When I went vegetarian at the age of 11, I was still dependent on my parents--in particular my mother--to feed me. Ours wasn't a hugely meat-dependent household, but we enjoyed the occasional chicken or fish. I was even partial to steak and lobster at one point in my childhood. As I got older, I became more and more aware that animals were sentient beings made of muscle, just like me. I started to relate to them too much to eat them; the texture of meat still freaks me out.
My decision presented my mother with the conundrum of what to make for family dinners. I'm an only child, so I was a solid third of the family she was cooking for on a nightly basis. Fortunately both she and my father were supportive of my dietary choice, and we worked out something of a compromise for dinner. We cut out red meat entirely--my mother had been considering doing so already for health reasons--and on nights when my parents had fish, I'd be given some kind of meat replacement. I wasn't a big fan of straight tofu back then, so we cycled through various kinds of processed vegetable protein.
I came to hate pretty much all of them. At best, they were chewy, rubbery and dry. No matter how much the package claimed its contents would be indistinguishable from chicken patties or ground beef, it was all lies. Since moving out of my parents' house and beginning to cook for myself, I've barely touched TVP. I'll still order the occasional veggie burger when it's an option at restaurants, but most quality vegetarian patties don't even try to be beef anymore. They're content with themselves as conglomerates of vegetables and beans, and they're tastier for it.
I honestly don't see the point of trying to replace meat texturally. The sensation of eating cooked muscle completely turns me off; I don't need an awkward imitation of it. So much vegetarian food is naturally delicious and meant to be eaten as is. I mean, trees pre-package their fruit for our convenience; ditto hens with their eggs. Onions even come pre-sliced in one direction. Most of the time I'm content just to eat raw plant matter.
As for nutrition, there's not too much in meat or its analogues that can't be found elsewhere. My mother was once concerned that I wouldn't get enough protein as a vegetarian, but I probably get more than I need now on beans, dairy and eggs. Really, unless you're trying to build muscle, the need for protein tends to be exaggerated in warnings against vegetarianism. Besides, with all the processing that goes into it, there's no way TVP is as good for you as fresh, whole foods.
I suppose if you're new to vegetarianism and trying to wean yourself off of meat, TVP is a good temporary option to fill out your meals. I definitely thought meat was delicious once, and the TVP my mother fed me in its place probably helped me lose my taste for it over time. After over a decade of not eating animals, I can say that I no longer have any desire to go back to my old carnivorous ways. When there's so much tasty stuff in nature that you don't have to slaughter and bleed dry to eat, I don't miss meat or its imitations at all.
(Photo credit: Boca Burger)