Health food,epicurious
A Case Against “Healthy” Substitutions

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 cheese—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 flours—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 else—pizza, pasta, whatever—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 fingertips—why choose one that’s pretending to be something else?

This story originally appeared on Epicurious.

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