Fake Foods: No Thanks!

natalie dee


I saw this comic today and nearly “splurfed” my green tea with the snort-laugh that bubbled up.  This laughter comes from remembering from some of the many different diets I’ve worked through over the years of my life and the “fake foods” they “allow” you to eat.

I remember eating turkey bacon while on Weight Watchers.  Fewer calories! “Similar” Taste! Fake yourself into thinking it is REAL bacon and think that you’re giving yourself a treat!  It’s Fake-on!  Whee!  Yeah.  Not so much.  Anyone who has EVER tried turkey bacon will assure you that it is NOTHING like regular, good old, slightly fattier, slightly higher in calorie pork bacon.  It doesn’t cook the same either.  I mean come on; nothing says “This is NOT bacon” better than the fact that turkey bacon will never get that wonderful crisp bacon snap when you cook it.  It just always remains the same too-bright pinkish strip of slurried meat product.  Blech!  And for the record, you aren’t fooling your body into thinking that dessicated piece of reconstituted turkey pressed into a bacon shape is actual bacon either.  It knows.  You know.  Stop lying to yourself and admit it.  That ISN’T bacon.  It never will BE bacon.

Then there was South Beach, or just the “Low/No Carb” diet for those not subscribing to any particular brand-name diet.  After 2 weeks of “induction”, by the end of which a piece of half-rotted pear sounded like freaking heaven, you’re willing to try anything even remotely resembling a bread product.  And then you try to fake-out your body, trick it again into thinking it is getting something that you really aren’t going to feed it, by mashing up cauliflower into “Mashed Potatoes”.  Come on folks.  We’re adults.  If you want to eat mashed up cauliflower with some butter and spices and enjoy that awesome tasty, go for it.  But stop acting like you’ve somehow managed to convince your body that it is really “Just Like” eating mashed potatoes.  Your body isn’t a 3 year old that can’t figure out you’ve hidden peas inside their food (which, for the record, I’m not sure fools even 3-year-olds).

And from the days of calorie-counting in the generic “I can just stop eating so much, because obviously if I’m overweight I just must be eating more than my body needs” diet phase comes another of those “ooo this is just like eating ____, but fewer calories and none of the taste” items:  Any sort of “fat free”, “diet” or otherwise “low-cal, low-fat, low-sugar, low-something” product out there waiting to take your money.  Your body knows it isn’t the real thing; why are you still trying to convince yourself that it will never know that difference?  And frankly, every food stuff that feels the need to market some sort of “diet” version of itself knows that it isn’t supposed to be eaten as a sole nutrient-providing part of a balanced human eating regime.  I feel if marketing groups just used their funds to focus on intelligent commercials like “Hey!  This soda/snack-food/treat/sugar-filled tasty thing is delicious but shouldn’t be the only thing you eat (which honestly, if people just stopped following diet marketing scams in the first place we’d all realize we KNOW anyways)” instead of trying to put all their mental energy into crafting these “tricky”, slightly less calorie but far less tasty (and likely full of even more junk additives you might NOT want), products that they just know people will try to eat more of in an attempt to trick and appease their body into accepting it as the original fun food item; then perhaps we could move away from this overwhelming belief that we humans have no idea how to choose foods that are good for us; in amounts that are right for us as individuals; and start to revamp the whole idea one person actually being able to make good decisions for their own eating habits.

Basically, my thought on these fakey foods is: If you want to eat it, fine, but stop trying to convince me and you and everyone around you that you love it more than the real thing because it is something that dieting introduced you to and it is a Wonderful Non-Food to “enjoy”. This diet-induced self-delusion has to stop.

If you like Turkey Bacon, fine.  I’m still not going to eat it.  You can have my share even.  If, like me, you enjoy cauliflower mashed up as a tasty veggie, fine.  Just stop calling them “Fake Mashed Potatoes” though, as if that somehow makes them quasi-carbs that will appease your carb-starved inner-body gods demanding potato-sacrifices be made to them.  And if you love the taste of diet soda, have a blast; drink it up.  But that 0-calorie sip is by no means “tricking” your body into losing weight, or into believing that you’re really drinking the real thing.  Both of you know the truth.  So stop lying to yourself.  Stop lying to your poor body and own up to the fact that these are what they are: Fake Foods.  Denying it doesn’t make it any less true.

So if you ARE only eating those things in the vain hope that somehow your body will one day love them as much as the original; join me in the D.A.R.E to Eat Real Foods challenge; whereby you acknowledge exactly what it is you’re eating for what it actually is, and not for what it is supposedly replacing.  Join in the fun chant and just say “Fake Foods: No Thanks!”


28 thoughts on “Fake Foods: No Thanks!

  1. I remember back when the whole “turkey as everything” craze started. It was horrid: turkey balogna, turkey bacon, turkey salami, turkey pastrami, turkey CHICKEN (yes, really). For someone like me, who Does Not Like Turkey? Pure, unadulterated, non-fake turkey hell.

    Fake foods are scary. My body knows the difference between chocolate and carob. There is a chemical difference; i don’t normally LIKE chocolate all that much. When my body decides it needs chocolate, carob just ain’t gonna cut it, because my body wants something that chocolate has.

    When i crave bananas, it means that i need potassium. If i try to trick my body into thinking it meant “grapefruit”, it’s going to retaliate by waking me up in the middle of the night with heinous leg cramps. How is this difficult to figure out?

  2. Oooh, this hits home. My mom is “on” WW, and she’s constantly telling me how great her low-fat, high-fiber muffins are, or how “just like” mousse her pumpkin-flavored splenda-bomb is. I hate fake foods!
    I refuse to eat any “food product” that tastes “just like” [insert name of real food here].
    And don’t even get me started on margarine.

  3. “Similar” Taste!

    Hee hee. That’s an accurate description of the level of manic, desperate, misplaced enthusiasm that is usually present when it comes to fake foods. Of course, I am thankful for fake foods when it comes to soy pepperoni, because I love pepperoni but processed meats gross me out if I think about them too much so it’s a good compromise, but the whole substituting something fake for something real just to save calories or fat or carbs is most definitely a bad idea.

    I like your challenge, and although the following examples are not fake per se, I also think it can be instructive to think carefully about what “version” of something you really prefer whenever you select a food. There are times when I actually like something better when it’s less sweet or lower-fat (I like homemade smoothies because the bottled ones are so sweet I can’t stand them, but I actually like the super-sweet supermarket birthday cake frosting that most people hate; I prefer skim lattes because the coffee bite comes through better, but 2% or whole milk mochas because they taste creamier) and times when I need to stop fooling myself and admit that I’m buying a fake food and simply pretending to like it “just as much” even though I don’t.

    It feels sort of empowering to shift the focus back to what I like. I mean, there is no reason for me to like bad-for-you supermarket cake–although I agree with Lindsay that cravings really are often Very Important and should definitely be heeded–but who says there needs to be a good reason other than that I like it? I don’t need to eat it every single time I come across it if I don’t want to, but I do need to honor and not try to minimize and ignore my own needs and preferences.

  4. As a vegetarian, I hate most of the “fake-vegetarian meats”. I like tofu if it is prepared well (tofu is one of the foods that really can be everything from disgusting to delicious), but I don’t need my tofu to pretend being meat.

    However my “favorite” fake food is still fat-free sour cream. Come on, people, cream is high in fat by definition. If you don’t want to eat sour cream, fine, but don’t replace it with something that does not taste anything like it. As a vegetarian I also have a problem with many of the fat-free yogurts/ sour creams/ etc. because a lot of them contain gelatine, something that does NOT belong in dairy products, and it kind of pisses me of that I have to check for gelatine in products that should not/ don’t need to contain any.

  5. I loooooove turkey bacon, but I never really liked real bacon much anyhow. The two don’t taste anything alike, which for me is a selling point, but I can see how if you like real bacon you’d be grossed out by the turkey version.

    This morning I was using the office scanner, which is in the kitchen, and had a discussion with co-worker L. about fake sweeteners. I think I may have convinced her that it’s morally okay to use a packet of real sugar (with real calories!) rather than trying to hunt down a packet of Equal.

  6. The things food companies do to call things low-fat, low-carb, etc! I accidentally bought a ‘11% less fat! (than our regular lemon cake) lemon cake’ last week. I was totally demoralized when I realized that my eyes had just skipped over the ‘low fat’ label, and I expected it to have a heinous ingredient list. Surprisingly, it didn’t (and was yummy). I think the secret is that their regular lemon cake (which I found at a different store later) is coated in chocolate icing.

    Oooh, the fat free cream products! I mean, what’s the point?? (not to mention, why is there gelatine in my dairy, as you said, sannanina!) The only one I’ll eat is the low-fat Trinkjogurt (it’s a drinkable yogurt with live cultures) because they don’t make a full-fat version and there’s no gelatine in it.

    mmmm…. carob…. I wish I could find a carob-and-coconut bar these days (but then, I was raised with carob for its own sake, not as a fake chocolate).

    Oh, and great post!

  7. Oh, I am so with you. One of my big life changes since giving up dieting has been giving up all of these fake foods. My rule now is that I eat things that are as close to their natural state as possible–so if I want a cookie, I’m going to eat one that I’ve baked myself, with my own hands, out of real butter and sugar and flour. And I’m going to enjoy it, rather than agonizing for every stinking minute about how “bad” I am. (Side note, slightly related: Gah! I’m being driven slowly mad by the conflation of “healthy” food with morality!!!)

  8. Bald Soprano – I LOVE Trinkjogurt (I am German, though I am living in the Netherlands right now – fortunately the Dutch have similar dairly products than the Germans, they even have Quark).

  9. Heh, I remember the time I was at Subway and accidently picked Atkins cookie for my trio (I was distracted and didn’t read the label on the window). That was the nastiest-tasting shit ever, nothing to do with regular Subway cookies.

    And when I was much younger (and didn’t know better), I went on one of those protein diets. The muffins in that program were rubbery. Really ecchy when you think of it.

  10. The second most depressing Thanksgiving of my life was cooked up by some friends who were doing Atkins.

    They passed a bowl of mashed potatoes, and I was thrilled. I love mashed potatoes. Then I took a bite. Pureed cauliflower. I adore cauliflower, but that wasn’t what my mouth was expecting and I nearly spat it out. Had they just called the damn cauliflower cauliflower, I would have yummed it up and Mr. Twistie wouldn’t have taken any at all because he hates cauliflower. As things stand, I’m still resentful eight years later.

    Why yes, I can successfully hold a grudge. Why do you ask?

    But even that wasn’t the most ridiculous substitution for ‘real’ food on the table. At least I can see how someone might trick themselves into thinking they can trick themselves by substituting pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes. They are similar in color and not absolutely entirely different in texture…necessarily. But who in the name of sweet Fanny Adams decided that thinly sliced zucchini lightly sauteed in butter bore any resemblence whatsoever to LASAGNA??????

    Just freaking call it sauteed zucchini. It’s good. It’s tasty. It’s not out of place on a traditional Thanksgiving menu in its own right. Why try to pretend it’s anything but what it is, especially something it so patently isn’t and never can be?

  11. As a baker, I find fake foods offensive. I worked for a brief time at a local bakery that went on a “health” kick. As an example, it made cinnamon rolls with 1/2 wheat flour, as little butter as possible, and water instead of milk in the icing. This ended up a stiff, gritty, and altogether unhappy confection. Which everyone insisted was good.

    If you’re going to make something like a cinnamon roll, white flour, butter, and milk-based icing. Why both with fake deliciousness when you can have the real stuff and be satisfied?

  12. Twistie – wonderful question! I don’t know why we keep trying to delude ourselves; especially in that “my MIND knows it isn’t really the real thing but my body will never figure it out” mentality; as if our minds and bodies are two separate entities, forever locked in some ages long battle of wills instead of one functioning unit!

    Another bad “fakey” thing that I’ve had is a recipe for a “chocolate” cake type desert. Black Beans were the main ingredient. I think it was supposed to resemble brownies. We’ll just say that they did not. Resemble. Brownies.

  13. I do ‘fake food’ eagerly if it’s fake meat because I’m not actually a vegetarian but would sort of like to be (and I live with two of them). Therefore I’m happy if I find something that isn’t meat but fills the same niche for me. But it has to actually taste good. I’m not going to eat something that tastes awful just to try and be virtuous.

    I love turkey balogna and turkey hotdogs, but that’s cause I was raised on them. (I think my mother thought turkey was healthier.)

  14. Actually, turkey bacon has just as many calories as regular bacon. The serving size is just one slice smaller. Seriously, look at the labels. Blew my mind.

    I do actually like turkey bacon, but not as a substitute for actual bacon. They’re a lot less mess to cook. And turkey bacon sandwiches = nom.

  15. I actually enjoy a good turkey meatloaf. Nom.

    However, my parents were big on “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”

    Oh yes I CAN believe it it isn’t butter. Butter does not come with a spray pump.

    That’s right people, throughout my childhood I got my butter from a spray pump.


    Other things I issue a gigantic no to: no Lite Oreos that don’t get soggy in milk, and Lite Velveeta? how can you make something nasty taste even nastier? I can has rl cheeze pleeze. Lite icing, rlly? this is how we’re making those cinammon rolls healthy?

  16. This post cracked me up. Now, I admit I sometimes like to get the 100 calorie packs of Goldfish crackers, not because I’m trying to lose weight, but because it’s a convienent snack to bring to work or when I’m at home and want something to munch on. (But almost always, I’ll go for the Doritos).

    Last week, I bought fat-free Pringles as a test to see what they would taste like and I honestly can’t tell the difference between them and real Pringles. But when I looked at the back of the can today, I did see the salt amount was higher than regular Pringles. So all those people who think they’re buying the “lite” foods to be all healthy and “good,” , I got news for ya. The regular stuff isn’t that different. And you’ll save money, because as we all know, going “healthy” means spending more.

    One thing I won’t skimp on is ice cream. I’ve tried Blue Bunny and some of that other diet stuff, and it’s junk. Give me real fat, real cream, and real milk!!!

  17. I’m lactose-intolerant, so I LOVE the “fake” milk products. I can tell the difference, but 1: I like the taste of soy or rice milk, and 2: it means I can enjoy egg nog or ice cream and not be holed up in the bathroom for days on end. I also enjoy fat-free potato chips because I think they’re actually slightly greasier and saltier, which is great to nom with granny smith apples.

  18. Angie brings up a good point: there are legitimate and good uses for fake foods. Lactose intolerance and diabetes being key examples. But if you don’t have a need for the fake food, why go for it? It’s just gross!

  19. As for soy and rice milk: I guess I just don’t see them as milk substitutes, just as I don’t see baked goods made of spelt as wheat substitutes. I like all those foods in their own right – although I get the allergy viewpoint.

    I guess the typical fake food for me is chili made with textured vegetable protein. I like chili – but I prefer to use ingredients that don’t pretend or be minced meat. I guess my aversion to vegetarian “fake foods” who imitate meat is partially based on the perception that the idea that vegetarian cooking is somehow like cooking with meat, just that you replace the meat that someone that pretends to be meat. This kind of mindset seems to stiffle creativity while cooking. It also keeps people unaware of the great variety of vegetarian foods that are out there so that one one is in danger of missing out on a lot of great vegetarian foods that are completely different from dishes with meat if one follows it. I think the same goes to some extent for “light” food. Sometimes I am actually hungry for dishes that are low in fat. And I love fruits and veggies. However, things like using cauliflower as a replacement for mashed potatoes seems almost “insulting” for both, the cauliflower and the potatoes. There are also times when I will prefer sorbet or frozen yogurt over ice cream and there are times when the opposite is true. All of them are delicious, but they are not replacements of each other. I don’t have food allergies (although I have plenty of other allergies), but I could imagine that even for someone with an allergy it could be a good idea to focus on discovering new foods instead of trying to replace the ones one already knows with “fake” versions.

  20. I just wanted to note too that I’m not really ranting about having to use particular products for allergy purposes. In my experience, and I could be wrong, those with lactose or gluten allergies are all too aware that the products they are forced to substitute are not the “real thing” and that they will have to do. My issue is with folks who choose a product as a substitute for the “real thing” just because they feel doing so will trick their body into believing that it is “Just Like the Real Thing!” but is somehow “healthier”.

    I completely understand and acknowledge a fundamental difference in choosing to learn to like and appreciate the only substitute you may be able to have (non-dairy creamer) versus choosing to mash up cauliflower and pretend that it is mashed potatoes so that you can believe you’re tricking your body into thinking it is getting ahold of some of those “naughty carbs”.

  21. I prefer to eat foods with as few additives as possible. Most reduced fat or substitute foods have too many additives, just to make them somewhat palatable. All so consumers can have a ‘treat’ without guilt. What does it say about our culture that enjoying the food we consume is shameful, but eating a bland-tasting pseudo-food imitation is imbued with virtue?

  22. Oddly enough, I like both real bacon and Morningstar Farms vegetarian bacon, and I buy them both at Trader Joe’s. I think, additionally, I will start eating sausage instead of pepperoni on my pizza, so now I can also buy real sausage and fake sausage!

    I actually haven’t noticed any strange looks from the checkout people, but I imagine they’re too busy to notice.

  23. (via the fatosphere: hi!)

    I was reading a blog of someone who isn’t, to my knowledge, diabetic, and on her birthday — her BIRTHDAY — she went to the Cheesecake Factory and had the low-carb Splenda cheesecake. I mean, really? On your BIRTHDAY?

    I’m also lactose-intolerant, but I just down Lactaid by the box.

  24. Earlier this year my mom’s friends all started WW and were in the uber-zealous phase before they started doing it half-assed and not talking about it as much (I had just discovered FA and was kind of zealous, but I mostly didn’t talk about it if I didn’t think people wanted to hear it, but I guess it kind of evened out even though they freaked me out with this stuff.) They had a dinner party and people were dipping baby carrots in ketchup and saying it tasted just like shrimp with cocktail sauce. It made me want to gag and cry at the same time, because I hate shrimp and didn’t want the thought to ruin my precious baby carrots, and because it was really sad and creepy to see grown-ups doing such a weird delusional thing.
    Later my room mate (who got me in to FA) and I got tipsy and I told her about it and we could barely dare each other to try it. Gross!

  25. I should come clean that when I used to diet I would dip baby carrots in Dijon or honey mustard since the combo has almost no calories, but I genuinely love baby carrots and fancy kinds of mustard, so I still think that tastes good and eat it for a quick snack. Eww but don’t tell me it is something else, especially seafood related.

  26. The fake food that pisses me off the most is fake junk food. Junk food is junk food, even if it has less fat/sugar/whatever than the real deal. Most of it’s not even really that much of a “savings”– for example, most low-fat stuff has as much or more sugar and/or sodium than the original, so you’re just trading one “bad” thing for another.

    Case in point: I worked in an ice cream shop during the high point of the anti-carb insanity. Once, a guy bought a pint of our low carb “ice cream” and said something like, “2g carbs per serving, 4 servings per container… Sweet, that means this whole thing only has 8 grams of carbs!”

    I pointed out that it also had more calories, fat and cholesterol than our original ice cream and was the nutritional equivalent of eating an entire stick of butter. He said totally sincerely, “that stuff doesn’t matter, it’s only carbs you have to worry about.” Don’t kid yourself, guy. Ice cream is not and never will be health food!

  27. Pingback: Mmmmm for Fake Foods made real! « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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