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Words Change, Meanings Evolve, but Meat and Milk Companies Think Customers are Stupid


You’ve probably heard by now that France banned the use of meat-like terms in packaging for vegetarian food. Yes, that’s right. “Food producers in France,” as reported by the Independent, “will be forced to think of new ways to describe some of their vegetarian and vegan foods when they are banned from using terms such as ‘vegetarian sausages and ‘vegan bacon.’ French MPs have voted to outlaw use of such vocabulary, claiming they mislead shoppers.

Firms will no longer be able to use ‘burger,’  ‘steak’, ‘sausage’ or ‘fillet’ to describe foods that have no meat in them, such as ‘ham’ slices or ‘chicken’ pies that are made of soya or wheat. The ban on such vocabulary will also apply to dairy alternatives.”

I recently shared my response to the Economist magazine’s article about “The Vegetarian Butcher,” Jaap Korteweg, a ninth-generation farmer who wants “to become the biggest butcher in the world without ever slaughtering an animal.” As a result, some Dutch politicians called for a ban on meat names for products that contained no animal protein, and “the country’s food authority asked The Vegetarian Butcher to rename misleading products...because it might confuse consumers.

Dutch media termed the episode ‘Schnitzelgate’ after a similar situation in Germany, whose minister for agriculture said that ‘meaty names’ such as ‘schnitzel’ and ‘wurst’ should only be legal for animal-based products.”

And of course we’re familiar with such shenanigans in the United States as the dairy lobby uses the Dairy Pride Act to try and outlaw the use of such words as “milk,” “ice cream,” “butter,” and “yogurt” from products made from non-dairy sources. I’d like to see them tell a lactating woman she has to refer to her “breast beverage” because the dairy industry “owns” the word milk or that peanut butter companies have to devise a new name for this favorite food.

The movement toward banning “meat,” “milk,” and other descriptors from plant-based versions simply demonstrates how threatened companies and governments are by the success of these products. Instead of hopping on the cruelty-free bandwagon, they’re attempting to hinder their growth in the marketplace. (It won’t work.)

Meanings evolve, words change, context matters, and consumers aren’t stupid. They know a veggie version from an animal-based one and in fact, they’re choosing the former over the latter precisely because it’s animal-free. No one who orders a veggie burger, drinks almond milk, or eats cashew cheese is being duped. But associations with the names of familiar animal-based meats and milks help create their gustatory expectations.

More than that, the etymology of these words reveal that they have less to do with the animals than we think: schnitzel comes from a Proto-Germanic root meaning “to cut, slice”; wurst comes from a Proto-Germanic root meaning “to mix up”; sausage comes from the Latin word for “salted”; in English, the original meaning of word meat was “food in general” — and we still use that meaning today in sweetmeat, coconut meat, and the meat of a nut.

The word underwent the same evolution in French. The word viande (“meat”) also originally meant food in general — not simply the flesh of animals for consumption. That word became narrowed over time, but its root vivere remains, meaning “to live.” In its current usage referring to a dismembered body part of a dead animal, however, viande certainly represents anything but life.

Language is not simply a means of communication. It represents and reinforces the attitudes of our culture; it informs and gives social credit to our thoughts, rhetoric, and actions; and it masks, justifies, or dulls our ethical red flags. In fact, I would argue that the words the meat, dairy, and egg industries currently rely on to market and sell their products are really the ones that dupe consumers. The euphemisms they use to hock their wares disguise the violence inherent in bringing animals into this world only to kill them. Even the very use of the words pork, bacon, poultry, beef, burger, and steak conceals the presence of the once-living animals.

Perhaps instead of banning such qualifiers as “veggie,” “vegetarian,” and “vegan,” they should add “pig,” “piglet,” “sow,” “cow,” “calf,” “steer,” “bird,” or even “animal” as qualifiers on their own products. “Cashew milk” could then compete fairly with “calf’s milk,” and “veggie burger” would be on the same playing field as “cow burger.” 

If they’re really so worried about “duping” or “confusing consumers,” they would stop referring to their production practices in euphemistic terms. The egg and chicken industries would stop referring to the burning or cutting off of the tips of birds’ beaks without anaesthesia as “beak conditioning.” They would stop referring to the amputation of the tips of birds’ toes without anaesthesia as “toe clipping” or “toe conditioning.” The dairy industry would stop calling  the cutting off of cows’ tails without anesthesia “tail trimming.” The pork industry would stop referring to the pens they confine pregnant pigs in as “maternity pens” or “individual gestation accommodations.” And instead of referring to their practice of killing piglets by slamming their heads against floors or walls, as “blunt force trauma,” they would call it what it is. 

The animal exploitation industries and the politicians who rely on the deep pockets of the animal agriculture industry know that words matter, which is precisely why they work so hard to conceal the reality of their practices and products from the public. 

The attempt to control the words used by plant-based companies — words that are already part of the public’s vernacular — is a desperate and short-sighted ploy to save a dying paradigm. Animal-based meat, dairy, and egg companies are fighting a losing battle and missing a golden opportunity to  give customers what they want: animal-free versions that provide the fat, salt, flavor, familiarity, and texture without the cruelty. 

Instead of trying to change words, they could be part of changing the future.

__________________________

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an author, speaker, podcaster, and host of Animalogy, a podcast about the animal-related words and expressions we use every day

(Listen to the numerous podcast episodes I have on the naming of meats and milks as well as the word “butcher.” Some are part of Animalogy podcast; some are part of Food for Thought.)

FAQ

Each cooking class is fully interactive. While I am demonstrating, you can chime in with comments, questions, and ooohs and ahhhs the entire time. Not only does this increase connection among the students, both my assistant and I see your questions and make sure we answer all of them.
You can participate in the class using Zoom on your computer, tablet or mobile device.
Upon completing your registration, you receive your confirmation email, which includes the link to our Zoom class, along with information and recipes. Each class is officially a go once a minimum number of slots are filled — at which time the recipes appear on the document. My goal is to have the recipes available to you at least 5 days before the class to give you enough time to order / shop for ingredients, should you choose to cook along.
While I love to see the faces of my students, the use of video during the live class is optional. NOTE: Even if you opt to show your video, for the class recordings, which go out to the general public as on-demand classes, NO ONE'S video is shown except for mine.
We do our best to prepare you in advance so you are ready for when the class begins. If you have issues during the class, my assistant is there to help you. Sometimes it's an issue on the user side, and when there's an issue on my side, we do our best to mitigate it right away. One of the benefits of live classes is that they're in real time, which means it's a live feed. Sometimes technical issues are out of our control, but so far, we've never had any real issues that took away from the purpose of the class.
Absolutely! Unless something goes horribly wrong (and it rarely does), each class is recorded, and students receive the class recording within 2 days of the live class.
While I do send a reminder email out a couple days before our class, I encourage you to add the class to your calendar as soon as you register.
Some students love being able to cook along; some students love to just watch. It is entirely up to you how you want to enjoy the class.
You can decide in advance which dishes you want to cook along with. You might choose to cook along for just one of the dishes or all of them. Whatever you decide, I suggest you have your mise en place all ready. That is to say, have all the ingredients measured and prepped as much as possible. (Mise en place is a French culinary phrase meaning "everything in its place.”)
Ultimately, what we take away is based on what we give, so I encourage you to be present and engaged in the class. But, for my part, if you know me, you know I'm pretty passionate about many things, and I can’t help bringing my love of food, history, language, animals, film, literature, and food lore to each class. My aim is that you walk away with a richer understanding of food, cooking, and eating than before you arrived. More than that, you will get helpful step-by-step instructions about each dish I'm demonstrating and a clear up-close view of all the ingredients and procedures. The best part is that I, too, make mistakes, and you see me make them live in real time. That's how we learn the most.
I'm thrilled to say that many students are regulars and repeats, and you will no doubt get to know some fabulous people when you attend these classes. I encourage engagement and follow-up, including posting photos, questions, and comments on our private Facebook page. Many friends and family members join from different cities, then share a virtual meal with each other once the class is over. (That makes my heart sing.) So, yes, despite being online the classes foster connection.
I have found that 60 minutes is the ideal amount of time to spend in a virtual class. Sometimes we stick around a little longer to finish something up or to enjoy a bonus cocktail by our resident mixologist (my adorable husband), but we like to honor your time and keep the classes to 60 minutes. (Some special / holiday classes are scheduled for 90 minutes, but they’re the exception.) If we go over and you need to drop off, you can always view the video later.
Absolutely! Once you are registered and the class is a go, you are officially enrolled. That means the recipes, resources, video recording, and even the chat transcript are yours to enjoy. You will receive a follow-up email whether you are in the live class or not.
Because the value of the classes includes exclusive recipes and resources as well as the live class / video recording, once a class is officially a go and you get access to the recipes, you cannot be refunded. However, if the class does not meet the minimum sign-up threshold and I cancel the class, you have the option of getting a full refund or switching to a different class. (This is one of the reasons I don't share the recipes until I know we've reached the minimum threshold.)
After the live class is over and enjoyed by students in real time, each class gets converted into an on-demand class so that others may enjoy the recipes, resources, and video recording. Most live classes become on-demand classes within 2 days.
No animal products are ever used in my recipes, so yes, all the classes are vegan / plant-based, which means nothing that comes out of or off of an animal. I've written three cookbooks (The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table, and Color Me Vegan), and two lifestyle books (Vegan’s Daily Companion and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge), which also include recipes. I'm also always testing and developing new recipes (as well as modifying and perfecting old ones) to make sure students get the best, clearest, easiest-to-follow recipes — qualities that have become trademark in my work.
While living compassionately and consciously is not about being perfect, and while some students may not have access to the same bulk stores and package-free ingredients as me, I make an effort in my classes to use (and promote) as little packaging and plastic as possible, which is why so many of my recipes and menus are for how to cook and bake homemade and from-scratch!
My classes span a huge range, and your suggestions are always welcome: *Different types of cuisines (Italian, Thai, Asian, Mexican, etc.) *Particular ways of cooking and eating (Quick & Easy, Oil-free, By Color/Phytochemicals, ) *Cooking with specific appliances (Air-Fryer, Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker / Crockpot, etc.) *Homemade from scratch (Seitan, Tempeh, Tofu, Miso, Nut Cheeses, Nut Butters, etc.) *Various holidays and seasons (Mother’s Day, Easter, Passover, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Summer, Fall, etc.) *Focused on meals (Packed Lunches, Breakfast, Brunch, Fancy Dinner, Quick Dinner, etc.) *Cooking with specific foods/ ingredients (Aquafaba, Beans, Spices & Herbs, Greens, Lentils, Grains, etc. *Baking from scratch (Pizza Dough, Breads, Pretzels, Bagels, and Biscuits, Cakes, Pies, Cobblers, etc.) *And everything in between.
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