Ah yes! The great fake debate. Whether we should or shouldn’t consume vegan products that imitate non-vegan products of animal exploitation. As always there are two sides to every debate and I’ll try and cover each side and then give my opinion at the end.
I think first of all we need to look at why a market for vegan foods that mimic animal products exist.
- Taste: Most people like to stick with flavours and textures that they know.
- Comfort: Certain foods may bring comfort to people for different reasons. For example, when I’m upset a strong but milky tea comforts me.
- Childhood: A lot of our likes and dislikes are formed in childhood. If you grew up in a household that didn’t eat many vegetables, you’ll inevitably find it harder to eat a high vegetable diet when you’re older.
There are some quite intrinsic reasons and they make a profitable plant based mock meat, dairy and egg market in the UK and around the world. Even the supermarkets have jumped on the band wagon, with most having their own branded vegan cheese, milk and meat products. If people weren’t buying these products, they would stop making them and or we certainly wouldn’t have the variety we have now.
The question now is, does having imitation products make going vegan easier?
On one hand you could say that veganism is about ethics. If you understand the ethics, it doesn’t matter what culinary options there are for you, because the alternative is unthinkable. To a certain extent, those who have been vegan for over ten years will have lived in that world. (Myself included.)
On the other hand when you initially talk to people about veganism, they often ask whether there are vegan alternatives. These days the answer is normally yes. That gives them the comfort they require and then you can move on to talk to them about the ethics. As a new vegan, it might help them from giving into cravings through familiar tastes, comforts and childhood memories.
Can we even call these vegan products burgers, cheese, yoghurt, mayonnaise and sausages etc? How does vegan chicken or beef style pieces sound to you? Do we need to reclaim some words or should we celebrate plant based foods for what they are and move away from from comparing them to animal based foods?
I think words like sausage and burger absolutely have a place in our movement. After all, they refer to shapes more than content. Hence you can have bean burgers without anyone batting an eyelid. Sometimes though non-vegans pipe up and it causes conflict online and possibly at the dinner table. Something we all want to avoid, obviously.
It might be a good idea to celebrate plant based foods differently for the above reason. At the moment we call things, “chicken style” or “mock duck” for example. Great for new vegans looking for a familiar taste of course. Even people who have been vegan a long time find this helpful when searching for things that remind them of certain flavours and textures. What other names can we use to distinguish these products? Shall me move away from using words like mock and fake? (Genuine questions. Feel free to answer them because I don’t know the answer.)
As a whole consumers are disconnected from the animals they are eating. Even when they have bloody burgers, meat on the bone, fried eggs or grated cheese. They rarely give a thought to that which they spare themselves the sight. Therefore as long as a product is vegan, does it matter if it replicates something which isn’t? I think a very small percentage of vegans really want an imitation bleeding burger, but if they do, does it matter?
Some might say that eating that burger perpetuates animal use because others will see you eating it and assume you’re eating a burger made from a cow, giving them comfort in their continued animal use. Where do we draw the line? A lot of vegan cheeses look like their animal based counterparts, as does the mayo, yoghurt and the cakes etc. Is it a personal choice or is there more at stake than that?
All in all, I think this blog probably throws open more questions than it answers. I’m not sure it needs to be as complicated as I have made it.
If you like a certain food that is vegan, eat it. Does it make your life easier? Does it give you comfort, satisfy your taste buds, remind you of your childhood? Then eat it. As long as you aren’t exploiting animals, carry on in my opinion. No lines to be drawn. No picking and choosing. Just doing what feels right for you and what IS right for the animals.
Let’s have a proper discussion about this.
(NB – I’m one of those vegans that after 11 years still eats vegan “meats” etc because they give me comfort and remind me of what I used to eat.)