One person’s mold is another person’s meat substitute

Am I the only one uncomfortable with the term "Naked Chik'n?"
Am I the only one uncomfortable with the term “Naked Chik’n?”
In today’s society, the relationship between carnivores and vegetarians is often tentative at best. Meat eaters look upon vegetarians with suspicion because, hey:
If we weren’t meant to eat animals, then why are they made out of meat?

Vegetarians, on the other hand, point out what separates us from animals is our ability to override our natural instinct, as human beings, to gag on tofu.

This uneasy co-existance is nothing new, and actually dates back to the very first vegetarian caveman who, after swearing-off meat in front of his clan and a panel of cave elders, was promptly eaten. Because of this, mistrust between carnivores and herbivores exists to this day. One example can be seen in the design of supermarkets, which strategically puts meat at the back of the store and fruits and vegetables near the front; should carnivores suddenly riot in the event of a rump roast shortage, herbivores will at least have a head start in getting to the exits.

However, thanks to astute reader Rebecca Schilling, who read my recent post about male enhancement nasal spray and said she “felt this was a good place to talk about fake meat,” I learned of a fungus-based meat substitute called “Quorn.”

Wait, it gets worse.

Before we get to that, you should know Quorn is the best-selling meat alternative in the United Kingdom. While some say this is because of the product’s natural chicken-like flavor, others say it’s because of Quorn’s catchy advertising slogan:

You can’t get Mad Cow from a mushroom-like fungus.
And we’re pretty sure about that

Just what is Quorn? And what makes it different from the “fungus-based” meat that already exists somewhere in the back of my refrigerator between the “fungus-based” sour cream and salsa? There are several differences actually, beginning with the fact that I’m too lazy to get FDA approval for any of my fungi. Plus, according to The Vegetarian Society, making a protein-substitute fungus from actual meat inside my refrigerator is called “cheating.” But the biggest difference is that Quorn is technically a mold, called Fusarium venenatum, which the company’s website said was discovered in 1967. To be honest, I’m still not sure if that refers to the discovery itself or how old my sample product is.

Based on these samples, I'm not sure if I should cook them or try extracting dinosaur DNA.
Based on these samples, I’m not sure if I should cook them or try extracting dinosaur DNA.

Either way, the venenatum mold strain underwent an extensive 10-year screening process before being cleared for human consumption in the UK. Then, in 2002, Quorn was given approval by the FDA here in the U.S. following a rigorous two-phase testing procedure that included 1) an intern consuming a plate of fried Quorn fingers, and 2) a thumbs-up from the intern after returning from the commode. Admittedly, this is an assumption on my part, based on an actual quote from the FDA’s website calling Quorn a class of foods “generally recognized as safe.”

While Europeans have long been considered more open-minded and progressive when it comes to eating fungus that’s shaped like chicken nuggets, the makers of Quorn are hoping that health-conscious Americans (Long considered more open-minded and progressive when it comes to avoiding diet and exercise) will be won over by the fact that Quorn has no cholesterol, two-thirds the fat of chicken, and stands a good chance of turning hallucinogenic when spoiled.

As this ad from the UK demonstrates, eating Quorn will make you three times larger than most athletes.
As this ad from the UK demonstrates, eating Quorn will make you three times larger than most athletes. Or at least hallucinate about it.

To me, the real test of how Quorn will effect the prickly relationship between meat eaters and vegetarians will come when supermarket owners are faced with the decision of WHERE to put this new product. Should it be up with the vegetables? Back with the meats? Next to the Activia? Across from the Ex-Lax?

And what if there’s a Quorn shortage due to a recall? Will skinny, healthier vegetarians be able to survive?

Fat chance.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

84 thoughts on “One person’s mold is another person’s meat substitute”

  1. I am more into Amy’s substitute meat products. But thai food is usually veg. and is pretty good. Most veggies do not smoke, drink or imbibe poison from insecticides. Do they live longer? Interesting study. Have never seen it because meat eaters control the research paper industry.

  2. i’m sitting here, eating blueberries and a banana for dinner (I swear, I am not making that up, as much as it sounds like code for something), and I should NOT have read this post while eating.
    No, I’m not some lame vegetarian. I’m just lazy and my kid doesn’t require dinner tonight. So I’m fending.

    Please tell me Quorn does not exist, this whole thing is a joke. Please.

    1. Maybe if you had said a pair of plums and a banana…

      Anyway, as much as I’d like to tell you Quorn is a joke, it’s as real as Rush Limbaugh’s hemorrhoid donut. And, in my opinion, about as appetizing.

  3. I feel like you wrote this post for me, Ned, and I’d like to thank you for it. I also hope your real meat gives you the runs, but you know I’m just jealous.

  4. Sauté in butter, with plenty of garlic. To serve sprinkle with finely chopped curly leaf parsley. And voila: a virtual mushroom that thinks it’s sirloin.
    Next step: printed food.

  5. I saw a tweet the other day which claimed that dildos were also meat substitutes. I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment, but give me a damned hamburger any day. Or better yet, a steak.

      1. I couldn’t find a “reply” spot, so I’m hopping in on you and TD and making this a threesome (see what I did there?)
        I’m eating mashed potatoes, gravy and roast beef as I read this (not even kidding!) and enjoying it immensely (the post as well as the food!)
        You threw fake meat, Quorn and male enhancement all within the first couple of paragraphs without cueing the bad 70s music…seems like that might be a Quorn industry faux paus 😉
        And now that you and TD think I have a one-track mind, I’m off to go be a productive employee and community member. TGIF!

  6. To complicate this, I urge you to go to an Asian market. We have this little Vietnamese shop in town where they sell all sorts of unidentifiable things. One product always stands out: “vegetarian intestines,” fashioned to look like bits of tiny animal guts. While a savory product, it’s in the candy aisle next to the Pocky and Yan Yan. Of course.

  7. Ahem. Vegetarian here – *ducks and covers.* Quorn is in fact delicious and its hallucinogenic effects help get me through life. What’s not to love? Plus Foghorn Leghorn and I are besties.

    1. I have nothing against vegetarians, Singlegirlie, or you in particular.

      Only vegetables; especially when they are grown in a vat.

      But hey, even Garden Burgers taste ok if you cook them with enough bacon grease…

  8. Quorn isn’t honestly that bad. It’s a lot like tofu in that by itself it tastes of absolutely nothing, but it takes on the flavour of other things, its texture is much more like meat than tofu though. So to make something like a lasagne or any other minced meat based dish it would probably be my go-to meat replacement (if I had vegetarian friends over for dinner for example).

    1. You started to lose me at “tofu” but pulled me back with “much more like meat than tofu.” For that, you can expect a Quorn minced-meat pie from me for Christmas… 😉

      1. I can scarcely wait, I’m sure the long transatlantic voyage the pie will have to take will do nothing but improve the flavour!

  9. First of all, this Quorn sounds like something that came from another planet.
    Second, that Quorn ad makes me think that Quorn makes it impossible for you to stand or walk straight.
    And finally, vegetarians need not fear me, because someone will have to eat my veggies – because I won’t.

  10. i am pretty sure that the visual of eating something that looks like a cat hairball that was barfed up 7 months ago, would prevent me from trying something that was genetically engineered from mold. I have no need to lick the bottom of a garden pot looking for the next new thing in sustenance either. Food is called food for a reason – and mold isn’t food. This whole thing makes me slightly queasy – quorn queasy.

    1. I always chuckle when I hear vegetarians talk about how their meat substitute “takes on the flavor of what it’s cooked in because it has no flavor of it’s own. Plus, it has a texture similar to meat!” At which point I want to say, “Then have a steak!”

      1. lol…at no point can you expect a vegetable to taste like meat because it’s not. If you want the flavor of meat, then eat meat, otherwise you are lying to yourself about being a vegetarian. If you eat a veggie hamburger with tofurkey bacon – what you are saying is that you would rather eat PROCESSED foods over natural ones. In my mind, being Vegan is an ethical/moral choice and I completely support it. But it means that all other animal products should be avoided as well. I also believe in ethical animal husbandry as opposed to corporate animal production for consumption. For myself, I use as little processed foods as possible and buy free range meat. I buy local produce and food products to minimize my carbon footprint. Packaged and processed mold? shiver…I can’t even imagine what the ingredient label reads like.

        1. I couldn’t agree more. Especially about how we treat the animals we consume. And though I respect anyone’s choice to be a vegan or vegetarian, what I don’t respect is when they try to make me feel guilty about enjoying a good burger or steak. That’s when I point to my canine teeth and tell them they are fooling themselves if they think we aren’t born to eat meat.

          And as for that ingredients label? I’m guessing it’s actually very simple:

          “Mold and corn syrup” (because everything processed seems to have corn syrup)

  11. “our ability to override our natural instinct, as human beings, to gag on tofu.”
    That’s a classic line for me. I don’t know why, but to me it sums up vegetarianism in its entirety. But hey, if it has a hallucinatory effect I could go for some Quorn, although there’s decent chance I too will become uncomfortable with the term ‘naked chicken’ under those circumstances.

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