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Let's say the civilization has a good reason to produce fake meat such as maybe all the meat is now able to kill a human even after being cooked.

How primitive could that civilization be and still be able to make lots of this fake meat or at least something that could replace meat?

Also, how would that civilization be able to create the fake meat and on what level? How primitive could a civilization be and create fake meat like we have today or even just something that would replace meat entirely?

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    $\begingroup$ For most of history most people ate very little meat, if any. I would say that even ancient Babylonia was perfectly able to produce something that could replace meat. Think wheat, olive oil, cheese, eggs... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 30, 2021 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ What's your definition of fake meat? By some metrics we can barely create a fake meat today. But as mentioned above we've had the ability to survive without eating meat for a very long time. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 30, 2021 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ What is the main purpose of the fake meat? It makes a big difference whether the fake meat is supposed to supply all nutrients that real meat provides. In contrast, if it's about status (see, I can afford "meat") it could be more important for the fake meat to look and taste the right way. $\endgroup$
    – ooak
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Are you absolutely sure about that? From what I remember from my history, people always ate meat but they not always called it meat. For example, fish were not considered meat. However, they ate any kind of animal they could find, be it crows, hedgehogs, moles, or insects. $\endgroup$
    – Sulthan
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Sulthan: Yes, of course, they ate meat whenever they could. It's just that there wasn't much to be had, so it was a sort of special occasion. In societies based on agriculture, which means all societies with large-ish populations, most people most of the time ate bread, beans, lentils, olives, cheese and so on. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:57

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If you have cereals, you can extract the gluten from the flour and make something that closely resemble the appearance of meat and protein rich, called seitan.

enter image description here

Basically the process consists in making a dough with the flour and washing it with water, taking away starch and water soluble proteins, so that only the insoluble part remains.

Being this simple, it just requires being capable of farming and milling cereals. However, "wasting" so much cereals would hardly be affordable for a sustaining economy.

Therefore, since you want wide production, you need to reach the tech level where synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and mechanized agriculture are present

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    $\begingroup$ This product is commonly known as 'seitan'. : ) $\endgroup$
    – Ideogram
    Dec 1, 2021 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Ideogram I have heard of it as "wheat muscle", did not know the English name $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 1, 2021 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ It’s also often known in Chinese and neighbouring cuisines as “mock duck”, “mock chicken”, etc, depending on the form/texture it’s prepared in. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2021 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ Something I've wondered about Seitan and other washed gluten based foods. In cultures that it is native to, do they consider it fake meat? It's certainly marketed and localised that way in the United States, but I was always under the impression it was treated as its own ingredient in Chinese cuisine. $\endgroup$
    – Chuu
    Dec 2, 2021 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ For some historical context, according to wikipedia, the first records of foodstuff based on pure wheat gluten go back to a Chinese agricultural encyclopedia written in 535. $\endgroup$
    – Chuu
    Dec 2, 2021 at 15:55
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Tofu is widely used in vegetarian meals, filling the role that would be taken by meat in non-vegetarian dishes. Getting the coagulants in quantity might be the stumbling block. Still, somewhere around the iron age.

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    $\begingroup$ Tofu is NOT a good meat substitute. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2021 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelCoehoorn that depends on what qualities of meat you are looking to replicate, and how faithfully you need to replicate them, i.e. it's a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2021 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JeremyFriesner: It also heavily depends on your standard of living, culture, what you think "meat" is supposed to taste like, how often you would otherwise be able to eat meat in the first place, etc. If the only available proteins are all plant-based, you're going to eat what you can get, and with time, you'll probably be happy with it. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Dec 2, 2021 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ Tofu's resemblance to meat also varies greatly depending on the amount of effort and additional ingredients used to prepare it. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2021 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ Worth pointing out that "low tech level" probably means "healthy diet" is out of reach for most people anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:36
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It might be possible through clever crossbreeding to produce a fruit that is stringy with a strong umami taste that would have the texture and flavor close to meat. Actual fruits are wildly different than the wild progenitors which are smaller and far less sweet. This is stone age technology of picking which seeds to plant over a several generations.

Starting with a squash you could end with a flat gourd that you peeled to reveal something steak like. An orange could go into a sphere of "meat".

If people were unable to eat meat it would most likely just disappear from the menu and there would be more nuts and legumes and no real attempt to replicate it and attempts to do so would seem creepy and almost cannibalistic.

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    $\begingroup$ Jackfruit is often used this way. It's stringy and when cooked in bbq or chili sauce it's often a pretty good replacement for chicken. I've never had it raw so not sure if it tastes like meat or has enough protein, but with little additional effort it's a pretty good replacement. $\endgroup$
    – coblr
    Dec 1, 2021 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ @coblr young jackfruit (the one that's used to replace meat) is not to be eaten raw and when unseasoned it tastes a bit like artichoke hearts or hearts of palm. Ripe jackfruit is very soft, sweet, and (for me) tastes a bit like an overripe banana. It is pretty low on protein, so its only use is for replacing texture $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2021 at 15:01
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As soon as they figure out cheese

The process to make tofu is very similar to the process to make cheese. Tofu is already seen as a meat substitute and has been seen as one for thousands of years.

Tao describes how tofu was popularly known as "small mutton", which shows that the Chinese valued tofu as an imitation meat.

Tofu already has different consistences and can be flavored various ways. As far as how close you can get to "meat" that's going to be decided by each individual who eats its. Considering there are still very popular dishes involving tofu, I'd argue they found a popular and tasty replacment.

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In our own society, Nuteena (a meat substitute mainly made from peanuts, soy, corn, and wheat) was based on the 1896 formula for Nuttose, sold by "the other Kellog brother", not the one who founded the modern cereal company. Later, Loma Linda Foods offered a number of meat subtitutes starting in 1949; they were later bought out by their competitor, Worthington, which was bought out by the modern Kellog's cereal company in 1999.

Therefore, it's safe to say that meat substitutes fairly similar to those I grew up with in the 1960s were possible as soon as the nutritional value of peanuts had been recognized and the foundations of separating foods into starches and proteins laid down. In our history, that took place from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th, but all the crops and techniques were available after the colonization of the Americas (peanuts were a New World crop) and the opening of the Far East (soy was from eastern Asia). As an example, I recall my parents making "gluten steaks" from plain wheat flour in our home kitchen between 1970 and 1973; these techniques could have been applied (albeit producing nutritionally incomplete proteins unless a mixture of grains and legumes was used) even in the pre-Classical ancient world, given the knowledge.

For less "analog" substitutes, the Chinese made tofu as far back as the 2nd century BCE, and cheese (which is nutritionally a reasonable substitute for meat and, while animal derived, doesn't require slaughtering the animal) has been around longer than that.

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or at least something that could replace meat.

They'd need to be a) settled down and b) conduct some sort of agriculture. And by that point the humans would IRL have eaten hardly any meat to begin with, so we don't even need to make anything up.

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You need fire, and perhaps basic agricultural/forestry skills but that's about it.

That is, assuming chicken of the woods (a fungus) lives up to its name (also Wikipedia with some alternative species).

Laetiporus sulphureus can be cultivated (though isn't often), and grows on a range of tree species. With a need for it, cultivation could become much more significant.

It won't provide as much protein as meat (largely because of the high water content), so nuts and if possible pulses would need to be a more significant part of the diet.

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    $\begingroup$ Chicken of the Woods gets its name from its texture. It feels like chicken with a mild mushroom flavour. $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Dec 1, 2021 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Allan my first link says "said to taste like chicken to some", others say it tastes like lobster or crab! Overall at least it provides some of the savoury flavours of meat as well as texture. Those of us who cook very little meat for ourselves often add ordinary mushrooms to replace some of the flavour from the meat, implying that a mushroom flavour isn't so very far away (the connection is mainly umami) $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Dec 1, 2021 at 13:09
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Is it not the other way around? What is the lowest tech level a society needs to produce meat at all?

I realize I might start a comment war and risk to get downvoted to sub-zero, but to me it would seem that technology is what made our ancestors shift from gatherers (of berries and insects) to hunter-gatherers. We can't catch meat nor eat it without the help of technology: tools, stones, javelins, fire.

The next step in technological development is agriculture: controlled growing of plants and cattle.

Legumes (like aforementioned soy beans) are a very efficient source of proteins, and might be easier to produce in large quantities than meat. So, I tend to say: you need less tech for lots of fake meat than for lots of meat.

For the situation of your story, this would imply that you need a society that first achieves a high level of technology ('high' meaning: on par with ours) and then needs to abandon that production and 'revert' to create fake meat. Using food processing technology to imitate it as closely as possible, instead of eating plain legumes.

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    $\begingroup$ Modern monkeys will still eat meat, it's not impossible to catch small animals and eat them with your bare hands. Just a bit unappetizing to modern humans. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik opportunistic meat eaters: if you happen to be so lucky that you can catch it, and it and it's small enough to eat, then eat it. Of course! This does not speak against my point. Rather, it provided our ancestors with a incentive to explore the technology to catch more meat and find ways to get more nutrition from the same animal: fire and sticks and stones. $\endgroup$
    – Ideogram
    Dec 2, 2021 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ A recent paper by Israeli researchers has evidence showing that until about 85,000 years ago, humans and their ancestors for the last 2 million years were hypercarnivores and subsisted primarily on meat. A carnivorous diet, or at least a diet with a lot of meat, has been associated with the expansion and increased complexity of the human brain. And as Inuit even today demonstrate, you don't need fire to have a diet that's primarily meat, and all you need to prepare it is a sharp rock, which humans have had for a few million years. $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2021 at 16:24
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A hypothetical culture that can harvest and grow mycoprotein from edible molds, yeasts, fungus and/or mushrooms doesn't need to be that advanced.

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