Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Tried The 1-Pound Vegan Celebration Roast ...

And basically, it was like eating one of those giant meatballs they used to put in Franco-American pasta back in the day.

By: Jimbo X

Although I haven't been a vegetarian in several years now, I still have something of an affinity for vegetarian meat alternatives. Pretty much anytime I go to a sushi place or one of the more hippie-ish pizzerias I opt for the tofu subs instead of the real deal, and as crazy as it may sound, I still prefer veggie hot dogs to the authentic pork and beef ones. Ironically, I think it's the semi-synthetic blandness of such foods that appeals to me. They have a very unnatural smoothness to them, but I actually kinda' dig the slightly tasteless tofu taste. It just feels like I'm eating something futuristic - artificial meat, cooked up in some sort of state of the art lab somewhere where there's probably UFOs and shit under a couple of tarps in the basement. That it's probably healthier for you in the long haul, I assure you, is merely an aside in my case

Which brings us to the Original Field Roast Grain Meat Co.'s Celebration Roast, the latest in a long line of special edition, extra-hearty faux-meat monoliths a'la the Tofurky Roast and the Gardein Holiday Roast. Whereas its predecessors were all about being passed off as seasonal experiences, it looks like the Original Field Roast Grain Meat Co. (henceforward referred to by the slightly more manageable acronym OFRGMC) wanted their roast to be something of an evergreen supermarket staple. For one thing, it doesn't have any sort of holiday dressings to it whatsoever. This thing would look in season just as much in April as it does in November, which, if nothing else, should guarantee it a spot next to the Smart Dogs in the barely opened vegetarian meat alternative section at your local grocer for quite some time to come. Secondly, OFRGMC didn't even bother putting the thing in some oversized shoe box like the competition. Instead, the vacuum sealed their shit in a plastic wrapper, chucked in a paper sleeve and said "eh, good enough." And that sort of marketplace minimalism/not giving a shit in general is something I just HAVE to applaud as a jaded, 30-something consumer.  

I've been meaning to give the roast a try for quite some time, but it wasn't until my local grocery store marked the price down to half what it was a couple months back that I decided to bite the (vegetarian) bullet and finally allot it a taste test. Alas, as you will soon see, that drastic markdown in price was for a fairly good reason ... 

I've always thought it was hilarious how vegans always railed against "modified foods" when vegan shit like this is pretty much the least natural shit on the planet. Just take a look at all the ingredients it took to make this thing a reality: butternut squash, apples, mushrooms, lemon juice, safflower oil and the one that really jumps out at you, Irish moss sea vegetable extract. When you're eating cross-pollinated seaweed, fungi and fruit for lunch, I think that pretty much negates you ability to complain about anybody else eating "engineered" foodstuffs, don't it?

But where things get really suspect is the nutritional data. The entire loaf is a good 1,050 calories, which would represent about half a day's worth of food for most folks. The rub there is that in 425 grams of roast, just 115 are protein. Almost three quarters of the roast is synthetic carbohydrates and fat, with the whole shebang packing a walloping 2,600 milligrams of sodium, which is about 300 more milligrams of sodium than is recommended for daily consumption. So yeah, while these guys can stake at least some claim to manufacturing a healthy meat alternative, at the same time they're also pumping your ass full of so much salt that it probably negates whatever health benefits you would've gotten from eating it in lieu of a regular old hot dog or hamburger.

The thing that really gets me, though, is how the company tells you you can eat the thing cooked or uncooked. Right off the bat that lets me know you don't really have that many volatile ingredients (meaning, anything that would probably give you botulism) in it, but then again, this stuff is put in the refrigerated section for a reason, ain't it? At my grocer, it's not even hanging out next to the cheeses, it's in one of those artificial climate control deep freezers with the ice shelves and shit. Does that mean I can just slap off the particles of supermarket snow on it, take a knife to this sumbitch and make me a sandwich right then and there? Let me tell you kids, I was tempted to make about three or four different snacks involving the myriad ways you can (purportedly) prepare this stuff. Grilled in a pan, nuked in the microwave, broiled in the oven ... hey, don't ever say the guys who made it didn't give you plenty of options on this one. 

Alright, so about that reduced price thing I was alluding to earlier. Well, as you can see here, the "enjoyment" expiration date (which I'm not entirely sure would hold up in a court of law as the same thing as a straight up expiration date) was Feb. 11, 2017. That's more than a little, uh, odd, seeing as how I bought the thing more than a month later. You think I kid? Hell, I even saved the receipt for you ...

Naturally, this leads me to believe one of two things; either there's a Kroger in metro Atlanta that doesn't give one iota of a fuck about selling foods that have been expired in excess of 30 days to its customers OR this vegan roast thingamabob is so devoid of real food ingredients that it's expiration date is merely nominal, like a Twinkie or a Chocodile. Either way ... I'm probably putting my stomach in serious jeopardy moving forward with this article. Regardless, I already paid my three dollars for it and I've already put this much effort into explaining to you good people what the roast is, so I might as well keep chugging along, shouldn't I? 

So here's your full vegan roast, after a good three minute bombardment of radiation in the microwave. You really can't tell too much from the photo, but the roast itself is insanely greasy. Except it's not really grease, it's this liquid smoke extract thing that is just all over the fucking thing. As soon as I pulled the thing out of the microwave (by the way, am I the only person who HAS to hit the eject button when there's just one second left on the countdown just to avoid hearing the timer buzzer go off?) I was immediately assailed by a scent I hadn't smelled in nearly 20 years ... the downright unmistakable scent of Franco-American pasta. You remember that shit, don't you? You know, that preservatives loaded kids stuff that sometimes came gussied up like Sonic, Waldo, or God help us, animated Louie Anderson? Well, that is PRECISELY what the scent of this thing reminded me of. Maybe it's because of that same liquid smoke additive or maybe it's because of all the preservatives used for this dish, but damn ... that smell really took me back.

Now, I could've just eaten the thing raw out of the box, but that's both gross and hardly photogenic. So, ultimately, I decided to make myself a very, very basic sandwich. There's nothing at all fancy here - just two slabs of bread, one giant translucent green tub of artificial animal meat and one butter knife I really hope is sturdy enough to do the job. Let's dig in, shall we?

I'll be honest with you kids, I have NO idea what sort of things are the inside of the roast. You can see some flakes and strips of something, but that stuff could be practically anything. Chunks of apple, mushrooms, onions, squash, like I said, anything. Overall, the product's consistency is ... well, pretty consistent, I guess, although the exterior coating of whatever the hell that stuff is supposed to be is pretty tough to saw through. If you're keen on carving up some sandwich slices, do not expect to cut off some perfectly circular in-tact pieces right out the gate - if ever, for that matter.

And there's your Celebration Roast, in its natural habitat taking a nap on a piece of Wonder Bread. As a general rule, it's pretty hard to describe what these faux meats taste like because you really can't liken their taste to any naturally-occurring meat out there, but I'll give it a try. It's a little chunkier than the Tofurky Roast and slightly spicier than the Gardein Holiday Roast, but it's also dryer than either (thanks in no small part to all that damn salt and no gravy lubricants to soak the dish in.) While the liquid smoke coating gives it a mildly tingly flavor, it doesn't really taste like barbecued anything. Remember earlier, when I said the thing smelled just like a bowl of Franco American pasta? Well, maybe it's my mind playing tricks on me, but I thought this thing tasted JUST LIKE a gigantic version of one of the meatballs you'd find in stuff like Spaghetti-Os (which, for the record, always kicked the shit out of those crappy meatballs you'd find in Chef Boyardee's competing canned pastas), right down to the soupy tomato-and-MSG aftertaste. Right then and there you KNOW whether or not that's the most appetizing thing in the world or the most disgusting - and while your mileage will almost certainly vary, this product - inadvertently, advertently, words don't mean anything anymore - gave me the gustatory sensation I've been secretly lusting after for almost 25 years. Frankly, I fucking loved it and if you think its gross or undesirable, you're probably some sort of bourgeois prick and I wouldn't have anything to do with you, anyway. 

At the end of the day, I could see most consumers getting a pretty good amount of mileage out of this thing. Right off the bat I can see its value as pizza toppings, soup and salad add-ins and pasta adornments, and it probably works just as dandy in burrito form as it does sammich style. There really aren't too many side-foods at all I can think of that this product wouldn't complement fairly nicely - you know, except for the obvious shit, like ice cream and Sour Patch Kids. And yes, even eating it as standalone meal is pretty great, just as long as you have SOMETHING on hand to counteract the deluge of sodium. Might I recommend Mae Ploy's Sweet Chili Sauce? Pour a couple of spoonfuls on your roast and it tastes JUST like a vegetarian General Tso dish at an Asian restaurant that isn't that good but you go to anyway because they're two dollars cheaper than everybody else and there's hardly ever a line. And if you think that's a backhanded compliment, congratulations on being an elitist sack of shit, you ivory-tower-dwelling, no-commiserating-with-the-common-man-and-his-economic-shortcuts motherfucker. 

So, all in all, this one gets a big thumbs up of approval from me. Although I am still confounded by one thing: just why is it called a "Celebration Roast?" Are we only supposed to eat it on special occasions? If we're feeling dejected and defeated, are we still allowed to eat it? Am I prohibited from eating it after attending a funeral or watching a sad movie or after my sports team loses a game? Or is that just the marketing agency's oh-so-clever way of working the roast into any and all holidays and special seasonal supermarket sections?

Hell, maybe just eating the thing itself constitutes a mild celebration. I mean, you are essentially eating a giant Spaghetti-Os meatball, after all - if that's not a reason to break out the confetti and slide whistles, I don't know what the fuck does.


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