Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmer on his switch to a plant-based diet

In a 2013 episode Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerthe Titular Host Visits the headquarters of Eat Just, a plant-based company that had developed vegan eggs made from mung bean protein. When the episode aired, the products from Eat Just (then called Hampton Creek Foods) fit neatly under a “bizarre” rubric, using the show’s definition of unique and interesting. Just nine years later, Zimmer says the concept is no longer bizarre. Now he’s telling me, another carnivore, “You and I are the crazy ones.”

Chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmer spent 12 years and 147 episodes exploring and trying out the world quirkiest food, from coral worms in Samoa to tarantulas in Cambodia. While the focus was on food, he said the show was about promoting cultural tolerance. He’s extending that same worldview to his current move to more sustainable food. Just as he joins the Plant-Based Chicken Company as a “culinary consultant.” Tindlehe is trying to reduce his meat consumption to do his part for the climate and all the associated problems of unsustainable food production.

Andreas rooms [Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for TiNDLE]

To say that Zimmer tried his hand at meat would be an understatement. He has eaten fermented shark in Iceland and horse gut sausage in Kazakhstan; he has tasted reindeer liver, camel kidney and snake penis. But when he turned 60 last July, he had something of an epiphany after reading that it was even possible to reduce meat add up to nine years to his life. But changing your lifestyle is hard; He admits he can’t jump headfirst into veganism. “If I try to give it my all, I’ll never make it,” he says. “I’m going to have a meat relapse tonight.” For Zimmer it will be a slow and steady, flexitarian path.

There’s now an entire category of plant-based foods that aim to replicate meat, aimed at carnivores who suffer from hunger pangs as they wean themselves from beef burgers and chicken wings. One such brand is Tindle. Introduced in Singapore in 2021 by Next Gen Foods, which received record investmentsthe product is now in more than 200 restaurants in Asia and entered the US market in February. Earlier this month, rooms committed as a culinary consultanta loosely defined role that includes dreaming up recipes and promoting protein.

[Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for TiNDLE]

Zimmer says he didn’t feel like any other plant-based brand he tried replicated the taste, aroma, or texture of meat. “They should remain nameless,” he says. “I didn’t like any of them.” The happy outlier for him was Tindle, made with soy protein, oat fiber, coconut oil, wheat gluten, and a proprietary emulsion called Lipi that aims to mimic poultry fat, primarily through the use of sunflower oil. The company calls its product “Chef’s Play-Doh” for its reputed versatility, claiming you can grill, braise or fry it, and offers recipes for tindle schwarma, gyoza and pot pie. At this year’s SXSW, Zimmer presented the product with two concoctions: a Tindle Parm Slider and crispy Tindle and Waffles topped with hot honey ice cream.

The humanitarian angle has led Zimmer to reduce his meat consumption as well as his age-related revelation. Like the late Anthony Bourdain, Zimmer used food as a vehicle to promote cultural richness and acceptance at a time when the War on Terror had ushered in an era of division. “I sold a Trojan horse to Travel Channel at the time,” Zimmer says, explaining that the network rejected a culture-only show but agreed to “80% entertainment and 20% smarts,” he says. “It was kind of a Faustian bargain, but it turned out to be the best deal I’ve ever gotten in my life.”

Visiting and living with indigenous tribes such as the Kake of Alaska and the Ju/’Hoansi tribe of Botswana taught him the dangers of modernizing the natural world. Now he says, “We can’t take back horse and carriage, we can’t take back fossil fuels, but we’re smart enough to make a difference.” That difference can and should come in the form of a reduction in animal meat consumption, consumption of which always will is less sustainable. Meat accounts for almost 60% of all CO2 emissions from food production; and the equivalent of 3 billion tons per year CO2 come from cattle farming.

[Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for TiNDLE]

The climate crisis does not exist in a silo either; it’s an ecosystem of interrelated problems. “If you jump into the climate crisis, you will encounter hunger and food waste,” he says, as well as racial justice, immigration and health care. Overall his mentality – just like it was with bizarre foods– focuses on considering other people around the world when making decisions. “We have to start thinking about our fellow human beings,” he says. “And I think we’ve been really crappy at that lately.” For Zimmer, plant-based proteins are part of the solution.

Zimmer already sees a societal shift from a time when vegetarianism in America was stigmatized and options were limited to green salads and grilled vegetables. Now restaurants that pride themselves on “monstrous cuts of meat” are playing to a shrinking crowd. “Growing up, if meat wasn’t the centerpiece of every plate at every meal, something wasn’t right,” he said. Now his son doesn’t think twice about whether a dinner is meatless.

What makes Zimmer so endearing is that this shift reflects the dining practices at some of his favorite places he frequents bizarre foods, such as mezze meals in the Levant and Turkey and the Indian subcontinent, where he could go days without meat and never missed it. “I’m thrilled that we’re looking at a new era,” he says, “that we’re taking things from other countries.” Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmer on his switch to a plant-based diet


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