My 48-year-old son, Wes, can think of no better meal than a blood-oozing slab of beef, or a hamburger that has been waved once over a candle flame, declared cooked and limply slapped on a Kaiser roll.
He is what an anthropologist might call a consummate carnivore. I suspect he would feel at home dining with lions on the African plains of Serengeti as the pride gnaws on the innards of a hapless gazelle.
I am a vegetarian and have been for more than 20 years — not out of any particular philosophy of life, but because the taste/texture of animal flesh makes me feel ill.
In my early days, I tried to keep from coming out as a complete oddball in Hoosier farm country by forcing myself occasionally to eat a crisply-grilled hamburger or a steak charred into a piece of black ash. Then one day I just said, “The heck with fitting in; this stuff makes me nauseous.”
Apart from the consumption of meat, Wes and I have a meeting of the minds on most other important matters of the day. Each of us thinks professional baseball games are about as interesting as watching paint dry. We each suspect Mitch McConnell is an escaped Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Both of us have pet cats and neither would eat one if we were snowbound and starving in Donner Pass.
With the recent development of the Impossible Burger — a plant-based product claimed by some to be so close to an actual hamburger that even Hannibal Lecter couldn’t tell the difference — I thought Wes and I might be able sit once again at the same burger bar. Turns out I was wrong.
The Impossible Burger creators actually have synthesized from plants a chemical that tastes, looks and smells like cattle blood. Added to a patty of processed plants, the resulting burger is said to have the flavor of bovine flesh, without requiring the animal to process grass, grains and other plants through their digestive tracts and then be killed for the effort.
I thought, if Wes could accept the Impossible Burger’s phony blood and I could remember the blood is phony, we could have a family cookout. Sadly, it didn’t work.
After one bite into the synthesized burger, Wes declared it inadequate. He reported that the burger tasted like a real hunk of ground beef might taste, if the beef were over-cooked into one of those charred patties I used to try to choke down.
Unfortunately, his statement that the taste and texture were pretty close to “the real thing” was enough for me. I refused to try it. Who wants to eat an imitation meat if he doesn’t like the taste and texture of meat to start with.
All this left us with the debate about what qualifies as “meat” in the first place. According to a recent article on National Public Radio, at least six farm states have now passed legislation outlawing the use of terms such as hamburger, bacon, sausage, hot dog, chicken and pork on plant-based products — even when a vegetarian qualifier is added to the label. (Think “tofu hot dog” or “vegetarian hamburger” or “soy bacon.”)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing, claiming the meat industry does not own those terms and the legislative prohibitions violate the right to Freedom of Speech.
The “alternative meat” industry points out that the “meat” industry itself labels products falsely. Hot dogs do not contain dogs (I find this one debatable). Chicken fingers contain no actual fingers (at least, shouldn’t). Hamburgers generally contain no ham. Buffalo wings contain no buffalo and buffalo have no wings.
As far as Wes is concerned, he doesn’t care what anyone calls the product, just don’t put it on his plate if it doesn’t bleed real blood.
As far as I am concerned — yick!