Things I like:
Cold Brewed Coffee
Camu Camu Powder
Things I don’t like:
New vegan products on the market that look cute and edible but taste ridiculous. As in bad. Ridiculously bad. If these things become popular I will have to throw away my vegan card and use a different word to describe my lifestyle.
Example: The Chia Pod. Ingredients: Chia Seed Gel (Filtered Water, Chia Seed), Coconut Milk, Cold Brewed Coffee, Coconut Palm Sugar, Camu Camu Powder.
I’ve only tried the coffee flavor. I almost always love anything coffee-flavored i.e. non-dairy faux-yogurt or ice cream. As in, I have to restrict myself from eating more than a serving of vegan coffee non-dairy dessert. The chia pod, disappointingly, did not follow suit. The first bite left me confused, and filled with thoughts such as “when did the vegan marketplace make this wrong turn?” and “can I spit this out?” and “why does this taste like a chia egg infused with weak coffee?”.
The second bite? I couldn’t take it. That first bite inspired me to skip breakfast entirely and write this post.
Out in the vegan marketplace, a treacherous territory that exists between Whole Foods and the wee mom-and pop natural foods stores of California circa 1900, we have many products that show our development as a species with a focus in creating products that taste like animal products.
1898 – The Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company
Founded in Melbourne, Victoria by Seventh-Day Adventists a, protestant denomination of Christianity that discourages the consumption of meat, dairy products, or eggs. In accordance with these principles, Sanitarium did not sell animal-derived products; instead, they promoted the consumption of fortified grain—demonstrated by their flagship product Weet-Bix, the most popular breakfast cereal in Australia and New Zealand today. Other alternatives to animal protein developed and made popular by Sanitarium include peanut butter, soy milk, and TVP (textured vegetable protein, the prototype for most commercially-produced veggie burgers and ground meats in the contemporary vegan marketplace).
Sanitarium opened several stores from 1900 on, but a number of franchise-owners let go of the Sanitarium name in order to run their own natural foods stores. A select few began to sell milk and/or eggs, a move that distanced them from the original Sanitarium model. Some converted from the Seventh-Day Adventist faith, yet others believed that the consumption of eggs and dairy fell within the means of the Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine. This led to a reform movement within the religion, and also prompted more Sanitarium franchise owners to branch off and continue selling vegetarian groceries under a somewhat-different business model.
1900 – Wandervoguls, Fruitarians, and Squatters
As part of the Wandervogel movement in the 1800s, when young adults from Germany left as part of a mass rebellion against bourgeoisie culture, new natural foods stores emerged in California. They sang and played guitar, wore flowers in their hair, and squatted in uninhabited Victorian houses and on abandoned land. The Wandervogel movement split apart when most decided not to be nudists and others refused to eat anything other than foraged fruits, greens, nuts and seeds. Foraging nuts often led to trouble with authorities. Foraging nuts and fruits often involved trespassing into the homes of the New World Bourgeoisie. Berries and greens grew wild, but often left them starving when squatting in uncharted territory.
1920 – The Prohibition Era
A number of former Wandervogels opened natural food stores in California. These stores seemed to piggy-back off the original Sanitarium developed by the Seventh-Day Adventists in Canada, yet they introduced new concepts to their consumers. Although the Wandervogel community had essentially broken apart and dispersed, the ideas remained in the minds of the original members and grew to manifest as philosophies of healthy living. Notable examples include hydrotherapy, fruitarianism, natural hygiene, and a juice fast that permitted no food, substituting tea and lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
1933 – Prohibition Ends, Juice Fasting Begins
A number of people began to experiment with juice fasting in California and in Canada. One person decided to capitalize on it. Enter: the master cleanse.
1936 – Sawall Health Food Products
Frank A. Sawall, who earlier worked with John Harvey Kellogg, began selling powdered mineral drinks door to door and lecturing around the United States on the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements, before opening Sawall Health Food Products, Inc., in 1936, the United States’ oldest family-owned natural foods store still in existence today.
1940 – The Master Cleanse
Lemon, Cayenne, and maple syrup. Developed by a vegan from Canada, this cleanse grew to popularity in the mid-2000’s. I tried it once, and it worked. However, I did replace the maple syrup with stevia. One of my college roommates tried it the old-fashioned way to no avail. I highly recommend the cabbage soup diet over the master cleanse, but with all due respect, Rest In Peace, Stanley Burroughs.
1950 – Fear of Vegetarianism in the USA
In the midst of TV dinners and spam, the business at natural foods grocery stores from members of the new generation tapered off. Their children didn’t shop at them, because they were often considered kooky or un-American. Who in their right mind would stop eating meat, voluntarily? These people must be crazy. Here’s 30 cents, Timmy. You may use it to buy an eskimo pie or a popsicle at the corner store after school. You must not step foot in that vegetarian store across the street. Do you hear me, Timmy?
1954 – The Birth of the Bulk Bin
In 1954 on the outskirts of Vancouver, British Columbia, vegan pioneer Ella Birzneck founded Health Food Research, a store modeled partly upon Russian “doctors’ shops”, which carried medicines, herbs, and specialty foods.
Also in 1954, JM Swank started a bakery brokerage business featuring dry goods sold in bulk.
1960 – Supplements and Vitamins hit the mainstream
Items manufactured by the Sanitarium Company, such as brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses, greatly influenced the new housewives and mothers of the early 1960s. Certain non-vegan products sold at new natural foods stores based on the Sanitarium model but not affiliated with the company, such as cod liver oil, brought supplements and vitamins into the mainstream.
In the 1960s and 70s, worker-owned health food cooperatives emerged, and achieved a growth of popularity during the counterculture movement.
1976 – FDA Reform
Senator William Proxmire, husband of vegan pioneer Ellen Hodges Sawall, campaigned against the Food and Drug Administration’s attempt to define food supplements as “drugs”. The Health Foods community of individuals and small businesses, as well as the health foods industry at large, considered this a great achievement and a step toward creating a healthier society.
1978 – Saferway
John Mackey and his wife Renee Lawson open SaferWay (a name chosen with deliberate reference to Safeway, the then-popular grocery store conglomerate) in Austin, Texas.
1970 – The Sunburger
Created in Baton Rouge, Florida and formulated with soy (TVP, or textured vegetable protein) and gluten (the prototype for seitan, a faux-meat made popular in the early 2000s) the Sunburger would later emerge commercially as the Boca Burger and eventually sell out to Kraft in the 1990s.
Also in the 1970s, another faux-burger start-up called Morningstar Farms hit supermarket shelves after selling out to Kellog.
1980 – Whole Foods Market
The original Whole Foods Market opened in Austin, Texas. Founded by John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy, owners of SaferWay Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery, Whole Foods revolutionized the concept of health-food grocery shopping.
1981 – Toffuti
David Mintz founds a company called Tofu Time, to market soy-based and alternatives to dairy products. In 1984, Tofu Time sells out to Haagen Dazs and becomes “Tofutti”. From 1981 until 1990, Tofutti reigns as the leading name in faux-dairy and egg products.
1992 – Tofurky
Seth Tibbott, who sold tempeh wrapped in banana leaves in 1977 while living in a tent as a “naturalist” along the Nolichucky River in Tennessee, went on to found the Tofurky company in Florence, Oregon in 1980. As he continued to sell tempeh throughout the Pacific Northwest, his company evenually settled in Hood River, Oregon—when to this day it continues to hold the title of 3rd largest tempeh manufacturer in the United States.
1997 – Field Roast
In Seattle WA, a new faux-meat emerged. Very similar to Tofurky and also produced in the Pacific Northwest, it emerged among the mainstream in the mid-2000s, and only in big-box natural foods stores such as Whole Foods. Today, its prestige has trumped that of Tofurky. In other words, one might call it a higher-end version of Tofurky.
2009 – Daiya Cheese
At the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim CA, the world got a taste of Daiya. Three years later, Pizza chains along the Pacific Northwest began to feature it and gain recognition as “vegan-friendly pizza joints”.
I’ve tasted many a vegan pizza, before the widespread popularity of Daiya cheese. I’ve made vegan pizza. I’ve used cauliflower crust, cornmeal crust, and in years past, wheat crust. Those experiences taught me that pizza can taste delicious in the absence of cheese. Honestly, a chief reason for why I went vegan in the first place is that I really don’t like cheese. When it was free, when I worked at an animal shelter in 2003 and before I went vegan, I discretely peeled the cheese off the pizza before I ate it. Like most things, pizza can taste great without it. Examples: Amy’s cheeseless roasted vegetable pizza, or a vegan slice from Pizza Research Institute in Eugene OR topped with marinara, spinach, and a creamy “ricotta” spread that tastes nothing like cheese but something all its own.
Why must we continue to create products that imitate foods suited to the palates of our forefathers?
I don’t mean to seem hypocritical here, because I too have created recipes that veganize “traditional” American fare. But let’s face it. One reason that many of us went vegan has to do with the unhealthful nature for the Standard American Diet. Why imitate it?
The Chia Pod represents a transition from traditional ideas about breakfast. It could evolve and change into something palatable. Whatever the case, I appreciate the effort. I just wish it tasted better. Perhaps add a bit more coconut meat to the recipe. Sure, it would increase the calories from fat—while increasing the vitamin and nutrient content. Balance that by eliminating the sugar. I get it—the sugar is derived from coconuts, thereby making the Chia Pod a “whole food” product. Why not replace it with stevia, which tastes like sugar minus the empty calories?