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Fake meat comes to a hallowed industry: New York’s Jewish delis

Fake meat is all over the place these days: In our stores, in our burger chains, in our chicken nuggets. Now, the plant-based revolution has come to one of New York City’s most hallowed culinary institutions: The Jewish deli. Sarge’s Deli, which has been open for over 50 years and serves sandwiches in the traditional New York style — meaning meat stacked so high you’d have to unhinge your jaw to take a bite — has recently added plant-based corned beef to its menu.

The corned not-beef in question comes from Unreal Deli, a company started by entrepreneur Jenny Goldfarb, who made an appearance on reality show Shark Tank, where she secured a $250,000 investment from Mark Cuban. The “meat” is a mixture of beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, and spices.

Investing in fake meat is a good call these days, and not just because Cuban himself went vegetarian. Fake meat companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have surged over the last couple years, rolling out a variety of new products in big food chains across the U.S. We’ve tried quite a few of them, and loved the heavy hitters, including the Impossible Burger, Impossible Pork, and Beyond Meat’s fried chicken. Meat alternatives have gotten shockingly close to the real thing for a far tastier alternative to a future built around cricket flour.

The rise of fake meat is important for a couple reasons: Factory farming on the whole is brutal in its treatment of animals, and it is terrible for the environment, consuming huge amounts of water and land while polluting air and water supplies. Plant-based alternatives that maintain the pleasure of real meat with a much smaller environmental footprint (Impossible Foods claims its burgers uss 87 percent less water and 96 percent less land to make) are crucial to preserving Earth’s ecosystems.

Unreal’s corned beef is already in a variety of West Coast restaurants and Whole Foods outlets, but appearing on the menu of a proper New York deli is a momentous acheivement, a meeting of the future and tradition. New Yorkers are notorious sticklers about their food — things this West Coaster has been informed New York does best: Pizza, bagels, sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, American Chinese food, Chinese Chinese food, falafel — and New York’s Jewish delis are iconic, even if the industry has changed.

We haven’t tried Sarge’s plant-based corned beef yet, although we have dispatched someone to do a taste test.

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