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Replacing Meat Without Pandering
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Replacing Meat Without Pandering

As you know, there are a lot of reasons that people become vegan. Some people’s bodies are sensitive to animal proteins. Some choose not to participate in the killing of animals. Others are attracted to the higher sustainability and fewer resources used to produce plant foods. Because everyone’s motivations are different, I do tend to cringe a bit at blanket indictments of people who eat fake “meat” and other faux animal products. “If you like the taste of burgers, you shouldn’t be vegan,” they say judgingly. But there are a lot of reasons besides taste that people choose not to eat meat. And if it’s a later life choice, it makes complete sense that they’ve developed a fond memory of a certain taste, texture, or smell.  Food holds memories, and creating a vegan version of a meat-based dish can help bring those happy memories to the forefront while still adhering to your updated diet decisions.

However, there are definitely food production companies and providers that miss the mark when creating vegan alternatives. Here are some examples of how companies pander to vegans without embracing their values, and how both companies and individuals can avoid this.

The “You Miss Meat” Replacement

There are some people that claim to respect people’s dietary choices, while secretly believing that everyone loves meat at their core, and is just in denial. These are the “but how do you live without bacon?!?” crowd. Food providers that only offer vegan options that are copy-cat meat dishes are likely to have this mindset. If their only non-meat options include faux-bacon, soy-based meat substitutes, and veggie “steaks” (which can be delicious, but that’s not the point), the restaurant obviously does not believe vegetables can offer substantial nutrition or taste value. While this may not be a huge problem for everyone, others may see this addiction to meat as disturbing and want to take their money elsewhere.

As mentioned above, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to emulate an animal-based dish you remember loving. I have vegan friends who lamented every Easter because they were surrounded by deviled eggs, which they loved as kids. Then they found these vegan deviled eggs, which offer the perfect flavor combinations (the sulfuric tone of black salt is perfect for that “eggy” flavor) and the opportunity to work with some fun ingredients you don’t see every day. But companies that focus all their vegan options on emulating meat fail to see all the diversity that plants have to offer on their own.

The Non-replacement

When a restaurant’s menu has meat or animal products in every dish and they try to pitch a “veggie” option by just removing ingredients, you know they don’t value the patronage of vegans or vegetarians. This can also be problematic because it could mean that animal products have already touched other ingredients in the dish and will just be removed. Places like this might also fail to avoid cross-contamination, most commonly cooking “vegan” products in animal fat, making them no longer vegan. Saying “we’ll take the meat off” isn’t a solution. Rather, restaurants should create baseline dishes and then offer the option to add different proteins (both animal based and vegan) at varying prices. This avoids exclusion and gives the prep staff the mindset to prevent cross-contamination.

Limited “Veggie” Choices

Employers often like to provide their employees with free food, whether it be in gift card form or through company-sponsored breakfasts and lunches. Free is great, but often, employers fail to consider their employees nutritional requirements. Providing lunch once without a vegan option may be forgivable, but when it happens every month, vegan employees can start to feel devalued.

Many companies solve this issue by offering a “veggie patty” option for barbecues and other sponsored events. This can go wrong in a few ways. If non-vegans are buying the food, they will likely pick the cheapest, most generic veggie patty option available. And then, at future events, they may decide to keep the veggie patty option, while offering variety in non-vegan options. This leads to the same feeling of devaluement, since no effort is put in providing a tasty meal for non-meat eaters, only for those on a “mainstream” diet.

Restaurants can fall into this trap as well, by only having two or three vegan options and not being willing to make substitutions. Vegetables and grains have a wide range of flavor profiles and can be easily combined to make tasty combinations. There’s no reason that a restaurant should limit itself to offering one flavorless soy patty or  “well you can eat a salad if remove the bacon, chicken, eggs, and give you our most basic dressing”.

Even meat-centric chains can put thought into their vegetarian and vegan options. For example, this falafel patty has beat-infused couscous in it! Unique offerings like this show meat-eaters that animal-free meals can be tasty, bright, and creative. Here are 7 veggie burger recipes, most inspired by restaurant offerings, that utilize tasty, healthy ingredients to go way beyond generic meat substitutes.

Maintaining Ignorance

The biggest mistake restaurants can make is to fail to provide a meal that satisfies a person’s stated dietary restrictions. For example, if a person states they are vegan, and then are brought a soup with chicken broth as a base. Often, untrained employees will fail to consider all parts of a dish and then claiming ignorance: “well, I just figured a salad had to be vegan; I forgot our cream dressing is dairy-based.”  

Food providers should train all their employees to be aware of what meets common dietary restrictions and preferences. Butter should never be used in a meal for a lactose-intolerant person, and desserts and beverages with honey should be designated as such so people can make an informed decision according to their beliefs.(See: The Bittersweet Truth About Honey).

This isn’t always an oversight though. Sometimes restaurants (or even cultures!) decide to have their own definition of what certain terms mean. Read about this vegan who was constantly brought fish as a vegetarian option in Spain. Of course, different countries have different ways of doing things, but you would think the food industry could come up with a standard way of at least communicating different food preferences.

Food is an experience. Our meals offer more than sustenance, they offer an opportunity for enjoyment. Companies that provide food products should take this opportunity to make sure people of all diets can enjoy their meals at their establishment without feeling somehow “less than” for a personal choice.


Image Source: Flickr

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  1. Support
    Awesome post, Jeriann! Thanks for sharing.


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