How do vegans live without bacon?
I wish I was one of those vegans who never liked bacon. But I’m not. In fact, prior to going vegan, I was the annoying carnivore that couldn’t imagine life without it. In fact, I probably ate bacon 3 times a week. Or more. But I justified this by referencing my perfect cholesterol numbers, which I saw as a licence to have as much as I wanted.
I really get why some people have a hard time imagining life without bacon. It was much easier for me to give up all other forms of meat, eggs and dairy. There are great alternatives for those foods, and they don’t have the same appeal. No matter its health consequences, bacon is one of those foods that many of us want to keep eating, and it can be a major obstacle to living a more compassionate lifestyle.
Change of Heart
Of course, heart health is not the only reason to avoid eating bacon. After reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I began seeing pigs differently. For example, Foer reminds his readers that pigs are as smart as three-year old humans, yet are kept in some of the worst conditions of all factory-farmed animals.
I’ll never forget going to the Calgary Stampede several years ago and seeing a live sow on display in a metal crate with her piglets. She was pinned on her side in the tiny cage, unable to turn around. I couldn’t believe this did not upset visitors to the display. Were farmers really so brazen that they would put an imprisoned mother on display for the public to see? I was puzzled by the bizarre, sickening scene. It struck me particularly hard since I had a three-year old child of my own with me at the time.
Still, giving up eating pigs seemed like a sacrifice (and we all know I’m a selfish vegan). But I couldn’t stand the cognitive dissonance of eating a sentient being just because it was tasty. I needed a suitable compromise.
What do we really like about bacon?
Bacon is sweet, salty, smoky and crispy. This texture/flavour combination is compelling because it satisfies on so many levels. Humans crave salt, sugar and fat, all of which are present in bacon. We also like interesting textures, and crispness is a big factor for most people. Thankfully, these characteristics are found in many other foods.
Personally, my candied pecans are my favourite bacon alternative. They have the same sweet, salty, crispy texture, and are delicious sprinkled on salads or green beans. There are a number of bacon-like products on the market, but I haven’t found one that really tastes like the real deal. Soggy, microwaveable strips of protein don’t thrill me. Besides, it’s the texture and flavour combination we’re really after, not the shape.
Nuts are a great substitute, as are shiitake mushrooms (see my recipe below). Some people rave about versions made from seitan. And I’m a huge fan of Field Roast’s Apple sausages, which make a great flavour addition to soups and other dishes.
My shiitake bacon recipe
I got this idea from Chloe Coscarelli, who adds her signature shiitake “bacon” to many of her recipes, like her fantastic Pasta Carbonara. But her version is more savoury than mine. I need a little sweet with my salty, hence the maple syrup (I was the kid that put more maple syrup on my sausages than my pancakes).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and have a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat ready to go.
1 pound of shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons of maple syrup (you can reduce or eliminate this, if you prefer)
Place sliced mushrooms in a large mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil and maple syrup. Add salt, and toss until the mushrooms are well coated. Spread the mushrooms across the baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes or until brown and crispy (I set the timer for 15 minutes and stir the mushrooms so they cook evenly).
Bottom line, there are many foods that offer the same flavours that permeate bacon. And in a world filled with delicious plant foods, bacon is needless waste. Try vegan foods that have similar qualities. Find the one you love, and the siren song of crackling bacon will lose its power.
Does anyone find bacon a hurdle to going vegan? Have you found an alternative that you love?