meat free supermarket aisle vegan veggie vegetarian plantbased

Source: Getty Images

It was France, home of the fabled chefs Antonin Carême and Auguste Escoffier, that gave us the foundation of modern European cooking. The classic ‘fonds de cuisine’, where soups, sauces, and braises are predicated on flavourful stocks, made by lengthy simmering and reduction of bony meat, poultry, or fishy carapace, with aromatic vegetables and herbs.

So it is fitting that this nation, with its profound understanding of the flavour properties of ingredients and a culture that actively defends its food heritage, has called time on the misuse of meaty terms to describe plant-based concoctions.

In three months’ time, France will follow South Africa and Italy in banning the use of ‘meaty’ terminology to describe plant-based imitations of the real thing. Descriptions like meatless ‘jambon’, plant-based ‘biftek’, vegan ‘escalope’ and ‘filet’ will trigger fines of up to €7,500.

Companies selling meat substitutes deploy umami flavourings in a futile attempt to recreate the distinctive tastes animal foods yield, but only the most obsessive vegans are persuaded. You can boil up tofu ‘steaks’ and veggie ‘burgers’ for as long as you like, but you’ll only end up with a foul gloop.

UK regulators’ laissez-faire approach to the labelling of meat alternatives allows some hilariously faux products on our shelves, as convincing as those prankster plastic fried eggs you see in joke shops. Perhaps because these analogues look so blatantly unreal, Trading Standards officers don’t believe anyone is being fooled.

Globally, the financials of the plant-based meat sector look grim. Take one-time market leader Beyond Meat. Last year, every $1 of product it sold cost $1.78 to make. A decade in business and it has never made a profit. Losses of $1bn loom on its balance sheet.

Plant-based meat purveyors still try to stall labelling restrictions because they present them with an insoluble marketing dilemma. How on earth can it describe its products without linguistic sleight of hand?

‘Veggie slices’, ‘vegan strips’, no-meat ‘choppies’, ‘tofu tucker’? Such appellations do not make the gastric juices flow.

Indeed they simply underline just how hard it is to build sales for a composition of ultra-processed ingredients when you can’t allude to the honest, well-understood eating qualities of real meat.