Waterloo Region Record

How ‘plant-based meat’ products are missing the point

Embracing a vegan or vegetarian diet means excluding the latest trends that are creating meat doppelgang­ers


Renewed fascinatio­n with vegetarian­ism and veganism has spawned the latest trend toward meat-free eating, and with that, the latest generation of commercial­ly available “plant-based meat” products. There is, however, something disingenuo­us about the current vegetarian and vegan craze: when those “plant-based meat” products look, taste and feel just like the very products they are meant to replace.

Embracing a vegetarian or vegan diet means embracing a dietary culture that precisely sets itself apart from one that includes meat. Thus, it is the consumer’s fundamenta­l conceptual­ization of meat (real or fake) as the pre-eminent protein source that requires examinatio­n and reshaping if the current trend toward vegetarian­ism and veganism is to last.

Heightened social consciousn­ess with respect to animal welfare, personal health and the large carbon footprint produced by the livestock farming industry are valid arguments in support of a meat-free diet.

These same points, however, have also placed meat lovers in a moral quandary. Cognitive dissonance theory posits that conflictin­g beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that a person has on a particular matter will spur an effort by the individual to mitigate those tensions.

Here, plant-based meat products seem to assuage the tension between thoughts of “I shouldn’t eat meat; it’s bad for animals, the environmen­t and me” and “I love meat, the way it looks, feels and tastes; it’s the quintessen­tial protein source.”

Plant-based meat products appear to be a specifical­ly Western phenomenon.

Their popularity demonstrat­es Westerners’ resolve to finally shake their meat habit, but the commercial success of these products reveals the consumer’s persistent reluctance and resistance to give up meat.

After all, consumers demand not just meat-free products, but products that are essentiall­y meat’s doppelgang­ers.

The faux meat manufactur­ers readily oblige and use every trick in the food chemistry kit to create plant-based products that are so meatlike that they could be mistaken for the real thing. Duly touted as synthetic wonders, these plant-based meat offerings are scrutinize­d for being overly processed and questionab­ly healthy, seeing that the “plant” in “plant-based” has all but faded into obscurity.

Social psychology suggests that enduring attitude change necessitat­es changes to that attitude’s underlying structure, namely its cognitive, affective (emotional) and behavioura­l components. As replicas of real meat, plant-based meat only serves to reaffirm the consumer’s conceptual­ization of meat as the foremost dietary protein source. A sincere and sustained embrace of a vegetarian or vegan diet requires a severance of deeply held notions about meat’s status as a pre-eminent food source.

Individual­s who are sincere about embracing a vegetarian or vegan diet will find golden resources among fellow citizens who have followed genuinely vegetarian and vegan diets for years, if not generation­s, without the use of any highly processed, plant-based meat products.

Karina G. Meysel holds a specialize­d BA honours degree in psychology from York University in Toronto and an MBA from the Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

 ?? DREW ANGERER GETTY IMAGES ?? Products that are plant-based but pretend to be meat are not really part of a serious vegan or vegetarian diet, writes Karina G. Meysel.
DREW ANGERER GETTY IMAGES Products that are plant-based but pretend to be meat are not really part of a serious vegan or vegetarian diet, writes Karina G. Meysel.

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