Im obsessed with mock meat and Im not even a vegetarian | Rhik Samadder

A plant-based bleeding burger, eggs made from water-dwelling algae, milk made from oats? Bring it on

Facon, tofurkey, chickenless tenders overly processed mock meats have always sounded like punchlines, ludicrously named meat tribute acts. They are essentially the Faux Fighters, Proxy Music and Rolling Clones of the food world. Received opinion holds that if you want meat so badly, you should just eat it. The weird thing is that I have been obsessed with mock meats for a long time. The weirder thing is that I am not even a vegetarian.

For most people, nothing can be weirder than the textures of these oddities. How could they not be, predicated, as they are, on what they are not? But it is the creative ways around such incongruity I find compelling. I like food that answers a challenge. The milk I take in tea has been squeezed out of oats or rice. My childhood was consumed by a fascination about what was in crab sticks, because I knew it wasnt crab (although it is fish). Later, I felt the same way about Quorn until a few years ago, the company didnt exactly shout about the fact that its product is made from mould and grown in vats. But to me, weird just means new and interesting. Weird is my jam.

Vegan alternatives to meat and dairy products answer the biggest challenge of all. Can plant-based ingredients replicate the firm bite of meat, the creaminess of milk, the stretchy casein in cheese? Last month, the UKs first bleeding, plant-based burger was launched, made by Moving Mountains. It is all kinds of succulent, and shows how far this sort of food has come. The juicy fibre comes from grinding up oyster mushroom cores, with the blood supplied by beetroot. It is extraordinary I would say it achieves a 90% similarity to meat (while containing 100% of recommended daily amounts of B12, and no cholesterol). Its texture is a shade softer than beef, but since the aim of most meat dishes is high levels of tenderness, is that a failure?

At the Spread Eagle in Homerton, Londons first vegan pub, I have eaten mushroom tail scallops, slow-poached in garlic oil for silkiness, a baja tofish burger wrapped in nori to impart seafood flavour, and a Mexican fried chicken burger made from seitan, the chewy wheat meat. At home, I use Rubies in the Rubbles mayonnaise, which is made from chickpea water (also known as aquafaba, if youre serving it at the ambassadors reception). Most laugh-out-loud impressive is a plant-based egg, made from agal flour, derived from water-dwelling algae. Eggs made from flour made from algae! It may not be gold alchemised from base metal, but since I cant scramble up base metal on sourdough, Ill take it.

The current wave of vegan alternatives demonstrates human ingenuity at its finest. It is liberating to be kinder to animals, while still desiring dirty great quarter-pounders slathered in cheese. (When I say cheese, I mean a cashew and nutritional yeast melt, obvs.) Whether my delight will encompass the future of meat analogues, grown from stem cells in a laboratory, I dont know. Most consumers still consider todays plant-based alternatives to be over-processed, Frankensteinian wannabes, neither fish nor flesh. I think that is a shame, not just for the planet but their sense of adventure. Not today, seitan, not today; but, hopefully, tomorrow.

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Show of force: Captain Kirk with his trusty phaser in a 1966 issue of Star Trek. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

Sar Trek-style phasers and fascist ghosts: the US shows off its weapons toybox

Easter is just around the corner, so a boys thoughts turn to wondering if the US Department of Defense has any plans. Looking at its publicly released documents is a hell of a treasure hunt particularly over at the Non-Lethal Weapons Program, where they are working on some magical new toys. (It would be nice to imagine the programme was created to suppress the film Lethal Weapon, after Mel Gibson claimed in 2006 that Jews were responsible for all wars. But it wasnt.)

Flash-Bang and Thermal Discomfort Effects sound like post-punk icons, but they are even less fun. They are nicknames for laser-induced plasma effects. Such as the Ocular Interrupter System, being rolled out to marines in the next few months, a Star Trek-style phaser that can visually suppress targets more than 25km away. Or the long-range, millimetre-wave directed energy weapon that stimulates nerve endings in the surface of the skin. Watching a video of it, another way to put it would be burns you with spontaneous fire. Within three years, it will be possible to remotely create a hovering, glowing ball of electrically charged cloud that can issue intelligible commands. You know, like a fascist ghost. I need three or four more kilohertz, David Law, the technology division chief, has said. That doesnt sound like much. Cant they have a whip-round?

If they are saying it is possible within three years, I reckon they can do it now. And the fact that this is all public information makes me certain that they have far worse toys in the chest that we know nothing about. A pair of shoes that is only attracted to landmines. A tangerine that, when you eat it, makes your nightmares real. Another series of The X-Files, ready to go. The truth is in there, and Im not sure I can handle it.

Fancy a walk along the HSBC (hole in the) Wall?

The countrysides most beautiful walking trails are prime for corporate branding, apparently. I thought they were prime for a lovely picnic. The step suggested by Natural England, the governments adviser on protecting the environment would counteract the effect of funding cuts imposed by the government. Is there any way to reverse the erosion of ourselves, once the Pennine Way becomes Northern & Shell Media Group Way, or the Hadrians Wall Path becomes an HSBC (hole in the) Wall? Private money has done such a good job on the trains, I cant wait to see what it does to the trails.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/26/im-obsessed-with-mock-meat-and-im-not-even-a-vegetarian

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