And that’s just what I’ve seen on the internet this summer, popularized by Buzzfeed Tasty, Pinterest, and YouTube stars.
Admittedly, some of these substitutions are old. When my family moved to the United States in 1997 and I saw spaghetti squash for the first time, my mom told me that people used them like real spaghetti. And apparently sandwich cakes made with fish are a traditional Swedish dish. I went to a bar last year and got a carrot hot dog, which was successful in the sense that it, like a genuine weiner, was a squishy log of sodium. Kale chips are regular fare at most grocery stores now.
Regardless, health-conscious eating in 2016 seems perfectly primed for a movement like this. The health-conscious have survived ascetic diets like Atkins that forced them to order sad, bun-less burgers, or count points with Weight Watchers, or drink liquid meals like SlimFast and now Soylent. Meanwhile, the surge in gluten-free and vegan eating has led food manufacturers to create closer imitations—fake chicken is decent, having achieved the texture and taste of overcooked chicken breast, and gluten-free flours make passable bread.
This trend tells us that we can have as much pizza and ice cream and pasta as we want. We just have to convince ourselves that they can be made of summer produce. We can eat anything now and have it be healthy; the only thing required is some mental gymnastics.
While I have my share of skepticism—for me, sweet potatoes will never equal the crunch of real toast—I understand why this way of eating might be so appealing. For those of us who have struggled with the hand wringing of dieting, food is fraught territory. Eating what we want to eat, without feeling judged or guilty, can seem like an impossible task. Maybe these replacements allow for that.
Of course, there are critics. Eater recently declared that toasters are for toast, not the dubious sweet potato. New York magazine regularly runs the latest offenses of “fake junk food.”
But despite the critiques, evangelists are staunch in their claim that this “fake junk food” works—even to a life-changing extent, like it has for Ali Maffucci, who runs the popular blog Inspiralized.
Maffucci’s first exposure to vegetable noodles was in 2013 when her diabetic mother, who was trying a raw vegan diet at the suggestion of a nutritionist, made her a zucchini noodle bowl. That night, Maffucci took home her mother’s spiralizer and soon after, she left a job in corporate America—she once worked in event and hotel management for Trump Golf—to start Inspiralized, which she has since spun off into two cookbooks and a branded spiralizer.
“The whole concept of having your cake and eating it too: That’s what spiralizing is all about. It’s taking a big bowl of ‘pasta,’ having it, tasting it, and it tastes just like pasta, except you feel good after, and you’re nourishing yourself,” she said.