There will be no more ‘seitan steaks’ or ‘veggie sausages’ for ‘the land of liberty, equality and fraternity’. At least, not without a hefty fine.
French producers of plant-based alternatives to meat now face a €300,000 fine if they name their products using words traditionally associated with meat, such as ‘sausage’ or ‘bacon’.
When I first read the news I was astounded and a little amused by the pettiness of it. But, having thought about it, I think this development may even work out in the favour of the already-blossoming vegan movement.
Did they really think this through?
Now, clearly this law comes as a result of the farming industry getting panicked by the recent spike in the popularity of meat and dairy alternatives.
But let’s ignore the childishness of this move (‘those are our words, you can’t have them!’) and think about the consequences.
I always found it a pity that these alternative foods compared themselves to meat in the first place. After all, meat is surely the last thing you want to be thinking of if you have consciously opted not to eat it.
If I say ‘don’t think of a cat playing the fiddle’… well, it’s too late, isn’t it?
Fake vs Real
Aside from being off-putting to vegetarians and vegans, naming products in this way also makes meat eaters less open to trying them. By framing these foods as substitutes, replacements and copies, we are automatically giving precedence to meat.
The video above offers a perfect example of this.
Six people head to a fast food joint to do a taste test of beef burgers vs a veggie alternative (the Impossible Burger). The first two diners actually prefer the alternative, but despite a resounding endorsement, two of the diners refuse to even taste it.
Why? Because the burger is presented as a ‘fake’. And first impressions are important: no matter how tasty they are told this burger is, they will still find it uncanny and inferior by default.
A push in the right direction
This hurried legislative response to the popularity of plant-based foods may be misguided and laughable, but it could prove a push in the right direction.
With meat analogies being struck from the menu, people selling plant-based foods will have to get creative.
And with unique new names, plant-based cuisine stands a chance of differentiating itself from our murky, meaty culinary past, once and for all.
Of course, new terms will develop organically over time, just like all language.
And with the number of vegans in the UK alone skyrocketing to a whopping 3.5 million in recent years, according to one poll, it’s about time we stopped playing second fiddle to the meat and dairy industry anyway.
This article was firstpublished on Medium