Friday 28 January 2022

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Not content with asking people to avoid alcohol and kill pubs for Dry January, we are also being exhorted to shun any meat-based dishes for Veganuary. Maybe it would be simpler just to rename the month NoFunuary. But, on seeing a recommendation for “Vegan Fish and Chips”, it struck me just how many of the vegan dishes that are promoted to us are actually imitating meat.

OK, if you feel a moral imperative to avoid eating anything that involves the death of animal, you may find ersatz meat a tolerable substitute, but isn’t that effectively an admission that genuine meat is actually tastier and more enjoyable? In a sense that is comparable to alcohol-free beers, which depend on people’s awareness of what normal-strength beer is like. And at least with alcohol-free beers you get the potential advantages of maintaining sobriety and legality, whereas all that imitation meat brings you is a vague sense of moral superiority.

If you want to promote the virtues of plant-based food, surely it would make sense to offer dishes that use fruits, vegetables and grains for what they are rather than pretending to be something else? And the more committed ideological vegans may well take the view that these dishes are in a sense legitimising meat. I’m not sure whether there actually many ideologically committed total abstainers around nowadays, but I doubt whether they drink alcohol-free beer.

It’s not as if imitation meat dishes are a healthier option, either. In fact, they are made in factories from a wide range of heavily processed ingredients and, it could be argued, constitute some of the worst junk food of all. Yes, a low-cost sausage or burger may also contain plenty of additives, but anything that is a recognisable cut of meat or fish won’t.


  1. I'll stick to my local Limousin and Sussex breed sirloins (my favourite cut), with home-made chips in a fryer, never mastered the sauce malarkey so am sticking to the flavoured butter (salted butter, parsley, garlic), thank you very much!

  2. I tend to agree with your thoughts on this Mudge, as I too struggle with the reasoning behind trying to make these plant-based items look like meat. I wonder whether it's the feel and texture of meat that they are trying to replicate, or perhaps it's a secret longing for that juicy burger or steak that is at play here?

    It does seem strange though for a section of society that is vehemently anti-meat, to construct a substitute that looks, smells and tastes like the real thing. Those ads for the "Vegetarian Butcher," are the ones that get me!

    It's also worth pointing out that growing soya beans, isn't as environmentally friendly as veggies and vegans would have us believe.

    1. Paul, a youtube channel Harry's Farm explains these things very well.

  3. I've just had another thought on this. Perhaps by dressing up these plant-based substitutes to look like meat, veggies and vegans are appealing to those of us who enjoy animal-derived protein, to give these "alternatives" a try.

    Then when (if) we find that we can't tell the difference, we'll be happy to switch.

    1. That's partly my point - if you don't want to eat something that involves killing an animal, a vegan burger or fish fillet may be a tolerable alternative. But it's always effectively paying homage to the original, like a fake Rolex.

  4. I work away from home, so hotel meals are the norm, most places have veggie options. Breakfasts are interesting, I quite like the veggie sausages, they taste nothing like the pork variety, and are a nice addition to the menu, being a meat eater, I could not imagine them being a permanent alternative though.

    Surely veggie options need to be good in their own right, and not merely mimic the meat version.
    I suspect there are not many vegetarians or vegans who have never been meat eaters previously, So attempting to replicate a meat dish maybe a way of converting people to vegitarianism. However if you have tried these and are are not convinced they are a suitable alternative you have to choose between your principles and your taste buds.

  5. If the motivation for a person's veganism or vegetarianism is ethical, why would admitting that meat is delicious or that lots of non-meat food is unhealthful a problem?

  6. Replies
    1. But bugs aren't vegetarian, let alone vegan.

  7. I have difficulty with "ethical" veganism. If we were all vegans there would be no, or very few, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens raised.
    So is it ethical to deny those creatures the right to a life?
    And the countryside would be a much duller place without animals.

    1. I deliberately steered clear of a general discussion of the ethical basis of veganism ;-)

      It always makes me laugh when animal campaigners claim to have "saved" a cow or sheep from a life of hell on the farm. If there hadn't been the intention to eat it, or use its milk or wool, it wouldn't have been brought into existence in the first place.

    2. It is frequent topic discussion among senior bovine philosophers: whether it better never to be born, or to be born live three years then die and be eaten.:-)

      And on a practical level; is there any other way of getting sustenance of the high fells than using a sheep to turn the poor vegetation into meat. You certainly can't grow lentils at that altitude

    3. Yes, if we are purely looking at the land use argument, there is no reason not to graze animals on pasture land that is unsuitable for arable cultivation, as nomadic herdsmen have been doing for millennia.

  8. As a vegetarian for nearly 40 years, and now vegan, I was reluctant to get involved in any discussion btl. Some points that have been made almost argue against themselves. For example, as far as I know it isn't vegetarians or vegans who are "dressing up these plant-based substitutes to look like meat", it is food manufacturers and supermarkets, who see that there is a trend, prompted perhaps as much by the fear of climate catastrophe as the distaste for the meat industry, for people to eat less meat.

    I do eat sausages from time to time, and I have tried a few other "meat substitutes", such as vegan doner, but one of the things I found soon after becoming veggie (at age 28) was that the thought of eating meat was pretty disgusting, so the fact that veggie sausages are nothing like pork is a real bonus!

    I would never claim to have saved an animal from a life of suffering - that is not the basis on which I became vegetarian. My reason was because of the misuse of resources in feeding protein to animals in order for us to eat them.

    Regarding the growing of soya beans, this is a bad thing for the planet if it a) involves cutting down huge swathes of forest that have been carbon stores since time immemorial, and b) if it is for the purpose of feeding cattle and other animals to make meat. If it is used for feeding humans it is a much more efficient use of resources, and therefore wouldn't require anything like as much land.

    Over I pint or three, I could go on ... and on ...and on. But I think that's enough for now.

  9. The reason these products exist is because there is demand for them. People enjoy meat but may be unhappy with either farming practice, killing animals or health.

    Whenever industrial farming of animals is looked at by most consumers it is met with widespread disgust from consumers that living creatures can be treated will so little respect for their natural habits or capacity to feel fear or pain. The more that is understood scientifically about sentience the more disquiet there will be regarding the treatment of other living creatures. Animals are not the dumb machines a certain branch of ethics claims. People have personal ethics influenced no doubt by society and possibly religions and these influence consumer decisions. To go off on a weird tangent, if it is ethical to eat a less sentient or conscious being, then it is ethical for an advanced alien visitor to eat us.

    A modern economy separates consumers too far from how food is produced and the necessity of farming practice but the consumer is still king of how they choose to spend their own money. This does not make people hypocrites for declining to live off mung bean or lentil stew. For wanting meat without those health or ethical worries. For enjoying a sausage roll or hamburger without the ground up dead animal parts.

    The market is functioning. It is responding to the changing demands of consumers and offering them new products. You don't have to eat a McPlant. If others do, it'll stick around.


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