I’m continuing my series on misconceptions around veganism with this post on the perceived domain of animal-based patties, sausages, and other shapes. (You can check out the other previous posts in the series here and here.) Today’s misconception comes from those who ask the question…
Why don’t you just eat fruits and vegetables? If you’re going to be vegan, you shouldn’t eat things that look or taste like meat, dairy, or eggs.
Whether it’s based on shape or flavor, there’s this really interesting, oddly hostile reaction that some people have to the idea that vegans would eat a food that emulates meat. It seems like they think vegans are getting away with something. It’s as if they feel if vegans are going to draw a line in the sand, they need to stay firmly on their side of it.
It’s a funny reaction to me, because clearly seitan (made of flour) is not meat. Tofu that has been frozen and thawed, while chewy, is not meat. And tempeh (made of whole soybeans) is not meat either. In my mind I think of these same naysayers going to Disneyland and seeing kids riding on Autopia. I can imagine them standing out front getting angry at the parents…
“Hey, you SAY that you don’t want 4-year-olds to drive, and then you take them here and put them behind the wheel! Which is it? Should toddlers drive or shouldn’t they?”
Similarly, when I eat Field Roast sausages or smoky Soy Curls, they may have a toothsome bite or a smoky flavor. They may be slathered in mustard or adorned with diced onions, but they’re not the meat-based relics from my youth. They come from plant foods. Now, Field Roast sausages and other things of that ilk are not the base of my diet or even something I necessarily eat every week. To some degree, they’re a novelty. But like I wrote in my last post, I don’t think I’m breaking any vegan rules by eating them, or drinking cashew milk, or having tofu satay instead of satay made with chicken parts.
(Just to be on the safe side, I should also let you know that when I wear the cotton, cheetah-print dress in my closet, I’m not wishing I was Wilma Flintstone with pearl-shaped rocks around my neck. I’m not covering up a secret desire to kill and skin a cheetah to adorn by body. The dress is a novelty and a bit of fun. Don’t worry kitties. I’m not coming for you.)
Some people even go so far as to say that vegetarians shouldn’t eat things in the shape of burgers, sausages, and cutlets.
On that note, I have a story…
Come back with me, if you will, to spring break 1997, the one year during my college life when I went on a beach vacation. That March I road tripped to Florida with a group of friends. We had the amount of disposable income that most college students do – which is to say, not much.
So I remember vividly one balmy night when we went to restaurant on the coast for dinner. I was a meat eater then. Being from a very landlocked state, I’d only eaten a lobster one other time in my life when our high school drama teacher had taken us out for a fancy, celebratory dinner after a big win, and I’d ordered a lobster’s tail. At this beachside restaurant, there was also lobster on the menu, and my thin wallet could hardly believe it was a mere six dollars for a whole lobster.
When the lobster was brought to the table, I noticed the diminutive size. The lobster was about the size of a small dinner plate, and he had his head still attached – eyes, antennae, and all. I felt uncomfortable, not knowing how to break into his body, unsure what parts I should eat, and not wanting the lobster’s beady eyes looking at me while I ate. As I wondered how to begin this “dissection,” the only person who was having a tougher time with it was my then-boyfriend (who was and is a meat eater, by the way) who was sitting next to me. When he noticed that the lobster’s antennae was brushed against my arm, my ex gasped with horror, “He’s touching you! He’s touching you!”
I still have a picture from that dinner somewhere amongst my old photos in the basement, and it’s very strange to think about now. The period of my life when I ate animals seems like a lifetime ago, almost as if I dreamed it.
So when a non-vegan friend of mine who recently went on a tropical vacation was recounting his trip, I wasn’t surprised when he mentioned that he also is uncomfortable eating animals who look like their former selves – i.e. a whole lobster, a fish with his head still attached, escargot…
I think there are plenty of people who feel that way – uncomfortable by being made too aware of the animal who their dinner used to be. Even when he used to eat animals, my husband felt uncomfortable watching people crack into crabs’ legs, and when I was buying meat at the butcher counter, I hated seeing plastic-wrapped packages with cows’ tongues, pigs’ ears, and chickens’ feet. It creeped me out to see brain on a menu. I have a friend who eats animals but doesn’t like eating any meat off of a bone and another who doesn’t want to eat meat that is called the same name as the animal like turkey or chicken.
“I remember an omnivore friend declaring her disgust at vegan/vegetarians who tried to make their food into shapes like burgers instead of just eating beans and rice and veggies. This was long before commercial products were easily available. At first, I felt embarrassed and ashamed for all the bean-burgers I’d made, but then I had a change of heart and asked, Why do meat-eaters make their food into burgers and loaves? Why not just eat the meat in a slab on a plate? A burger is just a shape, I told her, that fits handily into a bun. Why shouldn’t vegans/vegetarians be able to shape their food like omnivores can? She had no answer, but looked angry and confused.”
Like Andrea said, patties and sausages are just shapes. Whether it be made of wheat or soy, black beans or chickpeas, putting plant-based foods in the form of circles and cylinders doesn’t mean anything more than sometimes it’s fun to eat something with bread and ketchup.
Furthermore, chickens aren’t shaped as nuggets or fingers. Cows aren’t shaped as burgers. For that matter, pigs aren’t even shaped as chops. People cut down animals in all kinds of ways or form their ground up bodies into round shapes, flat shapes, and cylindrical spheres. It’s interesting that the same accusation that is made towards vegetarians and vegans eating plant-based foods in the shape of hot dogs or burgers could also be asked of meat eaters eating meat outside of its original form. Like the college student avoiding the beady-eyed stare of a dead crustacean on a dinner plate, who really would rather not be reminded of who their food used to be?
This series on misconceptions continues here with: Would You Still Be Vegan If You Were Stranded On A Desert Island?