Bacon has always been a popular breakfast side with carnivore types. In recent years, strips of the other white meat mixed with everything from cupcakes to lip gloss and now have an almost cult-like following. Much of America, it seems, is in lust with bacon.
About 3-5 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarians, according to multiple studies including a recent Harris Interactive study. These folks certainly aren't pigging out on pork strips, but is veggie bacon experiencing an influx in popularity, too?
Elizabeth Rowen has been a vegetarian for 11 years and she says the bacon craze did inspire her to try "fake bacon." Rowe says once she figured out how to cook it, she enjoyed the flavor.
"I totally overcooked it at first time and it was really crumbly and tasteless. The next time, I just warmed it up for less than a minute per side, so it was still wiggly, and it was pretty good," says Rowe.
Veggie bacon – also referred to as "facon" or "faken" – is marketed as an alternative to bacon. It's high in protein and fiber, low in fat and calories, and has no cholesterol. It can be warmed up in the microwave, baked or pan fried.
Vegetarian bacon can be made my marinating strips of tempeh or tofu in spices and then frying, or it can be purchased ready-to-heat in a box. The most popular brands are Morningstar veggie strips and Smart Bacon.
To accept the boxed version of veggie bacon one has to get over the fact it looks like it's made from Play-doh. There's fake white "pig fat" striping the otherwise reddish-brownish veggie strip. It does, however, have a smoky, salty taste that's reminiscent of bacon, but certainly not identical to its pork counterpart.
As stated by Rowe, veggie bacon has the tendency to crumble if overcooked, or take on a cardboard-like texture. However, if prepared correctly and not overcooked, it can be crispy. Cooking facon is a bit of a crapshoot.
Jennifer Nowicki owns Verduras Tea House & Cafe, 181 N. Broadway, a vegetarian teahouse in the Third Ward. Nowicki, who has been a vegetarian for about 20 years, says she's not into most "fake meats."
"When I became a vegetarian, I wanted to eat as many fresh vegetables as possible," she says.
Nowicki says prior to becoming a vegetarian, she rarely ate bacon anyway because she didn't care for the fat.
"If I did eat bacon, I would tear away the fat part and eat the meat part, which is really not something you do in most social situations," she says.
Nowicki, like many vegetarians, doesn't feel she needs to replace meat with a meat-like substance. Instead, she turns to tofu, beans, potatoes, portobello mushrooms, eggplant and jackfruit if she's looking for a heartier meal.
Robin Kasch is the owner of the vegetarian / vegan / raw / gluten-free Cafe Manna, 3815 N. Brookfield Rd. in Brookfield. She's not a fan of meat substitutes and agrees most vegetarians can get enough protein from other foods.
"There are ways of smoking foods bring that bring the smoky flavor forward if that's what someone wants," says Kasch.
Although Rowe says she occasionally buys veggie bacon and enjoys eating the occasional "FLT" (faken, lettuce and tomato), she feels that meat alternatives in general send the wrong message to her daughters, age 4 and 7, who are also vegetarians.
"Choosing a vegetarian diet is about exploring many, many different foods, not about limiting them. Suggesting to my girls that they 'can't' eat this or that and therefor have to substitute 'real' meat with 'fake' meat defeats the relationship with healthy food choices I am trying to nurture," she says.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.