Imagine a parallel universe, a world in which – as in our own universe – humans have for the most part been omnivorous throughout recorded history. However, there is a small but growing and increasingly vocal minority who for various reasons have committed themselves to only eating an animal-based diet. These people– let’s call them carnarians – are inclined to justify their choice on purportedly ethical grounds which may not always stand up to close scrutiny or extol the alleged health benefits of their diet despite evidence that some plant-based food might be good for them. The more outspoken of them may even be prone to lecturing others on the moral superiority of their lifestyle at the slightest provocation.
But here’s a curious thing. In this parallel world scientists have developed a potato substitute made entirely from meat which can be cut into strips and deep fried. Carnarians like to eat these with their steaks and burgers and refer to them as “carn chips” or “carn fries”. They may also have a side order of carnarian peas – little spheres of green-dyed chicken – or meat mushrooms. Perhaps they even wash it all down with a fermented animal secretion called carni-wine.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m coming from. In the real world, vegetarians have a tendency to describe plant-based dishes in terms which normally relate to animal-derived foods – veggie burgers, vegetarian sausages, vegan cheese, vegetable suet, almond milk etc. But why?
If people want to subsist on an entirely plant-based diet, I don’t have an issue with that. I’m not necessarily convinced by their arguments, but it’s their choice and it’s still (mostly) a free country. But why this compulsion to describe what they eat by reference to meat or dairy produce and even try to make it look and taste the same?
Is it because they – consciously or subconsciously – miss what they’ve chosen not to eat? It has been said that the smell of bacon is the thing most likely to cause vegetarians to waver in their convictions. Incidentally, I’ve never heard of “vegetarian bacon”; perhaps it would be too much of a temptation to return to the real thing.
Are they perhaps hoping by using these terms to persuade us carnivores to try the ersatz version? If so, it won’t work on me.
I read recently about a restaurant which claims to have produced the ultimate veggie burger. After hundreds of hours of research and experimentation they came up with a plant-based recipe which tastes exactly like – a Big Mac. Seriously! All that trouble to make a concoction of vegetables which were probably not unpleasant in their natural state taste like a mass-produced blob of mechanically recovered meat? I shake my head in bewilderment. Now if they’d managed to make it taste like a gourmet burger made from prime Wagyu beef, I might be prepared to give it a go but I rather doubt that would be possible.
And today my weekly email of recipe suggestions from OddBox* pointed me to a recipe for stuffed peppers. Of course, I have my own ideas for stuffing peppers, including wild rice and baby squid with the tentacles arranged like the Alien bursting forth from the hapless astronaut’s belly, but this was clearly a veggie recipe and specified vegan cheese. I must admit I’ve never tried vegan cheese. I would accept a morsel if offered it, if only to confirm my suspicions and because I’ve always poured scorn on those who claim to dislike a food without having tasted it, but I really can’t imagine it having the intense nutty flavour of a mature farmhouse Cheddar or the piquancy (let alone the variable texture) of a good Gorgonzola or the pungency of a ripe Epoisses.
Why try to turn food into something it’s not? I just don’t get it.
* In case you’ve never heard of OddBox, they’re a food rescue operation who supply their subscribers with weekly deliveries of fruit and vegetables which would otherwise go to waste due to cosmetic “defects” or over-production.