How do you feel about fake?
The debate about whether imitation animal products help or hurt the vegan cause is not new. It’s also no closer to being resolved. Whether we’re talking about “fake meat” or faux fur, there’s much disagreement both within and outside of the vegan community about how those products reflect on our cause.
Does it make us hypocrites to eschew animal products but embrace man-made products intended to mimic them? Are they facilitators or barriers to convincing others to consider a vegan lifestyle?
Okay, first: Yes, I did buy the “Tofu: Food’s Master of Disguise,” shirt. Yes, I did have to buy it for myself since no one else did. No, you may not borrow it, jerk.
Commercial meat products have taken leaps and bounds in terms of taste in the last 10 years. Boca, MorningStar (on the occasions that they feel like making their products vegan, that is), Gardenburger, Tofurky, Lightlife, Yves, Nate’s Meatless Meatballs, Amy’s, Field Roast Grain Meat Co., Gardein… the list of choices goes on, ranging from palatable (Boca nuggets… meh) to damned tasty (I eat a Celebration Roast like a fat dude giving up his diet eats McDonald’s).
So there are really 2 main issues with commercial fake meat. First, are we hypocrites for eating meat-ish foods when we so vehemently oppose animals-as-food? The short answer is, well, no. I mean, really. We’re not crusading to end animal exploitation because meat tastes yucky. Yves is not trying to convince people that its lunchmeat is actually from a real turkey. No animals were enslaved or harmed to make a Tofurkey roast. It’s really a non-issue. Frankly, the discussion itself annoys me.
The more important question, IMHO, is: does referencing the meat product it’s meant to imitate help or hinder its palatability to meat-eaters? These foods are often referred to as “training wheels” for a vegetarian diet, meaning they’re primarily intended to help people who would otherwise eat a chicken sandwich to choose a more healthful, ethical alternative. And on the one hand, they are definitely, explicitly intended to mimic chicken or ground beef. It also sounds much more appetizing to go for “chick’n strips” than “pressed vegetable protein extract.”
But let’s be honest – they don’t taste like meat. (To vegans who will protest: dudes, we are SO NOT good judges of this. You may think you remember what beef tastes like, but – thank god – you don’t. You have to ask a carnivore.) There are, of course, exceptions; particularly with ground un-beef crumbles in a very flavorful dish like chili or lasagna, or Gardein breaded and fried in orange sauce (Yard House holla! Also, Tal Ronnen, MARRY ME), I’d challenge even the most discerning carnivore to pick out the substitutes. But for the most part, Gardenburger tastes like Gardenburger, not cheeseburger. So if someone bites into a burger expecting beef but gets veggie instead, will that put his tastebuds off? Would he like Boca better if he was not expecting it to taste exactly like chicken? People tend to stick by their first impressions of food, so having a bad experience because a vegetarian food tastes different than expected can be a real barrier to getting someone to give up the meat.
What about tofu, tempeh and seitan? (Anyone else call this the Holy Trinity in their heads? Just me?) Here, you have the same issues as above, except more so because these foods taste pretty much nothing like meat. But here’s where it differs: tofu is not imitation anything. It is its own food and has been eaten for centuries. Though they’re convenient replacements when veganizing recipes, tempeh and seitan are NOT meat substitutes. I actually get pretty upset (I know, you’re shocked) when people refer to them as such. They are legitimate foods all on their own, and I wholeheartedly reject the notion that animal flesh is the dietary standard to which all other sources of protein must be compared. Tempeh bacon ain’t bacon, but it IS delicious.
Faux Fur, Pleather, and Fake Skin
So I have this jacket. It’s adorable and makes me look like a super-fashionable Amelia Earhart when I wear it with aviator sunglasses. It’s made of pleather and faux sheepskin, and from a distance or to the undiscerning, it looks like I’m wearing animal skin. I know it’s fake, and now you do too. But even so, is it okay for me to wear it?
Maybe someone will see it and not realize it’s fake, and will subconsciously interpret it as an implicit statement that it’s okay to wear leather and sheepskin. What if I wore it with a big “VEGAN” or “REAL WOMEN WEAR FAKE LEATHER” button? Would it still perpetuate the idea that animal skin is a legitimate clothing choice, when we want to say the opposite? There are tons of vegan companies that make faux snakeskin or alligator hide purses and shoes. Would you buy them? If not, where do you draw the line – pleather is ok, but faux sheepskin is not? Fake fur is fine, but fake snake isn’t?
What, you wanted answers? Psh, that’s your job (hint: comment section below!). I’m just here to stir up the controversies.