Photo by Nick Klein for The Good Food Institute.

You don’t attend the Good Food Conference (GFC) for the food. You go there to hear the Big Guns of the meat alternatives movement — like Seth Goldman of Beyond Meat, Mark Post of Mosa Meats, and Uma Valeti of Memphis Meats — speak onstage. You go there to watch new startups pitch their company’s vision for reducing (and eliminating) industrial meat production. You go there to hear about the latest breakthroughs and challenges in the plant- and cell-based meat spaces.

But at the same time, you kind of do go for the food. Because the whole point of the conference is to promote alternatives to traditional meat — and in order to be successful, the first thing those alternatives have to do is taste good. Like, good enough that a carnivore would choose them over a burger or hot dog.

As cell-based meat isn’t to market yet, all the alterna-meats from the two-day conference were plant-based. Here’s a brief overview of all the ones I tried:

Photo: Veggie Grill.

Breakfast

The Good Food Conference fueled their first-day attendees with a breakfast burrito featuring JUST Egg, a vegan egg replacement made of mung beans. The resulting scramble is yellowish and color and, while the texture is pretty spot-on, still has an unmistakeable beaniness. However, camouflaged in a tortilla with black beans, roasted potatoes, and spicy salsa, said beaniness was pretty well concealed.

Sadly I didn’t take a picture of this since I just grabbed one to eat while watching the opening panels, but the photo from Veggie Grill, who teamed up with JUST to launch an all-day breakfast burrito featuring the scramble, is pretty similar. While I think JUST Egg still has a ways to go before it fools any egg-lovers out there, it’s still a reasonable stand-in for huevos when combined with other, stronger flavors, like salsa, peppers, and cheese (vegan or otherwise).

The Beyond Meat spread.

Lunch

Beyond Meat provided the lunch for Day 1, and boy did they do it right. Their grilled sausages (in Bratwurst and Italian flavors) accompanied corn with vegan aioli, as well as several salads. I got a “bratwurst” and really enjoyed it; the sausage had a nice snap and the interior texture was realistically sausage-like. The flavor was also super heavy on the umami, without tasting overly of soy. Overall, two thumbs up.

Photo: JUST

Snack

To combat that afternoon lull, I had an individual serving of JUST cookie dough, which comes in a nifty plastic container with a detachable spoon built into the top. The two flavors I tried were birthday cake, which was overly sweet with sprinkles, and chocolate chip, which tasted just like Tollhouse. (That’s a good thing.)

Overall it’s not that hard to make good-tasting vegan cookie dough — I’ve done it at home with just a few simple substitutions — but the individual serving packages are pretty genius. Now you can get a sugary snack on the go without worrying about salmonella from raw eggs — and they know just the shade of millennial pink to use to draw in customers.

Day 2

Breakfast

Day 2’s breakfast was courtesy of MorningStar Farms, but all I saw were bagels, granola (with almond milk!), and fruit. Not that I’m complaining. I did have a latté made with Oatley oat milk however, which I thought was pretty darn delicious.

Oat milk is definitely the next non-dairy milk trend, at least when it comes to coffee: it doesn’t separate as easily as almond milk and froths much better than soy, meaning your barista can make fancy latté art with it. Oats also require far less water to grow than almonds, so it’s comparatively sustainable, and also doesn’t affect those with nut or soy allergies.

Photo by Nick Klein for The Good Food Institute.

Lunch

For lunch on Day 2 we had Impossible Burgers. Which, after the awesome Beyond sausage the day before, were fine but a little lackluster. They were super savory and tasted mainly of soy, and I kept thinking there was a fishy flavor in there — though that could be attributed to the mishmash of toppings I layered on the patty.

However, the burger was cooked medium, meaning I could see a little bit of the heme-powered “bleeding” action. Overall I would have gone with a smaller bun or thicker patty (or maybe White Castle-esque slider!) so the burger didn’t get lost under everything else.

 

Snack

Visually, this snack spread was one of the most trompe l’oeuil meat-like of the entire weekend. Provided by Worthington, a meat alternative food company, there were “chicken” nuggets and even a vegan charcuterie plate with plant-based bologna. Both tasted primarily of soy, but I liked them — especially the nugget, which had the semi-spongy trademark chicken nugget texture nailed to a T.

 

Photo: Good Catch Foods.

What I Didn’t Eat:

I missed the fish-free tuna sushi from Ocean Hugger foods (made of tomatoes!) and the plant-based tuna salad from Good Catch Foods. I also didn’t get to try Morningstar Farms’ “meat lover” vegan burger, which is clearly trying to capitalize off the buzz around the meat-like patties from Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods. Next year.

 

Conclusions:

Overall, a lot of things tasted pretty heavily of soy, reminding me of veggie breakfast sausages and “soy”-rizo products I’ve eaten in my five years of vegetarianism. The food items that really impressed me were the Beyond Sausage, whose texture was spot-on, and the look of the Worthington charcuterie. I’m sure at next year’s summit there will be even more alterna-meats, milks, and eggs, from even more new, hungry young companies. I can’t wait to try them all.

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