Food Familiarization #3: Mimicry

Allison Guy
July 24th 2013

This is the second part in a series that examines the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. Part 1, Part 2

Food mimics try to look and taste like whatever they're replacing. Veggie burgers, veggie sausages, even the dreaded vegan bacon, all exist to comfort the nostalgic vegetarian. These meat-mimics imply that a change in diet doesn't mean a loss of deep-seated cultural rituals. You can still barbecue and eat a full English breakfast. Sort of. 

While traditionally vegetarian societies don't feel the need to disguise vegetable protein – in China, tofu is an ingredient, not a sacrifice – Western cultures spend big money on faux meat. Extensive technological research, for instance, has resulted in fake chicken that's all but indistinguishable from the real thing. The "Vegetarian Butcher" in The Hague is such an incredible exercise in meat verisimilitude (shawarma, bacon, tuna and all) it's a wonder they don't have soy-based carcasses hanging in the back.

The first forms of commercially available in vitro meat or insect protein may very well look like hot dogs or chicken filets. It's no accident that Mark Post has promised the world an in vitro hamburger. Hamburgers are one of the most universally recognized foods in the world. A conventional hamburger means comfort and familiarity to millions if not billions of people. An in vitro hamburger will, hopefully, signify the same things.

On a related note: Food camouflage might be considered a subset of mimicry. Unlike mimicry, however, camouflage has an element of deception about it. Remember meat glue and pink slime? Every day, we happily consume dozens of ingredients of which we have only a passing awareness, or no awareness whatsoever.  Of course, consumers aren't often happy to discover they've been lied to: camouflage rarely covers up healthy or high-quality  ingredients.

Photo via Ewan Munro.

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