Vegetarian: Day Three

72 hours, and I’m beginning to struggle.

Breakfast: Fake Bacon Sandwich: There’s nothing better than the taste of bacon in the morning unless, of course, it’s manufactured by our old friends at Redwood Foods. Having sampled a few different items in their ‘cheatin’ range, Im beginning to wonder what the point is. These rashers look like they’ve been moulded out of play dough, even down to the fake fat, and they taste dreadful, like some kind of vaguely savoury, slightly salty crepe paper. I’m not going to dispute for second that vegetarian cuisine isn’t capable of throwing up wondrous combinations of texture and flavour, but why anyone would want to include this godsforsaken alternative is genuinely beyond me. If you’re vegetarian and care for a moment about the pleasure food can provide, why would you settle for a seriously flawed, faux-version of a food you’ve already decided to give up, when there’s so much else on offer? Worst of all, it keeps repeating on me, even after lunch.

Lunch: Fake ham sandwich: My final attempt at fake meat is another failure. Redwoods are responsible again, this time for some forlorn circles of water and wheat protein masquerading as ham but performing like a tasteless, stale approximation of cheap spam. I manage three mouthfulls before gagging and tossing the whole sorry mess in the bin, then made my way to Pret to pick up an egg and cress sandwich and a slice a banana cake. Never again.

Dinner: Met up with my good friend Amardeep to get to grips with the raw food movement, courtesy of the good folks at Saf, London’s premier ‘botanical fine-dining restaurant’.

It’s an interesting experience. The waiting staff are wonderful: very friendly, attentive without being overbearing, and happy to explain how everything works. In a nutshell, the idea is that food should be plant-derived, uncooked and unprocessed. We’re told that the food remains uncooked because at temperatures of 48°c and above the beneficial enzymes naturally present begin to break down, and the nutritional value and flavour of the food decreases. Now I’m no scientist, but this does sound reasonable, and while there’s plenty of ciritcism of the concept, it does make for an adventurous meal.

My starter is ‘caviar’, a cheerful combination of chive pearls, sweet potato latkes, apples and sour cream that somehow manages to taste like none of its ingredients. It’s nice enough, though, and beautifully presented. The main course is a ‘lasagne’ made of courgette bolognese, sage pesto, olive relish, pine nut parmesan and pepper coulis. It’s very tasty, and Amardeep’s croquette of truffle alfredo, wild mushroom and rosemary even better. Things are rounded off with a truly delicious ganache tart with drunken cherry sorbet, berry compote and balsamic cocoa.

By the end, I’m not really sure what I make of it all. The food looks lovely, but there’s nothing on the savoury side of the menu that makes your tastebuds tingle with joy or your stomach demand seconds. Many would argue the latter is a boon, and I’m willing to be convinced that occasional forays into raw food cuisine are not necessarily a bad thing, but once again the idea of food being something to take serious pleasure from seems to have been neglected. There’s nothing here to salivate over – where’s the tingle of anticipation? The bliss? The thrill? The smell? Despite the presentation, the food still feels no more than functional. Instead, you leave the restaurant unsatisfied, and (at least in my case) keen to wrap your gob round something more substantial. Like a kebab.

Suffice to say, I resist.

Until tomorrow, here’s some alternative wisdom from the great Jeffrey Steingarten:


  1. Seriously Fraser, that bacon looks worse than you described.

  2. Shit, look what happens when I stop watching this page for a couple of days – Fraser has a road to Damascus experience.

    I’ve never been big on the fake meat either (apart from those bacon bits – they’re nice).

    What I don’t understand is how you have got past 3 days without venturing into Indian cuisine – it’s so obvious!

  3. It’s an experiment – I’ve not had the Road to Damascus experience quite yet.

  4. OK, then right now would be a bad time to contemplate another trip to DPRK or Turkmenistan…

  5. I agree with BC – go get an Indian! They do amazing vegetarian food. I love all the different types of bhajis (aubergine, okra, mushroom, onion, spinach)

  6. I remember the fake bacon when I first discovered it as a teen vegetarian – it was a revelation to me then. I’d been veggie for a few years (since 11) and had really missed the bacon flavour. I found what you’ve got there but in “streaky” style and used to have it microwaved until it was sort of hard, then cover it in cheddar and put it in a toasted sandwich. It seemed innovative and xiting to me back then. Aaaw, my poor wee self.

  7. There’s a fine bit in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs where the narrator theorises on how any veggie who eats ‘substitute’ meat products isn’t a vegetarian at all, but really a ‘crypto-omnivore’. (I realise that you really are an omnivore, Fraser.) It’s so good that I thought I had made it up myself, and would often quote it as my own until I re-read the book the other week.
    Really – avoid this ‘fake meat’ stuff. It’s foul. The poor man’s covers band of the food world. Eat food which makes a virtue out of its vegginess, rather than paologising for it with an unconvincing disguise. Want some recipes?

  8. Hello – I’ve joined you. You inspired me, well not quite I saw a very convincing argument for meat reduction from an environmental/health perspective and thought I’d give it a go. The video is on my site if you want some additional motivation/moral indignation. I’ve also stuck up a couple of recipes. I’ve not touched any fake meat though, I remember having Bernard Matthews Turkey Bacon in uni. I remember because it’s still repeating on me. That bacon flavour is all pervasive. They use it to tag peadophiles, there’s no escape.

  9. If you need chicken breast substitutes and ‘real protein’ then try the Quorn ones – they do breasts and chicken pieces, which are great in a sauce – the trick with being on a veggie-drive if you are a meat eater is to make sure you get lots of protein as otherwise your body will crave this and your willpower will crumble at the nearest sniff of a steak. We are creatures of habit and you probably enjoying chewing solid meat pieces,so the quorn products are good for this, and the sausage products too. Indian food may hit the spot in terms of taste but leaving you wishing there was some chunky bits of lamb or chicken in there too so make sure it’s got chickpeas or beans or lentils in the dishes to hit the protein needs.
    I am vegetarian (no meat, no fish) for 17 years now and careful with balancing my diet, but I still will eat meat or fish occasionally if I really want to (which is about 4 times per year) – I know it is because my body really needs a protein boost and not just because I feel like eating a piece of bacon or some tuna! I will also eat it if it means otherwise it is thrown away (ie leftovers from my daughter’s dinner) as I think that is even MORE wasteful – all that energy, transport, grain etc gone into the bin.

  10. I just can’t Fraser. I’m an unrepentant meat-eater. Real meat only. I don’t know how you’ve survived this long. Fake Bacon??!?!?! For the love of Cheese why?!?!

  11. I turned Vegetarian in the late 90s. I had to do it for health reasons. These days I am a Pescetarian.

    The most convincing and by far the worst imitation meat I ever ate was a Linda McCartney burger, itself reminiscent of some thoroughly unpleasant utility-grade ‘escalopes\’ served to me as part of a school dinner, while on a French Exchange.

    I find imitation bacon often has an unpleasant soy aftertaste. You’re better off with a packet of Frazzles, washed down with a can of orange Tango, for the vitamin C.

  12. a veggy friend gave me fakin bacon once I carefully cut of the fake rind and left it on the side of plate

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