A burger is a burger… or is it?

So post Batali et al scandals, some of the “big” news in the food media world is that France has decided to ban the use of “meat-like terms for vegetarian food“, meaning you can’t call a vegan/vegetarian thing posing as a sausage or burger a “sausage” or a “burger”. Milk, too, will only be called by its name when it comes from a cow (or, presumably some other animal whose milk some of us humans favour, like a goat or a …?), rather than that from an almond, oat, or bloody soya bean, hipsters be damned.

Naturally, the vox pop have been upset by this. Indeed, speaking for the general public, ‘Wendy Higgins, of Humane Society International, said:

“It’s a shame that instead of embracing vegan and vegetarian food, France has adopted a position of defensive paranoia. But ultimately it won’t stop the rise of compassionate eating because the delicious, nutritious, Earth-friendly and ethical benefits will prevail regardless of what you call the products.”

Well, thank god the legislation is apparently only intended to “fight against false claims“, rather than *actually* killing the embrace of vegan and vegetarian food, which would frankly be super anti-social in this day and age. Although, as the headline above states, “a high intake of fruit and vegetables … carry elevated risks of cancer and mental health problems” (my emphases).

Confused by the actual issue here? Don’t worry; me too. There are several – and no *actual* – issues here. The one is about language: I’m all for not calling a (non-)bloody vegan sausage a sausage, because a sausage it ain’t. People will also spend unnecessary time debating whether a (plant-based) “Impossible Burger” is actually a burger, but that goes into the frankly silly domain of whether a hotdog is a sandwich or not (clearly it’s not). A vegan thingy shaped like a sausage is not a sausage. A burger-shaped thing made of soya, beetroot, flax-seeds etc. is no more a burger than a KFC Zinger is. Words matter, people.

But what matters more is bullshit science, like the above-cited study, which reports the findings of one “controversial” investigation involving a paltry (= statistically insignificant) number of subjects (1320), who also had a number of confounding lifestyle factors, like drinking and smoking less, and being more physically active, but which still found that vegetarian/vegans are less “healthy” (ie. more likely to DIE) than their meat-eating counterparts.

And from a reporting – or *journalistic*- perspective, for an article reporting on the French government ruling against using words like “burger” and “sausage” to describe foodstuffs made from non-meat stuff, and all the backlash against that (cf. “defensive paranoia” against “compassionate eating”), to include a negligible study of how the vegetarian/vegan diet may actually be more harmful is the kind of thing that could easily get pundits on either side riled up about The Independent being on the payroll of “Big French Meat” (which perhaps they are!), and therefore biased against “Big French Veganism”. Yet the (thankfully short, because who ever gets beyond paragraph 19 of anything?) concludes that “The French have long been highly protective of their language, with the Academie Francaise acting as the ultimate authority”. In short, these are people more worried about how well you conjugate your verbs than how many veggies you eat or cigarettes you smoke.

But throw in some contradictory nonsense about whether broccoli and soya “sausages” are good for you or will kill you in the long run, and no wonder everyone’s confused about what to eat.