The World Vegan Day held today, is expected to be cheerful than ever. That is because optimism among the vegan community is probably stronger than ever before, and for three main reasons.
The first one is that after decades of contempt, arrogance and disinterest, during the last several years, the fogyish medical establishment is showing a relative openness and readiness towards veganism. Secondly, similarly to the health establishment, after decades of almost total disregard for veganism, the environmental movement finally tags along, mainly as a result of the unignorable connection between factory farms and climate change. And thirdly, in the last couple of years, the variety and availability of vegan products, especially ones who try to directly substitute animal derived products, is outstanding.
However, there are worrying aspects to each of these factors.
A couple of months ago we have addressed the less encouraging and actually worrying aspects of the change among the health establishment, which might end up increasing the number of individuals whose lives are suffering from birth to death, and in the previous Earth Day we have dealt with the less encouraging and very worrying aspects of the change among the environmental movement, which also might end up increasing the number of individuals whose lives are suffering from birth to death, as well as increasing the suffering of each victim.
Here we focus on a worrying aspect of the abundance of plant based products that look, cook, and taste like animals’ flesh.
The connection between animal consumption and health issues, and the connection between animal exploitation and environmental harms (especially climate change which is supposed to ‘change everything’), should have made many more humans consider much more seriously going vegan, not just to omit meat from their diet on Mondays.
While some may argue that health concerns are not a strong enough motivation for most people compared with their desire for immediate satisfaction, and that environmental concerns, which most ignore their present effect and falsely consider them as problems they would never personally be affected by, definitely lose to immediate satisfaction, nowadays, with plant-based burgers that look, cook, and satisfy like beef, and with plant-based sausages that look, sizzle and satisfy like pork, and even plant-based ground meat to deliver on the versatility, meaty texture and juiciness of ground beef, which all can be found in the meat aisle (so the poor flesh eaters won’t have to go to health food stores or the health section in the supermarket), humans don’t even have to “sacrifice” their option for immediate satisfaction. Yet, most are still choosing the animal based option.
The fact that the list of excuses to consume animal products is getting shorter and shorter, and that the list of reasons to go vegan is getting longer and longer, yet veganism is still a very marginal phenomenon, is very worrying. If some could have said in the past that the problem with veganism is that people feel that they have nothing to eat (wrongfully obviously), and that they don’t want to eat leaves, tofu and nuts all day, every day, if we ignore for the sake of the argument that that’s not what vegans used to eat, and of how cruel and speciesist it is to support animal abuse just because humans don’t want to eat leaves, tofu and nuts every day, nowadays these claims can’t be made anymore. In many places around the world, especially western countries, vegan culinary is so developed that it’s sometimes literally impossible to tell apart the plant based foods from ones made of the carcasses or bodily fluids of animals, yet veganism is still a marginal phenomenon.
Some activists have decided to give up on turning to humans’ moral fiber and appeal to their taste buds instead, believing that the best way to get humans to eat less animals is by giving them what they want, meaning juicy delicious burgers, sausages, ground “meat”, and more, without the exploitation. Never before did humans need “to give up” so little in order to not actively support industrial animal abuse, but still, the utterly vast majority maintain their violent and oppressive habits, perhaps except for switching one meal one Mondays.
Not the enormous food waste, not the enormous water waste, not the enormous pollution, not climate change, not obesity, not diabetes, and not the risk of a heart attack or cancer, and now not even when it is the same product with the same look, texture and taste, have made veganism mainstream. Some think it did, but they are confusing not even knowing what veganism is with it being mainstream. Nowadays everybody knows what veganism is and many even know a vegan personally, but mainstream doesn’t mean that in every large city there would be at least one vegan restaurant, but that in every large city there would be a few non-vegan restaurants since the rest are. Mainstream veganism means that animal products are marginal, not still the absolute majority in every supermarket everywhere in the world.
When mostly exposed to vegan news and other vegan people, it is easy for ethical vegans to forget how life is outside the vegan bubble. To be disillusionized and realize how horrible things still are, vegans must every once in a while take a different route than the one their vegan app planed for them, and walk in highstreets looking straight at the stores. Then they would realize how many people are eating so many animals in so many places.
Vegans are drawing encouragement from every new vegan course which appears in every restaurant, and every new vegan product which appears in every supermarket, and though indeed very positive, activists must remember that their goal is not turning family meals or daily shopping easier for vegans, but turning the whole world vegan. Meanwhile, despite that the cruel products humans like so much, are available nowadays in a non-cruel version, the vast majority still choose cruelty. More and more don’t, but their share is still marginal, certainly compared with the expectation, since if it was truly a matter of taste, now that humans can have their favorite food made with no animal flesh, there shouldn’t be any dilemma. And for most indeed there isn’t. They want animals’ flesh.
An ethical vegan must wonder what more could non-vegans ask for? They now have burgers, cheese, pizza, sausages, ice-cream and even “chicken” nuggets, omelets and “turkey”, all amazingly similar to their animal based version. But all these options mainly function as peacemakers among families and friends who can have dinners together without anyone “sacrificing” anything. Of course, anyone besides the billions of animals who are still born into a life of nothing but suffering, because non-vegans insist on consuming their flesh in every other meal.
Obviously the more similar plant based products would be to animal based ones, the more humans would consume them, but the problem was never merely the taste. Evidently, many humans who have smugly stated in the past that veggie burgers are disgusting, have never tasted, smelled or even saw one. Blindfold taste tests have proven decades ago that most humans can’t even tell the difference between animal based and plant based products, not to mention find the later disgusting. And that proves that in many senses, humans are eating symbols, not food.
Every new plant based product that successfully imitates an animal derived one, doesn’t prove that there is no culinary need for any animal based product, but the opposite. It is not by chance that the most popular plant based burgers are also the ones who “bleed”. And it is not by chance that many humans want their food to bleed, or that they find plant based “meat” products disgusting before they have tasted, smelled or seen them. It is the symbol attached to these products that disgust them, and it is the symbol attached to animals’ flesh that attracts many of them.
Meat is not a mere gastronomical preference and food in general is definitely not a mere energy source. It is deeply imprinted in human society and culture, so just asking humans to switch the animal derived raw materials of their food to a plant based one, even if it has the same look, texture and of course taste, for many it is not enough.
If eating meat was only a preferable energy source, then it would have been much easier to convince humans to simply change it, especially once there are culinary equivalent options. But no matter how many times vegans are telling humans that converting their diets into a vegan one is only a raw-material swap, clearly it is not at all just that. It is a much more profound and deep step, for most a self-determination one. Veganism is not a raw-material swap since food is not fuel. Humans eat for great many reasons, for reasons of community, rituals, family, expressing their identity by eating that and not this, and of course for pleasure.
For billions of humans food is comfort, a gesture, entertainment, an enemy, a profession, a hobby, a weapon, it can break barriers, it takes so much TV screen time and so much space on book stores shelves, it defines cultures, and in many cases the last mean of mothers to get in touch with their children. It involves so many taboos and determinations of who belongs to the group and who does not, it unifies and distinguishes between ethnic groups and cultures. Unfortunately food is much more than taste and nutrition.
And meat particularly, is very unique among foods. Meat has been and still is very highly valued by humans all along history, by almost every single culture. Meat’s value is incomparable to any other food, and in no proportion to its nutritional significance, therefore, in his book Meat: A Natural Symbol the anthropologist Nick Fiddes suggests that this special status of meat results from the fact that it embodies humans’ dominance over nature and the other animals. Animals symbolize power and nature, and so eating other animals is the ultimate symbol of humans’ power, of their superiority over other animals, and their triumph over nature.
Meat is a dominance and power symbol and humans take pleasure in the power and the predominance, as well as in the taste. Obviously nowadays they can get the same taste from equivalent plant based products, and they can most definitely get the required nutrients from other sources, but the social aspects of meat eating are much stronger and much more significant than its nutritional values, and even its taste.
Meat’s symbolism is far from being the only reason humans eat meat, but it is definitely a significant one, and so it is highly important to acknowledge it.
Plant based “alternatives” are on the market for years now. The most selfish, cruelest and despicable excuse non-vegans are using – nothing tastes like the real thing – should have already been defeated, since some plant based products do look, feel, cook and taste like meat. But it is not happening.
It is very positive that there are plant based products in regular supermarkets, and it is encouraging in the sense that they have not been there up until recently and now there are plenty. Notwithstanding, despite that all these vegan options are available in many places, they are still surrounded by non-vegans ones. So activists can be encouraged and draw optimism from the fact that there are plant based burgers along with flesh burgers in the meat aisles, but in the same breath they must ask why the hell are there still flesh burgers when there are equivalently tasty plant based burgers right next to them? How careless to other sentient beings’ suffering must someone be to still choose the flesh burgers? There is nothing encouraging about the fact that humans choose again and again the cruel options over the amazing variety of the vegan ones.
How apathetic must humans be to enter Burger King or McDonalds, see the veggie burger option, and order the one who was made with fear, pain, agony, boredom and despair.
The fact that more or less the following scene: “Hello, can I interest you with our new veggie burger?”
“No I’d rather have the one with the chronic pain, constant stress, learned helplessness, and brutal murder please”, is repeated thousands of times a day in the last couple of months, is no reason for optimism.
How merciless must humans be to insist on cruelty, in general, and all the more so now that most can go with their family or friends to their favorite fast food restaurant and order the burgers they love so much only without the abuse.
The problem is not that humanity has so far failed to produce plant based food which is as tasteful as animal based food, the problem is humanity.
The fact that humans have never had to “give up” less than they do now thanks to the abundant plant based products, which are amazingly identical to animal based products, but they still choose the violent versions, is a reason for worry not a cause for celebration.
When humans run out of excuses to why they don’t stop consuming animal based products but they still do, activists run out of excuses to why they still insist on trying to convince them to stop instead of making them stop.