Maybe We Should Just Let Vegetables Be Vegetables

Is it disrespectful to the vegetable to make it simulate a meat?

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By David Hammond

Last week, I enjoyed a Philly "Steakless" Sandwich at Munch. The non-steak in this sandwich is basically seitan (a textured gluten product) that has been marinated, sprinkled with Bragg's Amino Acids (a non-fermented soy), and sliced thin. The seitan had the pleasant chewiness of beef, but none of the delicious fattiness. Without fat, the sandwich ran the risk of drying out, but green peppers and oils from the cheese helped keep the sandwich moist. The flavor, though not as full as beef, was pleasant.

Also on Munch's menu is the "'Beefy' Tostada Plate" and the "'Meaty' Stuffed Pepper," neither of which contain animal flesh.

I chatted with old friend and owner Robbin O'Harrow about the need to associate her vegetable-based offerings with meat-based menu items.

"People need something familiar they can relate to," said O'Harrow, and I believe she's right.

Although it seems almost disrespectful to the vegetable to make it simulate a meat, people – especially carnivores – need some way to bridge from what they know to what they don't know.

It also makes me a little uncomfortable to eat food that's pretending to be something it isn't. This kind of thing is actually is happening all the time. At Sixteen in Trump Tower, for instance, I recently had an appetizer of lentil balls and chestnuts that looked like stones served in a tableau of actual stones. On the other side of the dining spectrum, there's the McRib, which consists of pork pieces reconstituted into a piece of meat that looks like ribs with bones and all.

So it's not uncommon to present food as something it really isn't, so I guess it shouldn't bother me when that happens at Munch.

And I did like the Steakless Philly Sandwich. It was actually much more enjoyable than Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches I've had in Philadelphia.


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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 28th, 2013 10:37 PM

Carnivore, I used to feel just as you do now. Though I still have some reservations about giving vegetable dishes the names of meat dishes, I understand how vegetarian restaurants like Munch need to communicate with customers what their dishes are like by comparing them, though the name, with more familiar meat dishes.


Posted: October 28th, 2013 9:45 PM

I don't understand the need for vegetarians to emulate meat dishes. If you want to eat vegetarian, eat vegetarian. Not my choice but I respect it if it is your choice. Wouldn't it be odd if I made simulated vegetables out of meat byproducts? To me that is just strange. If you crave meat then just eat it and face the fact that vegetarianism isn't for you.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 28th, 2013 3:43 PM

Violet Aura, my daughter and her husband are gluten-free and they spent a holiday at a Buddhist retreat where they had a silent dinner. The entrée was seitan, which they really liked, but because they were silent, they couldn't ask what it was. They both had very negative reactions. We eat gluten-free at home, but when going out, we eat whatever we want. This sandwich did a fine job with seitan, though I understand how many would find it objectionable.

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 28th, 2013 12:31 PM

Regarding the actual topic, I am much more aware of how seitan is pure gluten and the ways in which it may impact the body negatively. I have stopped buying it for the most part and only rarely would put it on BREAD! Yikes!

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 28th, 2013 12:30 PM

@David: LOL--no problem...;)

Barb from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2013 12:14 PM

David, I'm not so sure you're much (if any) older than me! I just got a later start perhaps. Anyway, now I get what you were saying. I thought you meant in general it's not easy. You are right that restaurants could do a lot more in terms of providing veggie fare. There are only so many salads and veggie burgers one can eat.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 25th, 2013 2:45 PM

It's likely I started eating vegetarian-only before you born, Barb, (just a phase) and it's been getting easier, for sure, but look at any restaurant menu: vegetarian choices are usually very limited...except at Munch, which is one reason why I find this place to be such an advantage for our Village.

Barb from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2013 2:30 PM

"I don't think it's easy being a vegetarian." What? It's extremely easy. I don't see why not eating meat is any more difficult than eating meat. I've been vegetarian for over 17 years and it is pretty darned easy.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 24th, 2013 3:29 PM

Violet, ha, I'm going to steal that for my next "You Really Should Eat This" video. Thanks.

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 24th, 2013 1:45 PM

Could it be...seitan?!;)

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 24th, 2013 12:34 PM

Non-Vegetarian/Vegan, what in the world can you mean by that question? Please explain.

Non-Vegetarian/Vegan from Oak park  

Posted: October 24th, 2013 11:14 AM

What will be getting next? Soylent Green?

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 11:16 PM

Kim, I totally agree that Munch is a welcome addition to Oak Park. I actually had two lunches there: Steakless Philly Sandwich and the Black Bean Burger, and both were satisfying. I think, though, that it's important to appreciate such menu items on their own terms and not by comparison with their meat analogues. I do understand, though, why they need to be compared to meat to be understood. I don't think it's easy being a vegetarian, and it's unbelievably challenging to be eat vegan.

Kim from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 5:36 PM

Munch is the perfect addition to Oak Park. Their dishes have received the praise of my non-vegan friends and family. Long live Munch and their fabulous black bean burgers, sweet potato sides, and vegan deserts, just to name a few favorites.

Barb from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:26 PM

As someone who has been vegetarian for 17 years, I greatly appreciate seitan as a meat substitute. First off all, it is not "disrespectful to the vegetable" because seitan is not made from veggies, but made from wheat flour and wheat gluten. Second, it is a high protein food for those of us who don't eat meat. The real concern about food in general should be how it is produced. Eating factory-farmed meats, for example, is not the healthiest meal choice.

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