Kyle Roth/Sun Staff Writer

November 15, 2022

Meatless “Meat”:  Animal-Free Eating at Cornell

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It is no secret that consuming various animal proteins comes with many costs related to morals, nutrition, the environment, production ethics and economics. With animal-based meat being widely available and accessible at virtually every restaurant and grocery store along with being deeply ingrained into American and international cultures, the issue of transitioning away from animal products and looking towards alternatives is not as steak-and-potatoes as it may seem. 

Fortunately, meat-alternative proteins are becoming the norm in our grocery stores and fast-food establishments, and they’re only growing in popularity as tasty, affordable, “guilt-free” substitutions to animals. Here, we will take a closer look at what animal-free eating options are available at Cornell’s dining halls along with where these trends might be taking us in the future. 

Seitan (pronounced “say-tan”) is a two ingredient mixture of flour and water that most closely resembles the look and texture of chicken. Made of vital wheat gluten, this product is high in protein, chews like chicken and is rich in a tasty savory “umami” flavor according to the Food Network. With unique properties able to absorb flavors paired and introduced with seitan, the Food Network explains that “Seitan is often kneaded with spices and flavorings such as nutritional yeast and soy sauce as well as vegetable stock for extra flavor.”

Bob’s Red Mill goes into detail of the nutritional content of seitan, describing it as “loaded with nutritional value, [in which] just a half-cup serving of this vegan meat alternative provides about 46 grams of protein.” The whole-grain oriented food company adds on, “It is also low in carbohydrates and fat, making it a favorite amongst individuals following a low-carb diet.”

Seitan can be found in Cornell’s dining halls in vegetable stir-fries labeled as “Meatless Chick’n Breast Strips.”

Tempeh (pronounced “tem-pay”) is a fermented soybean cake that originates from Indonesian cuisine, where meat is generally eaten sparingly and is made by introducing the special biologically-active starter Rhizopus oligosporus with whole-cooked soybeans.  It also has a deep umami, nutty flavor with a chunkier, wholesome texture and can be easily prepared with pan-frying, grilling, baking, and much  more. 

“Tempeh is the world’s richest plant-based source of vitamin B12 and shares the same high protein content as beef” the highly-renowned food magazine Bon Appetit reveals. “It’s also highly digestible compared to other soy and bean products because the fermentation process enables nutrients to become more soluble [in the digestion process].”

Tempeh can be found in Cornell’s dining halls and is commonly paired with red-bean jambalaya or barbecue flavors. 

Finally, tofu is an extremely popular soy-derived meat alternative that is made by setting soy milk and can be made to have extra soft, soft (silken), firm, or extra firm textures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture points out that “Tofu … is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fats [and] can be part of a healthful diet for most children and adults.”

Firm tofu is available everyday at certain Cornell dining halls and is marinated for salad bars, stir-fried, deep-fried, and scrambled. 

The future holds great promise for the innovation of delicious, nutritious, sustainable and ethically produced proteins as technology advances to support these products. Beyond Meat jerky, vegan eggs and cell-cultivated sashimi-grade salmon are just a few of the new products to the ever-growing line of meatless products that are stocking shelves around the world. 

As these meat-free protein alternatives continue to make their way into diets, their accessibility and affordability for those who choose to eat them is drastically improved and fortunately, Cornell Dining prioritizes having these options available at just a meal swipe away. Whether you are interested in trying some of these new foods, considering cutting back on your meat consumption, or have been on the lookout for meat-substitutes, these options are definitely worth a taste and a spot on your plate. Happy dining!

Kyle Roth is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]