Why Do Vegans Eat Food that Looks and Tastes like Meat?

One of the final straws that agitated-omnivores find themselves clutching at is the concept of vegan meats, and of course vegan cheeses and milks. If you hate meat so much, why do you try and replicate it? If meat is so wrong then why do you shape your food like it? They attempt to imply that eating faux meats and the likes makes you a bad vegan, a hypocritical vegan, or even a somewhat confused vegan. This is a weak argument on two levels. First and foremost: ‘burgers’, ‘sausages’, and ‘nuggets’ are shapes, not animals. Secondly: the issue for most vegans with meat and dairy is not the flavours or textures themselves, but the immorality of breeding and killing animals for food. I will explore these ideas in greater detail later, but to clarify: it is ok to use the term sausage if something is in the shape of a sausage, and it is ok for vegans to eat faux meats. FAUX.

Many may remember the infamous “Gary” rant on Facebook regarding vegan cheese. Back in 2016, following the release of Sainsbury’s own vegan cheese range – headed by Bute Island Foods – a woman took to Facebook to reel off her annoyance at vegans using the word ‘cheese’ with regards to a coconut based product as opposed to traditional dairy based cheese. I myself have suspicions as to how authentic this Gary tirade was, and suspect it was part of a wider PR scheme created to cause controversy and thus publicity upon the release of this new cheese. But, I digress. It certainly started debates and many people held the opinion, for one reason or another, that plant-based products should not adopt traditional dairy terms such as cheese.

There has even been attempts at passing legislation to stop plant products utilising traditional meat/dairy terms eg almond milk should not be allowed to be titled as milk. The National Farmers Union, “the voice of British Farming”, complained in June of last year (2017) about plant milks using the term “milk”. And it doesn’t stop in the UK. There has recently been a successful attempt at banning this in France, as MP and farmer Jean Baptiste Moreau suggested a regulation as an amendment to an agricultural bill, which forbids the use of meat and dairy terms for plant based products. He shared the passed amendment on twitter along with words referring to better informing the consumer, false advertising, and the correct designation of products. Failure to comply will lead to fines worth up to £260,000. Apparently, ingredients listing doesn’t exist in France. (Hint: it does).

Surely, if we are truly concerned with consumers being misled, and we are making changes in line with this, then we ought to do away with nonsensical terms such as “free-range” and “grass-fed”. Phrases such as this are generally misleading, as the legal requirement for the usage of such terms only entails a certain percentage of livestock meeting these standards and only for a certain percentage of their miserable time on earth. In reality, such concepts are used to make the consumer feel less guilty about buying animal products – and to ensure that said consumers continue to buy animal products. Animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) works to change legislation in order to ensure a better life for livestock, and they are currently “outing” Sainsbury’s for their poor commitment to better welfare for chickens. Despite claiming better animal welfare phrases, it came to light that Sainsbury’s was actually doing very little to ensure they sourced their chicken from higher-welfare situations.

Furthermore, if we are interested in not misleading the consumer, then maybe we ought not to shape animal flesh into shapes such as sausages, burgers, and nuggets, which no longer resemble the dead animal to which it once belonged. The claim that vegans shape their food like meat is nonsensical, when omnivores shape their pigs like sausages, their cows like burgers, and their chickens into nuggets. Sausages, burgers, and nuggets are convenient eating shapes – hence why vegans shape food like this too – but they are also ways to make meat more palatable. Children especially are usually unable to make the connection between a fish finger and a cod, a chicken nugget and that fluffy bird they see on the farm. Even some adults are put off meat when it is still attached to the bone, when it bleeds, when it is served on the table still in the shape of a pig, fish, or a bird. 

And if we are interested in not misleading the consumer, then let us look at pork sausages then. Let’s not forget that there is controversy with regards to what percentage of a pork sausages must actually be made from pork in order to call it a pork sausage! Generally, this figure is around 30-40%. You can also include ear, snout, and cheek parts of a pig – so long as it is labelled as head meat. Reassuring! And, I’ve also seen and heard of chicken sausages and turkey sausages (supposed healthy alternatives). And so I will have my vegan sausages if I do so please. If you’re looking for vegan sausages, FYI, most people like Linda McCartney, but I myself prefer the recently released Quorn vegan sausages.

The main foundations of veganism and adopting a vegan lifestyle is one of animal rights. Most people do not turn away from meat because they do not enjoy it. Other reasons for turning away from meat and animal products include concern for the environment, and concern for one’s health. Therefore, it logically and consistently follows that these vegans are able to consume plant based food that “resembles” meat. Personally, I love vegan CHICKEN-STYLE nuggets, and I love veggie burgers. I love vegan sausages, I love plant based milks. I like vegan cheese – let’s leave it at that. I personally don’t tend to like seitan based faux meats – because I find them too meaty after 6 years away from eating animal flesh. I don’t tend find faux egg items appetising – although a tofu scramble will do.  The long and short of it: it’s a personal preference. And as long as the packaging does not claim a vegan burger contains meat, I really don’t see the problem.

I think on the business side of things, such complaints are an attempt to stunt the growth and success of plant based industries and products which are absolutely booming in recent years. On a personal side of things, I genuinely think it is a playground-esque, dummy-out-the-pram nonissue being clawed at by people who don’t want vegans to have their cake and eat it too. People want to continue on in their narrow mind-sets that veganism is difficult and void of flavour and joy, that it is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. But, at the end of the day… If we are not hurting and killing an animal, if we are reducing water consumption and deforestation by not consuming livestock, if we are doing something a little better for our health – all with the same, if not similar, tastes of actual meat… then… why wouldn’t we? The same people that question the protein levels in a vegan diet will be the same ones to try and take away our vegan meat… clearly, there’s always going to be an issue for some!

To imply that consumers are confused and misled due to terms such as “milk” being used in reference to soy based products is at best cheap, and at worst insulting. First and foremost, the titling of such products is usually not left alone as simply “milk”, “steak”, “sausages”, etc. It is far more usual to see “Soya Milk”, or “Soya Milk Alternative”. Yes, some of these vegan products intend to imitate meat and dairy. Sometimes, they are simply vegetables in convenient forms and shapes. But, it is not truly misleading where packaging clearly states the ingredients and nature of a product. Furthermore, such products are not usually stocked in the same sections and shelves as meat and dairy based products. It’s not like these items are secretly hidden in between packets of bacon.

Most people grew up eating meat and dairy, and it’s nice to be able to still indulge in those sorts of flavours and textures every once in a while. It is surely a good thing that we are able to recreate traditional and popular meat/dairy dishes without the cruelty… why would that kind of thing bother you? It seems to me that some people will try anything to make themselves feel better about their own actions when confronted by them.

Furthermore: you do not own shapes. You cannot have the monopoly on burgers. That is quite simply ridiculous. Must we truly create another word for the same shape? Despite already generally writing “vegetable” or “bean” ahead of the word burger? And including ingredients lists on vegan burger products? And, more to the point, if principles of truth truly matter to you, and the consumer really is as stupid as you imply: let’s stop telling them the cow was happy whilst we took away it’s offspring and slit its throat. Because they tend to believe it, somehow.

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