Pass another plant-based-protein-that-tastes-like-chicken spring roll

Friday evening comes around, the end of another busy week, the fridge is bare and no one (read me) feels like cooking. Uber is not an option in an inner-suburban household that is trying to reduce its rubbish footprint and untangle itself from the clutches of Silicon Valley arbitrage capitalism. Which means eating out – but where? “How about the vegan Vietnamese place up the road,” my wife suggests. “We could try that.”

What use is beef pho without beef stock? What is the point of pork spring rolls without pork?Credit:Christopher Pearce

Two pairs of sceptical carnivore eyebrows are raised: What use is beef pho without beef stock; what is the point of pork spring rolls without pork? But it’s just up the road and the queues will already be long at the other Friday evening go-tos. The vegan Vietnamese looks like any other Melbourne Vietnamese on the surface: bright, cheerful lighting, functional furniture and hard surfaces that are easy to scrub down.

On the menu the story is different: the spring rolls are stuffed with tofu and served with vege-based fish sauce; the rice-paper rolls feature vege ham; a spicy Hue-style soup has vege beef slices and vege beef chunks, and vege beef slices float in the vege broth of the vegan pho. Even more intriguing are the rice and soya drumsticks (tochook? Chofu?)

The country pancake is stuffed with tofu, mushrooms and bean sprouts, while stir-fried noodles are studded with vege prawns (is that any worse than seafood extender, or any less proteinous?) and on the drinks menu, an avocado smoothie. How Melbourne-vegan is that? The service is friendly, the food comes quickly and we pay only $50 for three people; if I woke in the middle of the night feeling a little hungry it was probably just my imagination.

At this point I would like to introduce my vegan Vietnamese restaurant neighbours to the National Party of Australia, the junior members of our federal Coalition government, although I doubt I could tempt a National Party MP to visit Melbourne’s northern suburbs, much less a vegan Vietnamese restaurant.

On the weekend the National Party’s federal council, meeting in Canberra, voted to overhaul food labelling regulations in Australia to stop people like my Vietnamese vegan neighbours calling vege ham “ham” and soy milk “milk”.

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, who is also the deputy leader of the Nationals, said there was an increasing awareness of the need to "call things for what they are", saying, "So if you want actual chicken, then that's what it should be called. If you want plant-based protein that tastes like chicken, then that's what it should be called."

The National Party appears to have fallen in with the European Union, which has decreed that veggie burgers must be called “veggie discs” and that Australian farmers must stop calling their salty white feta-like cheese “feta” and their sparkling white prosecco-like wine “prosecco” if we want a trade deal.

Queensland is on fire, the Great Barrier Reef is dying and the once-mighty Darling River has slowed to a muddy smear on the landscape. I, too, would like to see certain people “call things for what they are”, especially when it comes to the climate emergency. I won’t hold my breath, but I will have another plant-based-protein-that-tastes-like-chicken spring roll while I wait, thanks.

Matt Holden is a Melbourne writer.

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