Tuesday, December 04, 2007


My post on Grasshopper's diet drew concern about Quorn, a laboratory produced mold that makes very tasty faux chicken, chicken nuggets, and meatballs. It is billed as akin to mushroom fungus, but is more like Miso, Tempeh, or certain cheeses that use fungus/molds to grow and/or ferment into themselves. The main concern over Quorn seems to be that a number of people in the US and Britain are very allergic to this mycoprotein. Lucky for everybody in our family, Grasshopper has no known allergies. But even though I had read about how Quorn is laboratory produced and not been bothered about it before, all the controversy Quorn sparked on the Raising a Vegetarian Baby post set me off thinking (that does happen, on occasion).

The highly processed nature of the product, and my desire to have this short cut, not to give up on a fast fix, reminds me about the troubles I have always had with plain vegetarianism or veganism: people use the words as synonyms for healthy eating, or for diets, but in many cases, I've known many (not all) vegetarians and vegans to be terrible, trashy eaters who happen not to eat meat products. They are more sucre-grainarians. In college the first move many of my vegetarian friends made was to find which Hostess products they could still stash away in some secret hiding place in their dorm rooms.

A major portion of the reason we eat 'green'...because vegetarian is vague and incomplete...is that we want to avoid eating processed junk, we want to put in foods low on the food chain high on our diet...which, aside from helping out our feathered and/or four footed friends, allows us to better avoid bioaccumulation of toxins etc. Part of doing this is at least trying to know what it is that makes it onto our plate.

Of course, like the last post I put up implies, it's very hard to know what's in or on our food. Raw almonds, for example, are no longer "raw" in the way the raw food eaters define raw. In being pasteurized things happen to the almonds. Similarly, I know that a lot happens to the dairy products my family eats before we eat them, even when I buy organic, and I'm not sure what exactly. I don't make all our own pasta or bread... I don't know how oil is pressed out of olives...I accept I am ignorant about the paths a lot of the food I eat followed to get to me.

Still, I believe in digging your heels in, wherever you are, and refusing to slide any further down whatever slippery slope you're navigating. I don't over-worry about not knowing what's in everything...but I just make sure that the majority of what I cook or snack on is whole grains, legumes, greens, fruity, nuts, seeds, berries, and vegetables. Dairy, tofu, processed grains, and sauces entering our diet I monitor in amount and by the limited standards that do exist -- organic, dye-free, non-GMO, etc..

We have a neighbor child being raised vegan, though both her parents eat meat. Her parents we barely see, and they seem nice, are great to Grasshopper, and their girl is a great kid. But her diet seems to consist of fake cheese, soy milk, and grains.

It seems a good example to think about how hard it is leaving meat and dairy. All these McVegan products exist because people miss what they had, they are nostalgic for what they grew up with. Our neighbors eat meat and believe, maybe, it is better not to, and maybe they themselves just can't give it up and want to somehow shield their daughter from temptation: but the way they approach the issue is to literally replace meat. It seems well-intentioned, but dangerously McVegan.

Which brings me back to Quorn, a product I originally purchased because I get sick of soy products, and because it's very easy for me to make high-protien faux-chicken nuggets at lunch or when I'm pressed for time. I don't always have time to make my own vegi-burgers or soy nuggets...which are easy enough: freeze tofu, thaw it, cut it into little squres, season breadcrumbs and batter, then bake or fry the tofu. But just like I used to turn my nose up at "real" macaroni and cheese, Grasshopper is about 1/3 more likely to eat the Quorn than she is mamma's nuggets. (Only recently has Grasshopper decided she likes peanut butter and quesadillas, which alleviates some lunch time pressure... )

Now when I think of Quorn I get some picture of a vat of mold in my head. So I don't buy them so much...though on occasion, I will. This whole conundrum has made me think about processed foods and their relationship to vegetarianism and veganism. I mean, there are giant markets for weirdly constructed McVegan foods, located in the McVegan section of the grocery, of course: Gimmie Lean, Tofurkey, Nayonaise, Sheese cheese, Stonewall's Jerquee, Tofutti sour cream. My favorite processed fake stuff is Notdogs. Other fake options I have let enter our diet: some soy milk, Tofutti Cream Cheese and Nayonaise. We eat tofu and sometimes Seitan.

It's funny I would never feed my child packaged Noodle-Roni -- I don't even like to feed her Annie's macaroni and cheese -- but I wouldn't blink if she ate Tofutti. And I have no idea what that is. I don't know what the fake turkey lunchmeat we used to eat on occasion is. Like when I ate beef and knew it was cow and some additives, I know Tofutti is tofu and something.

Okay, not exactly like that. I'm guessing the makers of Tofutti are more thoughtful than the beef industry. But when I'm getting at is my awareness of the need for fast options, and the ease of relying on processed foods, even when eating a diet that most people think is healthy. I'm getting at how it all unsettles me, how McVeganism or McVegetarianism are realities as potentially dangerous as McDonald's. Even when I knew Quorn was mold, for example, I was thinking: but it's so good! so tasty! it can't be that bad, even though I don't have a clue what's really in it.

Quorn is a shortcut. Tofu nuggets are easy to make, but easy still takes time. It's upsetting when the shortcuts we find to enable ourselves to spend time doing things other than cooking turn out to bring us to places on the part of the food chain located in the Twilight Zone.

I guess the solution to this problem is the same as always: everything, especially the more disturbing things, in moderation. Short cuts in moderation.


GreenDaddy said...

That picture of Quorn production is amazing. You can't parody a picture like that. It's all there. The coal mine carts. The conveyor belts. The box machine.

It's sad to realize vegetarian processed food is still processed food.

Henitsirk said...

I once worked with someone who said she was vegetarian, but she had never heard of some of the vegetables we eat, like chard! I can understand not knowing about semi-exotic (in the US, at least) things like kohlrabi, but chard!!!

There are so many reasons to eat vegetarian or vegan, but if eating more healthy is one, then processed foods need to be approached with skepticism.

One good thing about Quorn in that regard is that it seems to be a fairly simple processed food, as things go. Just fungus, added vitamins and minerals, and some egg white (this coming from the internet, not an actual package, so I might be wrong). It's heat-treated, which probably reduces the overall nutritional value, necessitating the addition of the supplements. But otherwise, it's far over on the spectrum from Cheetohs!

phast said...

I had never heard of "Quorn" until this.

Reminds me of Huitlacoche!


MaGreen said...

That's a fascinating page. I hadn't heard of huitlacoche before...I think huitlacoche would be better than Quorn, if only because I like the idea of my funguses growing beneath the sun.