endeavors. It will happen when technology provides a superior vegan product.

So to recap:

  • We don’t need 10 untested witches’ brews of reductionist animal product knock-offs made by companies that shame natural technology. 11
  • We don’t need to suffer hours of complicated concoctions that ultimately rely on our amnesia to convince ourselves they taste good.
  • We don’t need to limit ourselves with this obsession with “plant-based” materials.
  • We don’t need to build a new animal body factory every time we want to convert energy into delicious protein.
  • And we won’t need fake vegan foods any longer. 12

Footnotes:

  1. ALERT! Much of this post is satirical and tongue-in-cheek. I recommend reading all the way through straight and then checking footnotes if some of it is lost in the dryness.
  2. Ethical profit is fine by me!
  3. Understatement, even though many vegans will insist otherwise as “if you’ve only tried this certain brand or obscure recipe”. Nope, thanks, I’ve been around the vegan block enough to know better.
  4. Technically called “mockamole” but this one was particularly bad for the GMO avocado (hint, there aren’t any) rant at the end.
  5. Yes, that is the goal for vegans. Whatever that means.
  6. Otherwise known as “biotech”
  7. RealVeganCheese.org website, IndieGoGo campaign
  8. #GMOFAQ: Transferring genes from one species to another is neither unnatural nor dangerous | it is NOT junk, Michael Eisen
  9. I do not really believe new combinations of food ingredients need to be scientifically tested every time. That’s as ridiculous as saying the same for every genetically modified plant.
  10. What constitutes a “need” is another silly argument people use over GMOs. As in “We don’t need GMOs”. We need any and every viable solution particularly if it spares suffering and lives of animals. I do support and encourage fake vegan foods.
  11. Vegan food companies will cynically cater to anti-GMO fears simply to sell product. Example
  12. Again I must reiterate that I don’t find food shaming using subjective terms such as fake, real, good, bad, junk, natural, unnatural, processed, clean, etc to be helpful. I’m using these terms here satirically to make a point.

We Are All #Monsanto

Outside Monsanto

Outside Monsanto

It’s November, 2011 and I’m standing in front of a “Millions Against Monsanto” table at a local vegan fest. The person stationed there is yelling about me: “DON’T LISTEN TO HIM, HE’S CRAZY, CRAZY!” I wasn’t aware of the gathering crowd of rubberneckers up until then. Now the table-er was in full-out fanatic mode, eyes bulging, spittle spraying. The conversation we were sharing somehow gained enough steam to jump the track and continue on without me. All I did was to ask a few harmless questions about the anti-GMO materials but she kept invoking “Monsanto” and the evil they do.

I get it, I really do. Early in my activist days that was me behind a similar table passing out fish-strawberry anti-GMO fliers. I heard about Monsanto persecuting farmers, something something chemicals, pesticides, food monopoly, all that. It’s a well-known story in my vegan tribe and there wasn’t a need for further scrutiny. But being outed for questioning the anti-GMO narratives shook me loose from the anti-Monsanto-ism. If this person was wrong about GMOs, maybe they were also wrong about Monsanto being evil.

Obligatory selfie with JP

Obligatory selfie with JP

Two years later I’m in staring up at a huge statue of the Monsanto logo within their campus headquartered in St. Louis. A five hour road trip from Chicago but I just had to visit. Instinctually I snap a picture realizing too late I never asked permission. I’m spotted and a person rushes out from inside the building. It’s Janice Person1, Monsanto’s Social Media Director and she was expecting me. We share a nervous giggle over the transgression and she welcomes me in.

I’m there to crash a customer tour Monsanto offers, well, I was kinda invited. You see, there are farmers who buy Monsanto’s seeds, willingly! Farmer Brian Scott is just one such farmer. Luckily this farmer maintains an online presence and talks about his expertise in growing food. When I saw him and Janice arranging a visit over Twitter I butted in and got an official tagalong invite that I just couldn’t resist.

Getting scienced

Getting scienced

The tour was a whirlwind of plant science which sorta surprised me. I almost expected them to lean heavy on selling or justifying their products. But their products ARE science and they are quite proud of the innovations they’ve achieved. It did feel like I was Charlie in the Chocolate Factory as we walked from room to room full of scientific high tech wonders. Naturally I thought the trip would make a good blog post. But somewhere along the way down I took my activist blogger cap off. What was more important to me though, I think, was to feel out the vibe of the place and the people I met. It didn’t help that the science was fascinating enough to side track me a bit. But here I was meeting real people at the real place. It was evident enough, through the tiny peek I was able to snag, that that the people there were…people. I mean they were passionate, friendly, and smart people but no different than anybody else at any other company. I do regret a bit not being more fastidious with my note taking, but, no fear, Brian Scott detailed the visit better than I could have ever anyway so if you’re interested please check that out here.2

Geeking out with the teosinte

Geeking out with the teosinte

But let’s try to unravel a little bit about this Monsanto business. The rabid fervor it has managed to inspire in a small but vocal minority is surreal. There has to be something to it, right? To find out I asked the antiMonsanto-ites online about their gripes just to be sure I was current in my understanding. I watched the movies, crawled through the websites, and saw the tweets and memes.3 To keep this post a reasonable length I’m going to defer many of the specifics to my cites. So this will be more of a distillation. Before you snap at me in the comments be sure to read those.

Monsanto’s customers are farmers, like Brian Scott.4 Monsanto does pretty well. Ya know why? Because their customers like their products and buy them.5 It’s as simple as that. Capitalism 1-0-freakin’-1, bro.

Brian Scott, The Farmer's Life

Brian Scott, The Farmer’s Life

The story though is that Monsanto is using egregious unfair business practices with farmers. How? We’ll get to that in a moment. But for now lets say that Monsanto makes a good product that farmers willingly choose to buy (and steal). But let’s maybe not be so quick to assume farmers are a bunch of idiots being conned. Buying good products, we are all doing it.

Monsanto “patents life,” those monsters! Well, patents are a means to protect and encourage inventions. Whether it’s the best system is a fine debate to have. Patents mean that inventors have to make their inventions public. In exchange, there’s a time limit for which the inventor can exclusively profit. Once that limit is up it’s free for everybody to exploit. It sounds kinda scary to think that somebody could patent a seed, but breeders have been doing that since before GMOs were ever around.6

I think this though is where one of the biggest fears resides: in idea that Monsanto could use patents to sue a farmer for unintended crops or cross pollination in their field. This is something farmers already manage regardless of GMO, patent or not.7 It doesn’t stop the myths though. There still hasn’t been a single case of that ever happening. Sure Monsanto protects its products from piracy but so does every company. Frivolously suing the customers would make for bad business. In fact, a buncha Organic farmers sued Monsanto preemptively to protect themselves from that. When asked to show evidence they couldn’t and lost the case. Not even in court could they demonstrate historical precedent.8 Patents, we are all doing it.

Chemicals are scary stuff eh? Agent Orange is probably a good reason why too. Indeed the Monsanto from the 60′s was one of the companies who made the Agent Orange defoliant during the Vietnam war. But there’s lots of tragedies, mistakes and regrets in war and past policies (or lack thereof) so I don’t mean to minimize this point.9 But if the Monsanto of today is accountable so too are we. We (our government) contracted companies to make the stuff to our specifications. Is Monsanto evil for making Agent Orange or are you for paying and telling them how to make it? History, we’re all as accountable.

Did somebody say “evil?10 It never fails to get uttered when the subject of Monsanto comes up. So much so it’s become a new logical fallacy dubbed as “Appeal to Monsanto.”11 Just like “Godwin’s Law”12, it attempts to short circuit any argument by association with something bad. But Monsanto is hardly Hitler, c’mon now. According to their record of awards and recognitions13, Monsanto or its employees don’t seem so evil. There’s an interesting letter the CEO of the Climate Corporation wrote to his employees.14 In selling his company to Monsanto he was diligent in evaluating the claims of evil. His letter is a smart business-insider’s perspective that deflates myths and offers context. With the growing list of people who become complicit with the supposed evil of Monsanto it becomes a conspiracy on too grand of a scale.

I hate to sound like a corporate defender15 or apologist16. What a weird position I find myself in. The worst of Monsanto’s offenses may be the sum of its parts17 and that’s always been a problem of big business. We should be wary and resolute in business ethics. But lets not cry wolf18 lest that wolf finally sneak past us. If Monsanto IS doing something nefarious, I would really like to know. If there’s any conspiracy maybe it’s this noise that could allow a company to better hide in plain sight. Otherwise people are wasting their time fighting a cartoon villain.19 Shouldn’t we find the real criminals and bring them to justice or change the system that would allow injustice to flourish? Let’s do that in a more just and rational manner. Business, we are all doing it.

This is just getting into 9/11 truther territory now. None of the charges levied against Monsanto are unique, inherent or evil. Just the same with the vilification of GMOs. Huh, imagine that. Others are discovering the same and sharing their stories.20 We don’t have to throw Monsanto under the bus in order to reach out to the GMO haters. Let’s not be complicit in fanning the flames of yet another conspiracy theory. Instead we can use this as a critical thinking exercise. If basic assumptions of Monsanto are shown to be myths, what else could be wrong? Monsanto may be the patsy for the ills of business, society and/or history but it comes down to an inevitable conclusion for me. Monsanto, we are all Monsanto.

Here’s the part where people might accuse me of being a “Monsanto shill.” It’s happened many times before. Obviously the company bought me off (with all my influence) as a PR stunt. But since this visit I wish I could honestly say I was never paid or influenced in any way. Here’s where I come clean.

  1. Upon my visit to Monsanto, they made me a special vegan lunch in their cafeteria. So yes, guilty, they fed me a meal (quite directly this time!)
  2. A little bit after my visit I got an email offering me $40 worth of stuff from their online corporate merchandise shillswag store. I saw through their ruse though, I knew they just wanted me to write something positive about them. Forty bucks should about do it too.

I’m kidding, of course. At first I refused their swag, paranoid about receiving any sort of gift. As I realized the conclusion of this post I thought it would be a pertinent opportunity. Instead of pocketing the merch myself I could pass along the shillness to you, dear reader. So I ordered forty bucks worth of the coolest Monsanto caps from them. If you share this article with hashtag #WeAreAllMonsanto I will send you, completely free of charge, your very own Monsanto cap Caps are all gone but please do continue to share and REPRESENT!

Oh and BTW, what happens when I visit the anti-Monsanto tables at vegan fests nowadays?

I'm number one!

I’m number one!

They think I’m number one! I must be doing something right.

  1. Thoughts on How I Want to Tell My Story | Janice Person
  2. Visiting Monsanto | The Farmer’s Life
  3. Why Does Everyone Hate Monsanto? – Modern Farmer
  4. I Occupy Our Food Supply Everyday | The Farmer’s Life
  5. Farmers Speak Out | Vegan GMO
  6. A Defense Of Plant And Crop Related Patents | Biology Fortified, Inc.
  7. Genetic Contamination May Not Mean What You Think It Means | Biology Fortified, Inc.
  8. Monsanto, Patents and Seeds – Part 3 | FrankenFoodFacts
  9. Misuse Of A Vietnam Era Tragedy | Biology Fortified, Inc.
  10. Speak of the devil | Cosmos Magazine
  11. Argumentum ad Monsantium | Skepticblog
  12. Godwin’s law | Wikipedia
  13. Awards and Recognition | Monsanto
  14. Why the Climate Corporation Sold Itself to Monsanto | The New Yorker
  15. What if a corporation isn’t evil incarnate? A progressive’s dilemma. | The Progressive Contrarian
  16. The Corporation Conundrum: Why Consumers Hate Monsanto, But Love Their iPhones | Real Agriculture
  17. Monsanto’s Business Model: Ethically Less than the Sum of its Parts | Biotech Ethics
  18. Biotech is a very small industry | Jim’s Kitchen Lab
  19. How to Really March Against Monsanto | Fancy Beans
  20. Recommended reading/watching:
    Meal Six: At Monsanto, I Learned I Am the Problem | One Hundred Meals
    My Biotech Weekend | Sleuth 4 Health
    An Organic Farmer Walks Into Monsanto…And This is What Happened | Real Agriculture
    ▶ I Love Monsanto! | Cult of Dusty – YouTube
    ▶ Monsanto Myths | The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe – YouTube

Quick Cranks #2

grandpa-simpson-yelling-at-cloud-simpsons-funny-pictures Gosh this upcoming post (not this one) is a whopper and I’ve been molding, adding, shaping this big lump of clay for month and months now. Oh but I don’t mean to get yer hopes up too much but it IS something I’ve never attempted before! Crap, that’s not the way I should undersell it.

Oh wells. In the meantime I just needed to vent another installment of QuickCranks. I never meant this to become a series but for my sanity and those of my loved ones I maybe need to get these things off my chest. Enjoy!

I get into all sorts of scuffles on the Twitters (I know, surprise surprise) and these past few weeks have been no exception. This @VeganTweeter guy is pretty much the embodiment of what one would expect the vegan movement to look like. Talks about himalayan salt, coconut water, food pics, food pics, ya know the whole nine. With over 21 thousand followers I don’t think that’s a totally unwarranted claim. Recently he posted this junk information about cow’s milk.

That was a weird enough claim to warrant even a few people asking for a source. He cited a Mercola article of all things until a few RDs weighed in to set things straight. Once that was shown to be false he finally relented and issued a correction. Good for him except it was too late. The original tweet was retweeted 88 times and a week late the correction was retweeted…2 times. Goes to show how misinformation can ‘go around the world while the truth will still be putting it’s boots on’. Be careful when posting stuff folks, especially if it confirms your own bias! Baloney detection, do it!

And gosh I don’t mean to pick on Mr. @VeganTweeter, really I don’t. But he continued down the pseudoscience rabbit hole publicly askingAnyone have a reputable source that states humans aren’t designed to eat meat?

No, just no. *sigh* 1998 called and wants their John Robbins back. Luckily he asked actual RDs this time and was set straight by at least one, again. That’s progress Mr. VeganTweeter, good for you, fist pound. [/no sarcasm]

Didja hear about VegExpo2014 in Vancouver Canada? No, me either. Anyway, according to their TwitterFeed (after some prodding by biotech defenders) “the goal of #vegexpo2014 is to educate the masses about dangers of #gmo and support the movement for our future.“.

The extent to which the anti-GMO conspiracists (because that is what you are if you question the scientific consensus on GMO safety) are co-opting the vegan (excuse me, “veg”) movement may be going beyond even my cynical expectations. Next time you visit a “veg” fest look for the anti-GMO tables and when you see one, remember this: “I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO”. Heh.

Also, when a vegan says something like: “Animals are important and all but gosh these GMOs are the bigger issue…” freakin’ call them on that bullshit already. You think vegan is great and all? Regulate.

Speaking of GMO, when Organic fanatics attack GMO they’re often reminded that many of their own Organic products are bred using mutagenesis which forces random mutations in hopes for some useful novel trait to emerge. It’s much less precise than transgenic or cisgenic methods (GMO) which illustrates the inconsistencies in their gripes with biotech. Well, those good Organic folks finally are coming around to petition to accept GMOs ban the use of mutagenesis. Everybody go sign that yeah! And good for you Organic, good for you. While you continue to regress your practices we’ll be happy over here making food better using, ya know, science. Let’s see which the market will reward. Good luck suckers.

I know I wrote about this back in 2010 but Bill Clinton STILL aint vegan but by the advice of one Dr. Hyman who said “It’s hard being a vegan to eat enough good, quality protein and not have too much starch,” and also “I know a lot of fat vegans.” Even the skeptics have their ire up on this derpaholic.

And you know that ridiculous pseudoscientific “paleo” diet based upon the usual fallacious appeal to nature that vegans hate and ridicule?! Well now there’s a vegan paleo cookbook and suddenly, hey that’s awesome, go vegan paleo! Wrong ideas are only wrong if they happen to disagree with your worldview I guess.

SSDD.