Of late, a couple of folks asked me about eating mock meat and all. Some friends did ask me about it as well in the past, and come to think about it, this is a question that had been asked, since perhaps the start of mock meat itself! It seems contradictory to actually advocate vegetarianism on one hand and on the other hand, fabricate realistic mock meat to satisfy one’s taste buds. Why should one do this? Why can’t we be real to ourselves and just eat meat or vegetables depending on our inclinations? Can there be a middle-ground?The main thrust of the counter-argument against mock meat is that if one were to choose to be a vegetarian out of compassion for animals, why would anyone still savour the taste and smell of meat and consequently create mock meat up to the extent of actually becoming an industry in itself. Wouldn’t one be hypocritical at best?
As far as hypocrisy is concerned, at face value, it may seem to be the case and that is where most people get stuck. They find themselves failing to rationalise to themselves the morality of eating mock meat. Are we still being compassionate to animals or are we outwardly compassionate, but inwardly cruel? Are we feigning kindness but really murderers at heart. Here, I would like to draw an analogy about Boy Scouts. Hopefully, it will help us see mock meat in a different light and enable us to become happy, non-sectarian vegetarians who are equally happy with leafy meals and those complemented with mock meat.
We know how Boy Scouts train and mold little boys into confident, rugged and intelligent individuals who delight in helping others and serving the community at large. Some of us are good natured at heart, and we incline towards helpfulness and kindness naturally without the need for reward or recognition. Some of us would even shun the limelight as goodness should be good enough in and of itself. There are others who instead, need nurturing to develop or bring out that goodness in them. This nurturing can come in the form of Boy Scouts training where they are required to participate in regular community services in order to progress on their ‘career’ as a scout.
Such external motivation steers them towards participating in the act of helping others while lessons inculcate the value systems conceptually. Over time, such good naturedness can become ingrained and at the later part
of their life as an adult, some may continue to help others even without the need for rewards or recognition. Some may still require that even later in life while others may even need more prodding since peer pressure’s influence could have weakened by then. Still, as long as it works, at least the needy and desolate are being helped. While it would be ideal to have everyone to be helpful and charitable without material rewards or recognition, at the very least, help is still rendered and effective even when some rewards and recognition are needed. The presence or absence of rewards or recognition does not and should not diminish the fact that help is received; at the most, it perhaps reflects on the moral or spiritual maturity of that person, but who are we to judge anyway?
In a similar way, there are those of us who are inclined towards vegetarianism naturally while there are others who aren’t. Some need a bit of incentive or substitute to pick up the new habit or diet. Mock meat is one such incentive for some. For them, they may actively need that comfort zone as a ‘migratory path’ from being a non-vegetarian to being a vegetarian. While such substitutes avoid a direct link between meat and one’s meal, clearly the Buddhist application of vegetarianism does not stop there. It is not an end in and of itself. Vegetarianism serves as a practise to help develop compassion. The right contemplation that should accompany vegetarianism is to reflect on all sentient beings as one’s mother (or father, siblings, etc) and in that light, break the notion that “chicken is farmed for food”, that they are merely “livestock”, but are fellow sentient beings. In that aspect, then vegetarianism goes beyond the meat and the meal, and nourishes one’s heart with compassion. Seeing vegetarianism correctly as a means to compassion and not an end in compassion itself, one would then also realise that a person who is not a vegetarian is not necessarily uncompassionate, for afterall, there are many paths towards compassion. Seeing the fault at both extremes, one would not fault those who need mock meat nor mock those who take meat.
The other argument is that the alternative to mock meat vegetarianism is natural vegetarianism. NV is coined in by me to describe a somewhat vegan diet, except that one does not eat any mock meat at all. Proponents for NV sometimes counter that it is both healthier to eat NV and at the same time better for the mind, since one is not engaged in the taste, smell and perhaps form and texture of meat. Mock meat is often heavily processed and flavoured to mimic the form, smell, taste and texture of meat, so it is probably safe to say that mock meat as a whole is probably less healthy than a NV.
According to various unscientific studies (conducted on myself over the past 7 years), I’ve found that taking mock meat on a moderate level neither improves nor impedes health. For some folks, breaking the monotony of green-vegetables with a bit of mock meat may actually serve to increase appetite and result in better nutrient input from the greens. Being a good monk 😉 , I eat what is given and don’t reject nor hanker for mock meat. Neither do I need mock meat to whet my appetite since the one main meal per day regime guarantees a certain level of hunger by late morning the next day. Granted, the monasteries I’ve stayed in over the past few years serve a good mix of green leafy vegetables, beans, roots, herbs and mock meat, so I don’t really see any unhealthy balance that might result. I dare say that moderation in food is key, mock meat or greens alike.
I hope that through this simple article, we get to appreciate mock meat and perhaps vegetarianism at another level and perhaps see them in a different light. For myself, I’m an alms-eater and as long as it is allowable and given at the appropriate time, I would consume it, and that includes vegetables and meat, mock or otherwise.