Fake chicken, fake gyros and fake sausages – all this and much more is available from the Vegetarian Butcher. The chain is the first of its kind in the world. Not only do the foods on sale look exactly like their real meat counterparts but, according to many a meat eater, they taste very similar as well.
Eating meat is on the decline in the Netherlands. These days, some 75 percent of people no longer eat meat on a daily basis. Animal welfare concerns, disease in cattle and the presence of antibiotics in chicken are among the many reasons behind the low-meat or no-meat eating trend and behind the success of the Vegetarian Butcher shops.
Can't believe it's not chicken
“In fact, Ferran Adria, a.k.a. the best chef in the world, wouldn’t believe it wasn’t chicken he was tasting after being presented with our chicken substitute made from vegetable matter”, says Niko Koffeman, one of the founders of the Vegetarian Butcher chain.
The first Vegetarian Butcher shop opened its doors in October 2010 in The Hague. Now, less than a year later, there are 30 spread all over the country. The display counter of these shops challenges even a staunchly carnivorous stomach not to rumble; the fake meat products are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Eighty percent of the shops’ clientele are already vegetarians and vegans, says Koffeman, yet their main target group is people in transition: those that want to either cut down on meat consumption or to stop eating it completely.
"Animal cruelty is one reason, but there's also a growing concern for sustainability. After all, meat production is highly inefficient. When you start food production with, say, soy or lupin beans and you feed them to animals – as happens with 50 percent of the worlds’ wheat harvests – 90 percent gets transformed into manure and body heat. Only ten percent of useful proteins are generated. Instead, we make use of these useful proteins directly for human consumption. Particularly since we can create a product that has the exact same look, taste and texture as meat. Taking the animal out of the process would provide us with a surplus of vegetable products so large we could nourish more than five times the world population."
No compromise on flavour
Back to the Vegetarian Butcher. The products in the display case are either vegetarian or vegan. Koffeman is especially proud of the very popular meatball sandwich – broodje bal is the number one snack food for many people in The Hague.
“People love it, but I have to admit, it’s not a 100% vegetable product. We need to add egg to give it just the right flavour. As long as there’s no meat involved we don’t want to compromise on flavour. Some products just taste better when you add some cream or eggs to them.”
Eating fake meat is not necessarily cheap. For instance, fake chicken at 15 euros a kilogram is a bit more expensive than the real thing sold at a quality butcher's shop. But, according to Koffeman, that will change soon enough. “As production goes up, the price will come down substantially.”