As France bans ‘meaty’ words for vegetarians, what’s in a veggie name?

At the end of April, French lawmakers voted to place a ban on vegetarian products with ‘meaty’ names, such as vegan sausages, mock duck, veggie mince, or veggie bacon. The bill was introduced by farmer and member of the En Marche! political party, Jean-Baptiste Moreau, who considers the use of meat terminology for vegetarian foods to be “false claims”. In a tweet celebrating the acceptance of his proposed amendment to the French Agriculture Bill, Moreau claimed that the change in legislation helped consumers to “inform themselves better about their food”.

The news of France’s latest linguistic conservatism has been met with mixed reaction, with some considering the move to be unnecessary, while others feel that it will not affect the increasing popularity of vegetarian foods. Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan, Chair of the Vegetarian Society of Ireland, believes that vegetarianism has grown “exponentially” here over the last 40 years, with the effects being positive for both your waistline and your wallet.

“It’s now the norm to have veggie options all over Ireland in all sorts of eateries,” O’Sullivan believes. “Very rarely is there nothing [available], but chefs are usually obliging. It’s always best to phone in advance. Apart from any ethical issues, it’s economically sensible for restaurants to have veggie options; they’re generally cheaper.”

While the French law has sparked debate on whether or not traditionally ‘meaty’ terms can be used for non-meat products, Dr. O’Sullivan notes that some members of the vegetarian and vegan community are not fans of such terminology anyway. Instead, some vegetarians and vegans would prefer not to be reminded of meat products at all.

“There’s a big debate about this in vegetarian and vegan communities,” Dr. O’Sullivan explains. “Some people feel that the terms aren’t necessary and may be revolted by them because [they] don’t like the taste of meat at all. Others make a valid argument that if you are seeking to convert the masses, substitutes are a good way of weaning people off meat, so nomenclature is very important.”  

However, the idea of keeping meat terms for only meat is not a new trend. Last year, the European Courts of Justice ruled that soya- or tofu-based products could no longer be advertised as being milk or butter products. Due to the differences in European languages, the ruling passed in some countries without notice: countries like Ireland, Germany, and Denmark would refer to it as milk, with the latter calling it sojamilch or soyamælk respectively, while Spain simply calls it a drink; bebida de soja.

Despite the ruling affecting each country and its language differently, the European Vegetarian Union in Berlin published their official position on the change in legislation, claiming that: “‘Meaty’ names for vegetarian alternatives to meat products convey important information on what consumers can expect of a product. If meat alternatives needed to be given new, non-established names, customers would have to get information on appearance, taste, texture, preparation etc. by means of additional text and pictures on the packaging. This would – for no plausible reason – overcomplicate the purchase process for consumers and limit their ability to make their own shopping decisions.”

While the ECJ ruling also affected Ireland, it appears that the Oireachtas has no plans to follow the French government’s recent plans to ban meat terminology on vegetarian or vegan products. Even if the Irish did follow suit, Maureen O’Sullivan believes that the challenge for veggie food producers could be an interesting marketing opportunity. “If these animal foodstuff terms are banned for plant based foods”, she explains, “it could be challenging for food producers but it could well be an opportunity to rebrand, pique curiosity and increase market share.

While the vegetarians of Ireland seem to be cautiously optimistic, Irish meat producers seemed to take a plus ça change attitude: The Irish Farmers Association was contacted for comment, however no response was received at the time of publication. 

Featured Image: Pixabay / Unijewels

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