On Meatless Meat

I’ve got to admit—from keeping ourselves fed to revamping our crossword site, full-blown adult life is busier than I expected!

In keeping with the newfound freedom of adulthood, this post marks a bit of a topical shift, or expansion, for the blog. I’ll keep posting about stats and data when I find them interesting, but I’d also like to start sharing some thoughts more directly relevant with our new life here in Berkeley.

Of course, the biggest change to my daily routine has been my job here at Memphis Meats, a really awesome startup in the lab-grown meat industry. As it stands, conventional meat companies in this country produce around 100 billion pounds of meat a year. (Yes, there are only about 50 billion pounds of human in America.) To hit that ridiculous mark, the American slaughterhouse processes 30 million cattle, 120 million hogs, 240 million turkeys, and 9 billion chickens. (Yes, that means 27 entire chickens for each of us.) This all goes to say that meat alternatives only need to attract 1%—one percent!—of the American meat market to become an instant billion-dollar industry.

In the world of science it’s universally accepted now that we eat far too much real meat. (For a place to start, I’d highly recommend the Netflix documentary Game Changers!) Most of us are vaguely concerned with deforestation, carbon emissions, animal living conditions, animal slaughter, meat-packing conditions, or heart disease, but those are things that seem nebulous to us, while cutting meat from our diet is just too real. I grew up eating cereal for breakfast, meat for lunch, and meat for dinner. In Chicago I spent most of my shopping time deliberating in the butcher aisle, with two-dollar racks of ribs and seven-dollar pork butts up for grabs. I guess I get it from my family, who gets it from society. When May met my grandparents in Alabama the first time, they eagerly asked her, “So, what’s your absolute favorite food?” Then, to present the natural choices, “Is it beef, pork, or seafood?”

But there’s an alternative solution to conventional vegetarianism, one that we really realized not long after moving to Berkeley. Unlike our Chicago grocery stores, which had a few Beyond Burgers and gross vegan sausages hiding near the butcher aisle, here we’ve got entire aisles dedicated to MorningStar, Quorn, Gardein, Tofurkey, Beyond, Impossible, and a host of other up-and-coming “fake” meat brands vying for early industry dominance. There are nuggets, sausages and burgers; but there are also hams, roasts, sliced bacon, duck meat, jerky, beef wellington—you name it.

So as I’ve realized that I should convert my cereal–meat–meat routine to an oatmeal–less meat–no meat regimen, I’ve started leaning into these alternative brands. (After all, most of the recipes I know are heavily meatcentric.) Several of the products May and I have tried have fallen really flat (the bacon we tried was literally flat, which is a bit eyebrow-raising for crisped bacon.) But other products would have certainly fooled me in a blind tasting.

Bottom line, we’re in the middle of one of the century’s defining engineering stories—and as someone who is now occupationally and personally invested, I’m going to start documenting my experiences as a consumer. Beginning just below and in the future, in addition to any other updates or little analyses on the blog, I’ll be posting our stories and reviews of these non-meat products. I’ll keep a running, unified table here on this page, with more detailed reviews in the blog posts. Hope you enjoy!

The Alpha Patty/Crumble: Meatless Sausage

Overall enjoymentMeat similarityPrice per poundFrozen?Date tried
Patty8/107/10$7.98YesJan ’21
Crumble7/106/10$7.98YesJan ’21

Kicking us off, we have a frozen, breakfast-style sausage by Alpha Patty. I dig the branding, but for half a pound of “meat” in a comically large bag, it’s probably not for the faint-of-freezer-space.

It’s available as a patty or as a crumble, so we decided to get both:

I cooked the patties straight (per package directions) for breakfast, along with some canned biscuits and an oat-milk gravy (May liked the oat-gravy; I thought it was a mistake).

If you served the sausage as conventional meat to me, I probably would’ve been fooled for two or three bites, placing Alpha Patty at a 7/10 meat-similarity. There’s a noticeable soy flavor, almost shiitake-like, that amplifies with each bite, but the texture is good and it’s certainly passable as an unassuming breakfast sausage when smothered in gravy.

For the crumble, I cooked it into a pasta with olives, onions, some (real) heavy cream, and other things. The “meat” was again fairly unassuming and didn’t contribute too much flavor in comparison with the other ingredients, but again, fairly passable. I’d probably expect real ground sausage to be a bit firmer, less homogeneous, and more flavorful, but next time I’d probably go for a more spiced-up variety like an Italian sausage if available.

Would I buy again? No, probably not, at least not while there are other options to try. I think this is a very safe alternative sausage, but it doesn’t knock any doors down for me. It does an okay job of hiding the soy flavor (better than Beyond, I’ll claim), but ultimately I’d like it to be a little more sausagey.

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