Give me the real thing, please

Once upon a time, my husband, then a college student, devised an experiment. One cold and idle night at Michigan State, he took a square of mozzarella cheese and a square of soy mozzarella “cheese”, cut them both up into equal amounts of small cubes, shuffled them like dice and, stepping outside onto the porch (frequented by a local raccoon) arranged them in a neat grid. He and a few of his friends then cracked open some beers and sat down to observe. The raccoon appeared right on cue and, as though playing a board game, methodically went about selecting specific pieces of cheese to pop into its mouth. It then sauntered away, leaving what appeared to be half the buffet untouched. Upon inspection it was discovered (and it came as no surprise to the fledgling scientists) that the animal’s accuracy was one-hundred percent—it had eaten all the real cheese but ignored the soy “cheese”; there was no question about its shopping preference. The soy cheese might as well have been made of plastic for all the appeal it had as food.

Why do people who have willingly given up meat, poultry and dairy subject themselves to unnatural, processed foods such as soy hot dogs, soy chorizo, Tofurkey, soy cheese, soy milk, etc.? Regarding the pseudo dairy products, is it primarily a saturated fat concern? Maybe, but the fact is I’ve seen soy cream cheese, for example, with a higher fat and sodium content than low fat cream cheese. Cows enjoy being milked, they need to be milked. No cows are harmed in the production of milk, cream, butter or (God’s blessing) ice cream. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, there is no (ethical) reason to give up dairy products. In reality, there are lean and low fat alternatives to all real whole foods.

Why still crave and seek out the flavor of meat if it’s wrong to consume it? Is it evolutionary dregs from our (supposedly) less spiritually evolved days as hunter gatherers? Is it a childhood thing—taste buds programmed the “wrong” way and now condemned to craving imitations of the foods our less enlightened parents nourished us with? Or is it perhaps an issue of living with people who still insist on eating real meat or dairy and attempting to satisfy and ideally even convert them with soy imitations?

If someone gave up a relationship with a real living-breathing human being and chose instead to live with a plastic blow up doll shaped and colored like the real thing but flesh and fluid-free (no “ick!” factor) would we consider that admirable, normal or even healthy? No.

Real whole foods naturally benefit the human body. Processed foods are not what the body wants and can use most efficiently, yet so many soy products designed to mimic meat and dairy products have a list of ingredients a mile long. I feel I’m not just doing myself and my dinner guests but also the planet a favor by forgoing plastic-textured ghosts of the real thing. Fields and fields and yet more fields planted with soy beans does not contribute to the diversity our world thrives on. The most successful organic farms grow vegetables, raise cattle, breed chickens and laying hens in a closed system that fertilizes and regenerates itself. The excessive manufacture of soy meat and dairy products because they’re supposedly better for us (they’re not) isn’t only unnatural, in the long run it’s not good for the soil, meaning it’s not good for the earth and, therefore, not really good for us.

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