Sunday 28 June 2009

The Fake Meat Scare: Is it Really Fake?

For a more recent update on the situation with fake meat in Taiwan (and Asia generally) please see this article on whether fake meat is vegan and what I suggest doing about it. 

In 2009 the Taiwanese government performed spot checks on several fake-meat "vendors" (whatever that means) and found that over half contained real animal products. Follow-up tests and investigations were promised, but have not been released or reported on so far.

While it made the briefly section in Taiwan's largest English (and in my opinion best) newspaper, the Taipei Times, and the Taiwan News (another good paper), it created somewhat of a stir in vegan circles around the world, as much if not most of the world's fake meat is made here in Taiwan. Anyone who ate fake meats at Chinese vegetarian restaurants (most of which are in fact Taiwanese, no Chinese), had to wonder whether the too-good-to-be-true fake meat actually was.

If it really was over 50%, we could expect the Buddhist population in Taiwan to be up in (peaceful) arms about it, however, no such reaction has been noticed. Then again, most of Taiwanese vegetarian dining population are not actually vegetarian, but simply eat at vegetarian restaurants at certain times, as dictated by their local customs and religions. It may be that these "vendors" were all non-vegetarian suppliers, and that food at Buddhist restaurants, if made by Buddhist companies, is safe. There is really not enough information to draw any conclusions, but certainly enough for concern.

Though I have been unable to get to the bottom of it, I have paid much more attention to the ingredients of fake meat in grocery stores. The majority contains milk (in fitting with the fact that Buddhists eat dairy products) and some contains egg (because the I Kuan Tao religion also eat egg products, as do many lay Buddhists). It also often contains many less than healthy ingredients. It should not really be surprising that dairy, usually whey (or whey protein) is added to soy products meant to have the taste and texture of animal flesh. I highly doubt that many, if any, Chinese/Taiwanese vegetarian resaurants which promise "we use no dairy or egg" check the ingredients of their fake meat for whey. Buddhist-run restaurants probably will check the ingredients for egg, however.

One highly trustworthy exception to this rule is again, the followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai, in particular their Loving Huts (see my article on why I trust their fake meat here). Her disciples and restaurants are strictly vegan and owners of Loving Hutts are meticulous about checking that their ingredients are vegan.

So, in the absence of any real conclusion, but given that business in Taiwan is less than honest, most people eating vegetarian at any given time are not vegetarian themselves (all the time) and very few are vegan, I do not recommend eating fake meat from unknown sources in Taiwan (or eating anything from China at all). In Taiwan, I usually only eat fake meat at restaurants run by Ching Hai followers. For vegans abroad, inconvenient though this may be, I would not recommend eating any imported fake meats from Asia at all, and instead sticking to ones made by local veg'n companies, unless it is at a restaurant run by Ching Hai followers. Sadly, that sweet-and-sour Chicken you've been eating at your local Chinese vegetarian restaurant probably contains whey, and might just contain a little chicken, too.Vegetarian shark fin soup anyone?


  1. shouldnt they also exactly tell which company and which shops are selling veggie food made with meat? now that they know, what do they do, these products are still for sale ? thats outrageous and somebody must press for making the results public so you can avoid these places and indeed know if its vegetarian places that sell non veggie veggie meat or if its the non veggie places that sell non-veggie veggie meat. and yeah, i agree with you , i also avoid non veggie places , because often they dont fully understand the conceptof vegetarianism.

  2. I hate finding out about this stuff. So disgusting.