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Calling vegan food "fake" and why what we say matters


Over the last couple of decades I've heard many meat eaters call my food "fake." They refer to it as fake meats, fake cheese, fake butter, and so on. I cringe when I hear them saying it, but to them it's all fake. And they may not even be referring to the vegan option as being "fake," but they are absolutely doing that in calling the animal-based option "real." For example, when someone compares vegan cheese to "real" cheese, rather than comparing it to dairy cheese, or comparing a vegan butter to "real" butter, and so on.  I have become used to hearing non-vegetarians and non-vegans refer to vegan food as "fake," but it's surprising when vegetarians/vegans do it themselves. This week, I even saw numerous vegans referring to the food as fake in an online vegan discussion group. That particularly saddened me to see, let me explain why.

According to the dictionary, the word "fake" means not true or genuine, an impostor, a worthless imitation passed off as genuine.

If we are to ever elevate the status of vegan food so that everyone sees it as equal or greater than eating non-vegan items, then we have to watch what we call it. Every time a vegan calls the food fake, they are reinforcing the idea that vegan food is a worthless imitation, that it's not as good as the non-vegan counterpart. And as many of us know, that's simply not true.

How can you get people to want to try and embrace vegan foods when you are referring to them as fake? Nobody wants fake products when it comes to anything in life. People want the real deal, they want genuine, they want something that is good. 

Many vegan foods are replacements or alternatives for their meat counterparts, but that in no way makes them fake or not "real." It means that something else has been introduced. Dairy milk is not "real," and non-dairy or plant based milks are not fake. Plant based milks are an alternative to dairy milks (and a much better one if you ask me). The same goes for non-dairy cheeses, butters, and other vegan and plant based products. There are no fake meats or fake cheeses, there are other plant based and vegan options that are made with soy, wheat, quinoa, beans, etc. They are not fake. They are all genuine items that stand alone and should not be considered a fake counterpart to something that is genuine. There are no fake burgers, but there are veggie burgers, vegan burgers, and plant based burgers. There are no fake nuggets, but there are plant based nuggets, vegan nuggets, and veggie nuggets. There are no fake hot dogs, but there are plant based and vegan and veggie dogs.

It's not that animal based foods are the "real thing" and plant based ones are some type of impostor. Plant based foods are every bit as real, just made from different (usually better) ingredients. 

The only "fake meat" that exists that I've ever seen are toys, such as those for kids or dogs.

Calling vegan food fake or implying that animal based ones are the "real" foods is something that the meat and dairy industry does. They are probably laughing their butts off when they see vegans do it, too. Don't fall for that. Vegan food is not fake, it's different, it's another option, it's something new, and it's something better. Don't ask for a suggestion for "fake butter" or "fake sour cream." Instead, ask if someone can recommend a good non-dairy butter or non-dairy sour cream, or ask for a vegan or plant-based option. Don't refer to dairy cheese as "real," which is implying that the vegan versions are fake imposters. They are not.

Calling the food vegan or plant based has a positive association, while calling it fake has a negative one and helps to undermine the idea of vegan food being good, wholesome, and equal to or better than eating meat/dairy-based products. 

So what should you call it, rather than calling it fake meat, fake cheese, and so on? How about calling it plant based meat, plant based, etc.  There's nothing wrong with calling it a name based off of what is made from, such as wheat meat, soy meat, etc. The number one definition of "meat," according to the dictionary is: food: especially solid food as distinguished from drink, the edible part of something  from it's covering (such as a husk or shell). The number two definition of meat is flesh. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to call it plant based meat, because it meets the first definition of the word.

What we call our food matters. I first wrote about the issue of what we call our food a year ago, in the article "Please call vegan and plant based food what it is, instead of calling it animal names." 

Get information about alternatives for their meat counterparts.


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