Stephen Jardine: Bleeding veggie burgers are for special type of vegan

Using beetroot as fake blood is not the way to make good food Picture: Lebowskis
Using beetroot as fake blood is not the way to make good food Picture: Lebowskis
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Vegan food can be delicious – like Yottam Ottolenghi’s roasted sweet potato with pecan and maple – but meat imitations can never be as good as the real thing, writes Stephen Jardine.

The average Scot has a life expectancy of 79 years. Most of us eat three times a day so that means approximately 86,505 meals in a lifetime. I’m more than half way through that total and as someone who looks forward to every last one, that makes me sad. However it also galvanises me into making sure no meal will be wasted. Why have cheese on toast for dinner when so many better things take just a little time and effort?

In theory, that same sentiment should quickly spell the end of the latest food fad. Pub chain Marstons this week introduced a vegan burger that ‘bleeds’ in 400 premises across the country. Made with the oyster mushrooms, pea protein and oats, the burger is supposed to taste and look like meat and even secretes squeezed beetroot to mimic the bloody juices from the real thing. Wow, doesn’t that sound appetising?

Veganism is in fashion. Some estimates suggest more than three million people now embrace a meat and dairy-free lifestyle. Within that number are a solid percentage doing it for sound ethical reasons. They don’t like the way animals are exploited and treated just to satisfy our appetites and choose to opt out of that system. I admire their principled stand and the fact that, unlike many meat eaters, they at least understand where food comes from. Happy eating to them.

Then there are some people who just don’t like the taste of meat and I get that too. I’m now eating much less meat than before and many people say as they get older their appetite for it diminishes. However once in a while, for me, only a juicy steak, crispy bacon roll or really good burger will do.

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Filling up the rump is the new wave of vegans. People too “woke” to eat a sausage. To them, veganism is as important a life statement as always having their refillable cup onhand when they go into their local hipster coffee shop for an almond milk latte. Their approach is less about animal welfare and more about how good an avocado and dukkah flatbread looks on Instagram.

The vegan burger that bleeds has been created specifically for this group. I’ve eaten plenty of vegan food and much of it was delicious. If you need convincing, pick up just about any cookbook by Yottam Ottolenghi. I interviewed him a couple of years ago and was surprised to find he eats meat because his food has made him one of the greatest cheerleaders for vegetable cookery. How about butternut squash with ginger tomatoes or roasted sweet potato with pecan and maple or corn cakes with beetroot and apple salad? I want to eat all of that right now. So given food that good, why would you want to eat a bleeding vegan burger?

If I ever give up eating meat, it will be to find delicious new dishes I’ve missed out on so far. It won’t be to chase down poor imitations of what I ate before. Like the Quorn sausage, the search for a decent vegan burger has been a holy grail for food manufacturers in recent years but it ignores the fact it can never be the same. Why would you want to be reminded of something you ate before which was delicious in a way this can never be?

Proper vegans are too busy eating good vegetable food to be bothered by any of this, but the late arrivals to the bandwagon seem to be reluctant converts still hankering for what went before. Hence the 297,000 pictures of vegan burgers posted on Instagram all of which look absolutely revolting. So long live veganism but leave burgers off the menu because as every tribute band proves, no fake is ever as good as the real deal.

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