Thinking about softening your impact on the environment and willing to tweak your diet (perhaps even for the better) by going meatless or semi-meatless? After all, meat production is close to being the single human activity with the largest environmental impact, trumping emissions from every car, train, ship, and airplane combined and using a third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels in the country. Not to mention the United States meat industry is rampant with animal cruelty.
So here you are, ready to take your plant-based journey. I’m proud of you and I’m here to help you start navigating the world of grocery store meat alternatives with this (non-comprehensive) list!
P.S. As a fellow college student/young person I made sure every option here is affordable so you can eat guiltlessly and without breaking the bank! And many of these products can be found consistently in your local Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s.
- Morning Star Farms Veggie Chik Patties
I think the vegetarian/vegan community has chicken alternatives down to an art, and you really can’t go wrong experimenting with different brands.
My top-favorite choice is the Morning Star chicken patties, especially the buffalo ones. The outside is just as crispy as any good fried chicken and they are fantastic wedged between lettuce and tomato and two pieces of bread with your favorite chicken sandwich condiment.
Honorable mentions are Aldi's Earth Grown Chickenless Patties, which are cheaper, although the outside is not quite as crispy. Gardein also has great chicken tenders and nuggets. And as far as chicken for chicken salad or pulled chicken sandwiches go, Whole Foods has amazing frozen chicken, but if you don’t shop there often like me, Gardein’s meatless chicken strips are great for cooking and are nearly identical to the texture of real unbreaded chicken.
- Impossible Burger
Although I love a good black bean burger, sometimes I am in need of something that doesn’t feel as… healthy. The big question here is: Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger? While both are excellent alternatives, I personally believe that while it’s great at first, the Beyond Burger has a strange aftertaste. It is, after all, created from pea protein while the Impossible Burger is created from a substance called heme. Impossible Burgers cook, smell, and tastes like real beef, without the guilt! And to really sell it, I'll mention that the Impossible Burger uses one-ninth the water, one-twelfth the land and produces one-quarter of the greenhouse gases as a beef burger. I will say that Trader Joe's also has Protein Patties that are right up there with the big-brand burgers.
- Morning Star Farms Sausage Patties
As far as breakfast sausage patties go, Morning Star has a wonderful one that crisps up nicely, and they even have maple-flavored ones.
Also—I know you can’t find this in a grocery store, but you absolutely have to try the Beyond Sausage sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, especially on a hungover morning (they’re better than the Starbucks ones).
- Gardein Fishless Fillets
While alternative options for fish are limited, I thought I’d add that the Gardein Fishless Fillets are the only ones I’ve found in grocery stores consistently-- and they are very similar to real fish fillets texture and taste-wise!
- Morning Star Bacon Strips
Bacon is another food item that doesn’t have many vegetarian options at all. I have to admit, the one alternative I love and recommend doesn’t quite look, feel, or taste like bacon, but is delicious nonetheless. I implore you to try Morning Star bacon strips anyways!
- Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo and Morning Star Beefless Crumbles
Trader Joe’s soy chorizo has a fantastic spice and texture that really surpasses the heavy greasiness of regular chorizo. Eat it with eggs for breakfast!
I’m not a huge fan of ground beef but if you’re looking for an alternative I’d suggest either Morningstar Crumbles or Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Ground, and if you’re willing to spend a little more, the Lightlife Gimme Lean Plant-Based Ground Sausage.
- Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Italian Sausage
While I love Lightlife’s products, especially their sausage, I find them to be a bit expensive. Tofurkey has Italian Sausage that is also so juicy and flavorful, but a great cheaper alternative is the Trader Joe’s Italian Sausage-Less Sausage.
- Tofurkey Plant-Based Deli Slices
I absolutely love these plant-based deli slices from Tofurkey. They have everything from ham to bologna to, of course, turkey.
- Lightlife Smart Dogs
Although I haven’t found hot dogs quite like a juicy all-beef one, the vegan hot dogs from Lightlife are great as a snack or in a bun even though they don’t quite match the real version texture or taste-wise.
I'll finish by adding some meat alternative options I’d suggest you avoid. Every few years my mom and I want to be included in the whole turkey-on-Thanksgiving thing and try out a Tofurkey loaf from the supermarket. Every year, I realize I’ve never been more disappointed in a meatless endeavor. Boca Burgers come in as a close second for meat alternatives not worth the money.
I wish you the best of luck! Have fun.
Bailey, Rob et al. "Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion On Meat And Dairy Consumption". Chatham House, 2014
Jacobsen, Rowan. "The Biography Of A Burger: One Man's Mission To Make Meat Obsolete". Pacific Standard, 2016, pp. 21-25., Accessed 1 Oct 2018.
Motavalli, Jim, and Sally Deneen. "The Case Against Meat". The Environmental Magazine, vol 13, no. 1, 2002, p. 26., Accessed 1 Oct 2018.