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Here’s what vegans were lining up for in Encinitas

The new game in plant-based meats is pork… and imitation spiced ham

An order of Spam musubi that features zero pork
An order of Spam musubi that features zero pork

If you told me last week I would show up in Encinitas to find a long line of people waiting to order food, I would have offered a few guesses what that food might be. Tacos, wagyu cheeseburgers, oysters on the half shell maybe? If you told me it there would be Spam at the front of the line, I’d have thought you crazy. And yet, there I stood, along with dozens of others, eagerly awaiting the chance to grab an order of Spam musubi. Well, sort of.

A line forms to try OmniPork plant based pork, at the monthly Encinitas Vegan Pop-Up (3rd Saturday of each month).

We’d come to the pretty beach town for the Encinitas Vegan Food Popup, held the third Saturday of each month. I’d gotten a tip that something new was going to be served, and apparently, I was not the only one. These were dozens of vegans alongside me, enduring a 20- to 30-minute wait under the hotter with every passing moment sun, to be among the first to try a new generation of plant-based pork.

We’ve grown accustomed to the future tech of plant-based beef, since the 2017 arrival of “bloody” and sizzling vegan burger patties from Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, both based in California. Closer to real beef in taste and texture, these companies’ products have changed the way many Americans approach backyard grilling or fast food orders.

Pulled pork huli huli was another vegan option.

Apparently, the race has been on to create similarly successful pork substitutes. For several years, Beyond has offered a vegan sausage said to replace pork bratwurst — though it comes off more as an effort to replicate sausage spice and texture than pork, specifically.

Impossible Foods recently started rolling out its new ground pork product, mostly available in Hong Kong restaurants at the moment. These meatless products tend to make limited appearances in select restaurants prior to wide release, and given that China consumes nearly half the world’s pork, that’s the priority in terms of target markets.

Cultivated Greens attracted a line when it introduced OmniPork products to the San Diego area.

But there’s another player in this race: OmniFoods (formerly known as Right Treat). The Hong Kong company already launched its OmniPork products in China and the European Union (which consumes twice as much pork as the United States). In the spring, OmniPork started showing up within the U.S., and as of this past weekend, it debuted here in San Diego, including the Spam-like product officially called OmniPork Luncheon.

Serving it at the Encinitas Vegan popup was the booth manned by Cultivated Greens, a roving, local vegan brand that serves at this market and other vegan markets and brewery tasting rooms. I’m not sure whether Cultivated Greens even realized how eager local vegans were to get their hands on plant-based pork — its team struggled to keep up with a line that just kept growing.

It served huli huli pulled pork sandwiches ($14) and rice bowls ($13), but for whatever reason, the Spam musubi ($8) seemed to be the target of most orders. As I think about it, there’s a case to be made that pork-free Spam sounds more desirable — or at least less dubious — than the real thing. Among other ingredients, this one’s made with shiitake mushrooms, soy, and peas.

And it’s pretty tasty, to be honest. The saltiness is easy; more surprising is that it features the sort of fatty consistency that helps makes pork so universally craved. It looks like OmniPork has opened the door to worthwhile vegan carnitas, lumpia, and more. It should be available now at Sprouts grocery stores. But let’s be clear: the plant-based pork battle won’t be won til someone creates a credible bacon substitute.

Until then, it looks like the next vegan alternative meat to show up will be Impossible chicken nuggets. I’ll probably line up for that, too.

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An order of Spam musubi that features zero pork
An order of Spam musubi that features zero pork

If you told me last week I would show up in Encinitas to find a long line of people waiting to order food, I would have offered a few guesses what that food might be. Tacos, wagyu cheeseburgers, oysters on the half shell maybe? If you told me it there would be Spam at the front of the line, I’d have thought you crazy. And yet, there I stood, along with dozens of others, eagerly awaiting the chance to grab an order of Spam musubi. Well, sort of.

A line forms to try OmniPork plant based pork, at the monthly Encinitas Vegan Pop-Up (3rd Saturday of each month).

We’d come to the pretty beach town for the Encinitas Vegan Food Popup, held the third Saturday of each month. I’d gotten a tip that something new was going to be served, and apparently, I was not the only one. These were dozens of vegans alongside me, enduring a 20- to 30-minute wait under the hotter with every passing moment sun, to be among the first to try a new generation of plant-based pork.

We’ve grown accustomed to the future tech of plant-based beef, since the 2017 arrival of “bloody” and sizzling vegan burger patties from Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, both based in California. Closer to real beef in taste and texture, these companies’ products have changed the way many Americans approach backyard grilling or fast food orders.

Pulled pork huli huli was another vegan option.

Apparently, the race has been on to create similarly successful pork substitutes. For several years, Beyond has offered a vegan sausage said to replace pork bratwurst — though it comes off more as an effort to replicate sausage spice and texture than pork, specifically.

Impossible Foods recently started rolling out its new ground pork product, mostly available in Hong Kong restaurants at the moment. These meatless products tend to make limited appearances in select restaurants prior to wide release, and given that China consumes nearly half the world’s pork, that’s the priority in terms of target markets.

Cultivated Greens attracted a line when it introduced OmniPork products to the San Diego area.

But there’s another player in this race: OmniFoods (formerly known as Right Treat). The Hong Kong company already launched its OmniPork products in China and the European Union (which consumes twice as much pork as the United States). In the spring, OmniPork started showing up within the U.S., and as of this past weekend, it debuted here in San Diego, including the Spam-like product officially called OmniPork Luncheon.

Serving it at the Encinitas Vegan popup was the booth manned by Cultivated Greens, a roving, local vegan brand that serves at this market and other vegan markets and brewery tasting rooms. I’m not sure whether Cultivated Greens even realized how eager local vegans were to get their hands on plant-based pork — its team struggled to keep up with a line that just kept growing.

It served huli huli pulled pork sandwiches ($14) and rice bowls ($13), but for whatever reason, the Spam musubi ($8) seemed to be the target of most orders. As I think about it, there’s a case to be made that pork-free Spam sounds more desirable — or at least less dubious — than the real thing. Among other ingredients, this one’s made with shiitake mushrooms, soy, and peas.

And it’s pretty tasty, to be honest. The saltiness is easy; more surprising is that it features the sort of fatty consistency that helps makes pork so universally craved. It looks like OmniPork has opened the door to worthwhile vegan carnitas, lumpia, and more. It should be available now at Sprouts grocery stores. But let’s be clear: the plant-based pork battle won’t be won til someone creates a credible bacon substitute.

Until then, it looks like the next vegan alternative meat to show up will be Impossible chicken nuggets. I’ll probably line up for that, too.

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