Vegan Sandwich – Figueroa Produce, N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA

The "vegan sandwich" at Figueroa Produce in Los Angeles, CA

This was a fine sandwich. The bread was particularly good, large, tender sourdough bringing together fake chicken, fake cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a bit of avocado. I could go on a diatribe about the woeful inadequacy of yellow mustard, but that’s best saved for another day. The “vegenaise” was a more than acceptable substitute for the standard mayo, and that points at what is bothering me about this sandwich. The fake cheese wasn’t particularly good; you could see where it was aiming but it missed the mark. But the fake chicken, like the mayonnaise, was a fine substitute. Sampled alone, outside of the sandwich, it had a pleasing taste and a texture not at all unlike your standard cold cut. This was a good sandwich, I enjoyed eating it and would gladly return to Figueroa Produce and order another one. But even good sandwiches sometimes suggest larger problems.

I like chicken. It’s tasty, it’s versatile, it’s more-or-less good for you, and it makes a damn fine sandwich. You’ll find plenty of sandwiches here built around a chicken breast. But a lot of chicken sandwiches aren’t made with the breast. The same can be said for ham sandwiches, and turkey. These sandwiches are made with cold cuts, with lunch meat. This feels like a bit of a confession, but I don’t particularly care for lunch meat. Think about a chicken, and think about the kind of chicken you might get from the folks at Boar’s Head. Try as I might, I have trouble connecting that to an honest-to-goodness chicken. And that’s what this sandwich points to. What is done to meat that a couple of soybeans can cling together and stand in its place? Through the flavoring, the shaping, the retexturing, how does chicken get so far from itself that it’s just as easy and just as good to have such a drastically different ingredient? How might be the wrong question here, I don’t want the process explained to me. A better question is why? I understand the demands of cost and efficiency, but should we not aspire to higher ground? A sandwich can be a moment of delicious serenity in an otherwise chaotic life. Why let processing and preserving and stabilizing horn in on that?

I know I’m tilting at windmills. Let the supermarket delis exist, let franchise sandwich chains bury processed meat in salt. Let what was once an honest bit of pork sit, hopelessly round and absurdly pink, one side exposed to the air. Let it sit there for years, never going bad. I will be elsewhere, looking for a better sandwich.