Vegetarians are familiar with the choice between salad sandwiches and lab-created mystery meat patties come lunchtime. But the times they are a changin’, and local pair Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky of No Evil Foods have answered the call for plant-based but satisfying proteins. They call their products “plant meat.”
Sound like an oxymoron? Not according to these two. And if you have tasted their fiery chorizo — also known as the El Zapatista — or their “chicken-esque roast,” dubbed The Prepper, then you might already be inclined to agree.
“I think we have consistently proven that our products don’t fit into either of those categories of being vegetable meat or being the substance that wants to taste like meat,” says Schadel. “We are plant meat. We are meat. We provide that same satisfaction.” The duo started selling their product at farmers markets, and it now can be found on the shelves of local grocers like Katuah Market and French Broad Food Co-op as well as at restaurants like Wicked Weed, Nine Mile and Mellow Mushroom. No Evil Foods’ latest accomplishment is being picked up by Whole Foods, both locally and throughout the state.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a background in cooking or food science that motivated the duo to start their business. “We both come from a very punk rock, DIY background,” says Woliansky. “Growing up, I played in bands for a long time. And that whole spirit of do it yourself, do it on your own, at a certain point we just transferred that idea into a homesteading world and thinking about where our food was coming from.” That desire to eat consciously and healthily, paired with a concern for environmental impact of animal proteins inspired the product — as well as the name.
Unlike some other meaty-tasting veggie products on the market, No Evil Foods makes its plant meats with kitchen ingredients like red kidney beans, organic tomatoes, lots of organic herbs and spices and high-protein flours such as chickpea flour. “I think for us it’s really important that our product is not created by a food scientist,” says Woliansky.
“There are products out there that are more science-based, and we really think of ourselves as a more natural alternative to something like that. We try to keep our ingredients as simple as possible. Our process is not in a laboratory. It’s in a kitchen, and that’s really important to us that we can do it that way, that it can be handmade.”
Not being meat eaters themselves, Wolansky and Schadel enlisted the help of the Internet, as well as their meat-eating friends to get the recipes just right. “Sausage is just seasonings. There’s the texture as well, and we worked really hard to match that texture,” says Schadel, recalling lots of trial and error in making their own links. “So we scoured message boards and sausage forums trying to figure out what is the best Italian sausage blend. Then we applied that to a plant protein instead of an animal protein.”
Because of its similarities to animal meat, they have noticed that customers are just as likely to be meat eaters as they are vegetarians. “It has that satisfying chew, it has that meaty flavor,” says Schadel. “So it’s kind of been a transitionary meat for people who aren’t identifying as vegetarians and vegans but who want to transition to a more plant-based diet either once a week or more long term.”