The French barely tolerate vegetarians, let alone vegans.
I once made the mistake of ordering the vegetarian option on Air France. It consisted of cold couscous, bread sticks, crudités, and fruit juice, while my omnivore neighbours were served paté, chicken fricassée, camembert, and chocolate mousse, all washed down with wine.
The assumption seemed to be that anyone who chose vegetarian was a hairshirt member of a temperance sect, so it served you right if you starved.
And a sure recipe for being mocked as a stupid tourist in any Parisian brasserie of note has always been to request vegetarian alternatives to classics, like a juicy bavette d’aloyau steak, or choucroute garnished with ham knuckle and sausages.
True to form, the French are leading the rebellion against the vegan movement’s appropriation of language. From October, France will ban the use of words like ‘steak’, ‘bacon’ or ‘sausage’ to describe plant-based imitations.
With the exception of the term ‘burger’, which remains a linguistic free for all, France will no longer permit the use of ‘sector-specific terminology traditionally associated with meat and fish to designate products that do not belong to the animal world and which, in essence, are not comparable’.
French food industry bodies want this ban made EU-wide. Tags such as ‘butter’, ‘milk’, and ‘cheese’ are already protected in EU law and cannot be applied to plant-based products.
The nomenclature of plant-based is certainly tricky, and calls for both imagination and ingenuity. Unless a company adopts the feel-good, reassuring connotations from the relevant animal-source word, it faces a major description problem.
A typical supermarket plant-based ‘Cumberland-style banger’, whose first ingredient by weight is water, is an amalgam of ultra-processed protein powders, gums, starches, thickeners, flavourings and colourings.
How, exactly, do you refer to such a concoction if you can’t lazily encapsulate it in one commonly understood meaty term? I bet the French could come up with some suggestions, but they’d be too rude to print.