Fake Meat Makes You Feel Smarter

Lightlife Smart Cutlets

Lightlife Smart Cutlets

I Paid: $2.20 for two 5.2-ounce cutlets (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 2 stars

Over the years, I've become increasingly irritated by the use of the word smart to describe faux meat products. Smart Dogs, Smart Ground [beef], or, in this case, Smart Cutlets—the implicit message is that everyone eating the meat version of the smart product is an idiot. Yeah, Americans as a whole eat far too much meat, but are the implied insults necessary?

Setting that aside, as an omnivore, I'm also impressed with how downright palatable a good percentage of modern meat substitutes actually are. Smart Cutlets may be made of textured soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten, wheat starch, and egg white powder, but thanks to a pleasantly snappy texture and competently produced sauces, they work well as a vegetarian stand-in for a light chicken lunch. The Smart Cutlet with Spicy Sweet & Sour sauce avoids the usual trap of its ilk: It's not too sweet or syrupy, and it has a moderately spicy heat. It's particularly good over rice. And the Classic Marinara Smart Cutlet has a bright tomato tang, and, again, avoids the sugar trap. The former is 230 calories and the latter is 150 calories; both have 19 grams of protein, or something like a third of the day's recommended amount (depending on your age, size, and gender).

Since we've bred our chickens to produce massive amounts of essentially flavorless white meat, this acceptable-tasting chicken stand-in does a fine job of subbing for the bird. Faint praise, I know. But there you go.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.