In my last post on misconceptions about veganism, I wrote about why some vegans eat things that taste like meat. In continuation of that topic, I’ll be discussing one of the responses non-vegans have when they see vegans munching on cashew cheese or tacos filled with walnut meat.
“Vegans should come up with their own names for plant-based milk, cheese, and meat. Their vegan versions are not real.”
The first time that I took my friend to a Mediterranean restaurant, she looked at the menu completely befuddled. She’d never heard of baba ganoush, dolmas, or falafel. These things were totally new to her. To help her get an idea of what these items were, I translated based on foods she already knew. I told her that falafel are kind of like hush puppies. Are they exactly like hush puppies? No. They’re made with different spices and ingredients, but they are both round balls of dough that are deep-fried. It gave my friend an idea of what to expect.
Most vegans weren’t born vegan. Most of us were raised eating animal-based foods. We know what mozzarella tastes like and the kinds of dishes where it’s used. From descriptions of, say, wheat meat, non-dairy milk, or nut-based cheese, we get an idea of what kinds of spices or textures might be involved. It gives a frame of reference.
And when people who are new to veganism are searching for recipes, they tend to google “vegan cheese” and “vegan pepperoni.” I could call it “vegan cashew block” or “vegan spicy log,” but not as many people would find it.
What’s in a name?
While some are quick to criticize vegans for calling walnuts flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and Mexican spices nut meat, it’s not as if vegans are the only ones or the first ones to hint at appearance or texture based on names.
Peanut butter is a creamy spread. Coconut milk is a smooth liquid. The flesh inside of a coconut is called meat. Eggplant was such named because it looks like a goose or hen’s egg. Grapefruits grow in clusters like grapes, and so that’s why they have the name they do. Blood oranges have a deep reddish hue.
Is spaghetti squash an affront to wheat or rice-based noodles? When the Italians named rice-shaped pasta orzo after its likeness to barley (orzo means barley in Italian), were the barley-eating people threatened by it?
Candy corn isn’t a whole grain, jellybeans would be terrible in a burrito, and spaghetti strap dresses aren’t made with pasta. However, by drawing comparisons, people understand something about the size, shape, texture, flavor, or use of the object.
Sometimes when people give this criticism that vegans need to come up with their own names for, say, tofu chèvre or cashew cheese, there is this sense that they think the plant-based food isn’t good enough to deserve the name. It’s not valid enough, or legitimate enough, or hasn’t been around long enough. Actually, soy milk dates back to at least 25-220 A.D. The oldest written reference to tofu was written in 1500 A.D. in a poem called “Ode to Tofu.” The origins of wheat meat, also known as seitan, date somewhere between 2,000 years ago and seventh century A.D. when it was created by Buddhist monks.
Does feta taste different than chèvre? Of course. They’re both cheese, but one comes from a sheep’s milk and another comes from a goat’s. So does soy milk taste different than cow’s milk? Obviously. One is made from the milk of a bean and another from a being. But when I slather peanut butter onto toast in the morning, it would seem a silly question for someone to ask, “Is that real butter?” Yes, it’s real. I poured peanuts into my Vitamix, added a pinch of salt, flipped a switch, and blended it into creamy peanut butter. It doesn’t get more real than that.
Look, I don’t eat fake burgers. I eat bean burgers. I don’t drink faux milk. I drink cashew milk. I eat wheat meat, not analogues. (Does that sound good to anyone? Hey, mom. Pass the meat analogue and gravy, please.) If I can call it almond butter and coconut milk, and I do, I see no reason why when I’m making an artisan cashew cheese I can’t call it that too.
According to that great philosopher, The Velveteen Rabbit, things become real when you love them. It may take several spoonfuls to know for sure, but hey, why not? I’m out to prove that Rabbit right… one mouthwatering scoop of coconut milk ice cream at a time.
There’s so much more to say! Click here for the next part in this series: My Take on Fake: Sausages and Other Shapes.