I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. Or the name of an indie band. But it’s a real product, available at a hippie grocery store near you. Vegan jerkey – now doesn’t that just sound temptalicious? Of all the mixed-up fake-meat products in the world, and there are plenty of them, from not-dogs to gardenburgers to smartbacon, this is perhaps the ultimate in faux-flesh merchandising for vegetarians who hate vegetables and secretly lust for meat. Or in other words, most of them.
Now I’ve been drying my own beef for years, and will freely admit to being something of a jerkey snob. I’m certainly no fan of the big commercial brands, chipped and molded into rubbery slabs, soaked in high-fructose corn syrup, and salted with a Jersey’s worth of preservatives. I’d like to be able to say that “Stonewall’s Spicy ‘Chicken’ Jerquee” was no worse than that. But I’d be a liar. A big, fat, meat-breathed liar. To my palate it was an abomination, with all the worst qualities of bad beef jerkey, compounded by a complete lack of beefiness. It had the texture of a pet treat, smelled like industrial solvents, and tasted like salty barf. But who am I to judge? To eliminate the subjective factor, I conducted an informal survey at my local with what was left in the bag, and the results took me by surprise. Not everyone hated it – and I’m not just talking about vegans with their withered taste buds, who are used to everything tasting awful. Some meat-eaters considered it palatable, and a few actually thought it was pretty darn tasty.
Subject 1 (female): Complained about the texture (“rubbery”) but enjoyed the flavor (“kind of addictive, like Dorito cheese-powder”). Probably would have eaten the whole bag if I hadn’t stopped her.
Subject 2 (male): “Exactly like a dog treat. I’ve eaten my dog’s food and I know what I’m talking about.”
Subject 3 (male): Judged it “better than Asian Chex Mix,” but did not seem to intend this as a compliment. Declined a second tasting.
Subject 4 (female): “Nasty. Spicy cardboard.” Did not finish sample. Vehemently declined a second tasting.
Subject 5 (male): “A little spicy, I like the spiciness.” “Good for a vegan,” though “not as good as mushy peas.” Accepted a second tasting. Said he would probably buy the product “if the price was right.”
Subject 6 (male): “Good salt, good texture.” “Funky aftertaste, kind of mealy.” “Not bad.” Might buy the product.
Subject 7 (male): “Wow!” “Texture like jerkey.” “Good flavor, a little bland.” “Reminds me of jerkey.” Would buy the product.
Subject 8 (male): “Tasteless.” Would not buy the product.
Subject 9 (male): “Not too bad.” “Good texture, not too leathery.” Liked the spices, but complained about lack of smoke flavor. Might buy the product.
So, to summarize our results: two of the ten tasters would buy it, three might buy, and five would not buy, including yours truly, who would rather go cannibal than have to eat “Stonewall’s Jerquee” again, even in a survival situation. But then again, there’s no accounting for taste.