Did you hear about the pizza that’s dairy-free, gluten-free, and meat-free? How about thosedairy-free, egg-free, soy-free cookies in that cute packaging that are packed with protein and…actually, wait, they’re terrible.
Every day my inbox contains news about a product launch along these lines. And at least once a week one of my friends tells me about a new way to make a [insert virtuous food here] taste like [insert less-virtuous food here].
I’m supposed to be excited about all of this, because I’m health-conscious and gluten-free. But the truth is I’m exhausted by your complicated substitutions.
I’ve been gluten-free (and not by choice) for 10 years now. Sometimes I miss croissants and baguettes, but I don’t try to make alt versions of them, because some things just don’t work without gluten. I’ve never been a vegetarian, but if I were I’d never eat something that’s supposed to taste like meat but isn’t. I refuse to believe that “cheese” made out of nuts tastes like cheeseâ€”sure, it can still be delicious, but I prefer to make a delicious nut spread and call it what it is, rather than trying to pretend it’s dairy. I can get down with zoodles occasionally, but I don’t pretend it’s pasta, because it’s not. And vegetable “rice”? Cauliflower pizza? These are neither rice nor pizza. What’s the point of pretending?
Look, I understand that going on a special diet is hard. I was devastated when I found out I had to go gluten-free. But rather than pretend I can eat the things I can’t, I choose to focus on the things I can eat. I don’t dabble in complicated substitutions, because substitutions are by definition (usually subpar) stand-ins for the real thing. So the recipes I create for my monthly column are gluten-free, but they’re naturally gluten-free. In fact, many folks probably don’t notice that they’re gluten-free at all.
I’m not saying you should never bake again if you’re gluten-free; gluten-free brownies made with cocoa powder and cornstarch are still brownies, and flourless cakes are still, well, cakes. I’m not against alternative floursâ€”I love the flavors you can get when you bake with them, and I lean heavily on almond meal and chickpea flour to bind or coat or thicken things when needed. But I don’t lie to myself when I use these alternative flours; I call an almond cake an almond cake.
When vegetables are morphed to resemble something elseâ€”pizza, pasta, whateverâ€”the beauty of those vegetables are undermined. And in this time and place when we’re lucky enough to have endless options, I just don’t get it. We have so many good ingredients at our fingertipsâ€”why choose one that’s pretending to be something else?
This story originally appeared on Epicurious.