In an article on The Verge, Kait Sanchez profiles Simulate, a company making plant-based chicken nuggets. The kicker? They have fully embraced the fact that their food is “simulated”, treating it like a software product rather than a foodstuff.
And why not? Once divorced from the notion of being something grown, an ingredient or even a meal becomes something engineered—a product with the explicit aim of fooling the tastebuds to believe that it is the real thing.
As a vegetarian who used to go out with a vegan and has tried loads of such foods, I find the great majority of them severely lacking. For myself, I’ve long decided to make different kinds of food rather than trying to imitate something I can’t (or have decided not to) have—both to avoid disappointment and mystery ingredients in these substitutes.1
What makes this different is not that it’s more real, but that it seems like a new genre of food, something proudly fake. It sure is no coincidence that what the makers of Simulate have decided to create are chicken nuggets, arguably one of the least real-seeming foods out there to begin with.
What we’re dealing with, then is a food with at least two degrees of separation from the real thing, something so fake it has jumped the line from simulation into something entirely different, something you don’t want to eat because it tastes of something but because it tastes of itself—more like Dr. Pepper than a credible copy of a chicken.
As the article puts it: “(…) plant-based doesn’t automatically equate healthy. ‘We didn’t evolve to eat ultra processed foods and these meat substitutes are ultra processed foods,’ says Marion Nestle, a Nutrition and Food Studies professor at NYU. ‘People would be much better off eating real food.’”↩︎