In Search of Protein
Finding you the good stuff. Because you’re too tired to do it yourself.
A scrawny, pale-faced, spluttering wreck trawls the city. Their sallow complexion, gaunt features and terrible flatulence mark them out as they stalk the night, endlessly searching. They flinch as passing headlights attack their eyes, the circles beneath them as dark as their soul. They are a creature in torment, the skeletal remains of a person once called “beefcake”, now a desperate spirit in search of protein. They are the ghost that walks among us. They are the tragedy of modern times, the mark of a morality gone mad. They are… a vegan!
We’ve got an image problem here, gang. The myth of the scrawny, pasty-faced veggie is alive and well and not helped by your old pal The Zero, who happens to be pasty-faced and scrawny and vegan. The myth comes largely from the idea that there’s not enough protein in a veggie diet. But that myth is not true. It’s more what you might call “a myth”. Dull science awaits:
How much protein do we actually need?
The British Nutrition Foundation, which knows a thing or two about nutrition (and, presumably, about Britain and Foundations) says protein is needed for growth and repair of the body. It reckons men should get 53 to 55.5g per day, and women should get 45 to 46.5g per day. It’s one of the basic must-haves in the exciting world of nutrition, and seemingly the thing people fret about most with veggieness. Fret not. It’s bloody everywhere.
The old school classics: Soya, tofu, tempeh, seitan
Soya comes from soybeans and is the MVP of veggie life. Soybeans are turned into soy milk (about 3g of protein per 100g), soy yogurt (3.8g), soy cream (2g), soya mince (22g), soya burgers (20.5g), tofu and tempeh.
Tofu has been knocking about for a couple thousand years. It’s a bunch of soy milk squashed into firm or silky-soft blocks, and is so versatile it makes Potato Waffles look like useless shits. It can be stir-fried, deep fried, baked, griddled, scrambled, stewed, pickled and eaten raw. It can be used in soups and sauces. It can be stuffed with stuff. It can be stuffed inside other stuff. Firm tofu gives about 10g of protein per 100g and silken about 5g, with just 5% and 2% fat respectively; a fraction of bad-death meat’s skanky fat content.
Tempeh comes from fermented soybeans and looks like tofu’s pickled, wrinkled granny. It packs more protein, at 20g per 100g, and can be used in a bunch of stuff like stir-fries, salads, sandwiches, curries, chilli, tacos and such and such. And it seems to be pronounced “tem-pay” so order with confidence. Say it with me: “Tem-pay.”
Seitan is a load of wheat gluten smushed into rectangles and is about as versatile as tempeh. It’s rammed with 75g of protein per 100g – though it’s fattier than tofu and tempeh – and has a texture and chewiness closer to meat, which can be handy if you miss that kind of thing.
The lazy-ass like-for-like replacements
Just because we’re aiming for the moral high ground doesn’t mean we can’t be lazy. There are tourists getting jeeps halfway up Machu Picchu and Gramming at the top like they did shit properly. We can half-ass it like they do, and trade out deathmeat for fakeplant on an item by item basis. There’s tons of it.
At the time of writing, your Beyond Burgers have 17g of protein per 100g. Your knock-off Tofurkey non-chicken has 29g. Your Vivera plant mince has 20g. You can get Future non-meatballs (12g), This Isn’t Bacon (25g), deli-style slices of non-meat (16g) and millions of plant-filled cylinders reminiscent of sausages (about 9g). The ghost of Linda McCartney’s knocked up some pulled pork (16g). And this isn’t dehydrated health food stuff you have to soak for 14 hours. This is widely available, easily cookable supermarket stuff.
If you want to go down a level – you’re talking to someone who used to eat frozen, microwaveable doner kebabs – you’re covered, with most supermarkets ramming their chiller cabinets full of plant-based, protein-packed ready meals. Most of them are as over-processed and plastic-bound as all convenience food but balls to it. We’re talking post-work petrol station flowers here for when you really, truly, cannot be fucked.
And if people give you any “Yeah Buts” along the lines of how vegans shouldn’t want to eat anything that looks or tastes like a sausage, simply tell them there’s no moral objection to flavour or shape and then politely push them off a bridge.
Seeds, nuts, grains, beans, pulses
Seeds and nuts are where your snacking’s at, with sesame seeds packing 20g of protein per 100g, almonds giving 21.5g, sunflower seeds boasting 22g, peanuts stepping up with 25g, pumpkin seeds topping that with 28g, and soya nuts coming in with 37g like they own the place. You could also do with some grains. You’ll find them everywhere: In bread (4g for white, 11g for wholemeal or granary), pasta (12g), non-branded wheat biscuit supermarket cereals (11.8g), and on the ground.
Then you have your classic, mockable vegetarian staples: Your lentils (24g per 100g), your baked beans (4g), your broad beans (6g), your aduki, pinto and borlotti beans (7g), your chick peas (8.4g), your kidney beans (8.3g) and your smushed up nut roasts (22g). Even these vary according to degrees of laziness, so you can buy them dried if you have time to soak them, canned if you have time to drain them, and in ready-to-use plastic pouches if you don’t give two shits about the environment.
If you’re not going full vegan: (1) I pity you; and (2) you can get protein from dairy if you don’t mind doing wrong by chickens and cows. We’re talking cheese (yer average cheddar is about 25g per 100g), eggs (6g), milk (4g), yogurt (4g) and butter (just short of 1g). These are unlikely to be new additions to your kitchen but you’ll be upping the quantity and keeping an eye out for rennet, gelatine and such and such because tons of cheese and yogurts aren’t veggie.
Get the shakes
If half-assing it is half an ass too far, there are always protein shakes and protein bars. You can get half your day’s protein in one go and then spend the rest of the day eating useless filth. But tons of them use whey powder which, of course, may or may not be veggie and definitely won’t be vegan, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on ingredients.
Combining protein: A thing I just barely understand
The one complication we need to get wise to is combining amino acids. Probably goes without saying. There are a bunch of essential amino acids that are essentially… imperative. Dead animal flesh houses all the essential amino acids, making up what people in the amino acid marketing board refer to as “complete proteins.” Plants don’t, so we need to combine different bits and pieces to get decent coverage of overlapping amino acids: Yer histidine, yer isoleucine, yer leucine, yer lysine, yer methionine and phenylalanine, yer threonine and tryptophan and, of course, yer valine. We’ve all got our favourites. Me, I’m a phenylalanine man born and bred.
So: Grains are a bit crap for lysine. But legumes – lentils and beans and shit – are packed full of it. And legumes are lousy for methionine and tryptophan, but grains and cereals are overflowing with them. Combining them makes them greater than the sum of their parts. A single baked bean is like Ringo Starr narrating sentient trains for drug money. But combine a bunch of baked beans with some wholegrain toast, or a bunch of rice with a bunch of peas, bung them on a rooftop and you’ve got The Beatles although I might have lost track of the analogy there.
A day in the life
Once you’ve figured out where you get protein from, getting it becomes as piss easy as it was in our dirty meat-eating days. If you’re a lazy bastard, get some porridge with oat milk and a cup of char for breakfast, a trashy microwavable bean burrito for lunch, some spaghetti bolognese with plant mince for din-dins and a handful of nuts and seeds through the day. If you’re an overachieving influencer, batch cook a week’s shit with 4,000 overlapping sources of protein, have everyone hate you for it even as they like your posts, and get cancelled when someone uncovers your history of holocaust denial that you genuinely thought you could outrun.
So protein is easy. And everywhere. Mix it all up and we’ll be fine. No dark circles under our eyes, no pasty-faces for us. Well, not for you. I’ll hang on to that look because, Gawd love me, I do love a bit of heroin.
Photo credit (header image): God knows, it’s an emoji.
How a spider spurred my veggie awakening and with it my wider Zero awakening and with it your wider Zero awakening and with it a general saving of animals, humanity and the planet.
Bits of animals are hidden everywhere: in marshmallows, in red food dye, in fake fingernails, even in meat and fish and everything. Swot up on what you need to miss out on.
Because even being ill is an ethical pickle for the self-righteous vegetarian. Between gelatine capsules and mandatory animal testing, you’re best just maintaining perfect health forever.
What should we feed our fellow omnivores? Should we force our morality on other creatures? Will a leopard ever want a bit of tofu? Just three of the questions I’m not all that into but wrote about anyway.
As Veganuary hit and I finished updating the Veggieness section of this here website, I was lightning-bolted by one of my many micro-epiphanies: Ever since Covid demanded I spend less time in the kitchen and more time in bed I’ve become a lousy, lazy vegan.
Veganuary aims to get people trying veganism for a month, drawing them in with time-limited new year faddishness. Last year it had more than half a million sign ups, with about 85% committing to cutting down on meat and dairy thereafter, and a solid 40% aiming to stay vegan for all time. That’s decent, given the most popular new year’s resolution – getting and using an annual gym membership – has a success rate of less than 3% I assume.
As with many hells, the road to veganism is paved with good intentions…
You’ll recall they made a stem cell burger a while back. It was funded by one of the guys from Google taking a break off reading your emails and spying on what you spaff to. He gave a few hundred grand to a couple of mad scientists taking a break off stitching hitchhikers’ mouths to hobos’ bumholes.
As you’ll recall I’ve been terribly ill, mummy’s brave little soldier keeping his chin up through the flu, a chest infection, a spot of whooping cough and very little in the way of blogging. Throughout this charming episode I’ve had a number of very helpful people explain it’s all down to my vegetarianism, there having been no documented cases of illness among meat eaters.
In the days before my epic post-qualifying/pre-job slouchfest, back when I was an overworked and increasingly tetchy student, I bashed out a few new year’s resolutions to fill up a bit of space on what was becoming a seriously neglected blog. However, comeuppances being what they are, I’m now forced to put some effort into doing whatever it was I said I’d do, and all to satisfy an audience of precisely no one. How I hate myself.
As the days count down and 2011 draws to a close I have some unfinished business to attend to, an outstanding resolution yet to be instood. I speak, of course, of Operation Parmesan, the unprecedented assault on the world of cuisine that will make the Hiroshima bombing look like an inappropriate historical event to make reference to.
It’s a hard and trying task, all this Zero business. All this research, all this protesting, all this motivating the troops and doing the groupies. At times I grow weary. People cannot live on self-righteousness alone. It can’t be all hard work and hand wringing and so from time to time I put down my tools, tramp down from the moral high ground to the sewer in which the rest of you live, and have a night off. A couple of nights ago I watched a film. Naturally, I was able to turn it pretty quickly into hard work and handwringing.
You’ll recall how I’ve been writing for my uni’s studentmag. It’s some full on proper do-gooding, converting everyone on campus to my splendid way of life and raising issues usually neglected by right-on students such as Fairtrade, vegetarianism, feminism, environmentalism… Oh. Right.