“I don’t need meat alternatives”

My fellow vegans now and then say things that I’m critical of, and this one is pretty high up in that list: “I don’t need meat alternatives. I think it’s kinda disgusting, the way those products resemble meat. Give me beans everyday!” (or something like that).


Sure, I get it, your tastes are different. I also get that you are over the desire for anything that looks or tastes like meat. Maybe you want to show how totally you don’t want to have anything to do with animal products at all, so much so that you don’t want to be around anything that resembles them.

But here’s the thing, dear meat alternative-hating vegan: it’s not about you. You are already part of team vegan. You don’t need any convincing anymore. You’ve said bye-bye to animal products (hopefully forever), and that’s just great.

So who is it about, if not you? It’s about the 99% we still have to get to jump on the vegan wagon, of course. We need to do whatever appeals to them. This is, once more, about putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and trying to imagine what they want to eat, what they want to hear, etc.

Most people like (love!) to eat animal products. But I’m sure most of them wouldn’t insist that these products come from a (dead) animal. If we can make meat, dairy, egg… alternatives look and taste exactly the same as the original & cruel thing (and can make them not more expensive, at least as healthy, more sustainable, etc), then we can potentially convince a lot of people.

So people will like products that remind them of the products they like. It’s that simple.

Well, it’s not, of course. I know there are also concerns like “imitations, meh”, and “why do those vegans want to eat stuff that tastes like meat if they don’t want to eat meat”. I would suggest not to take such arguments too seriously.

Bottom line: alternatives for animal products are awesome. If you can get by on rice and beans (or even just raw food), that’s wonderful, but don’t confuse yourself with the people we still need to reach.




Taste first!


Whether we’re talking about cooking vegan dishes for others or producing new vegan alternatives, there are always many criteria we could take into account when deciding what we’re going to serve others. We could keep in mind all kinds of environmental factors and make sure that our meal or product is entirely sustainable, organic, and so on. We can make sure all ingredients are from fair trade. We can pay a lot of attention to the health aspects, like the fat or sugar content.

The list goes on. But if you had to name just one aspect of food (apart from it being vegan) that we should take into account: what would it be?

I say it’s taste.great vegan food

Think about it: if a dish or product is healthy and sustainable and fair etc, but it tastes like crap, most people will not ever order or make it again. If, on the other hand, that same dish or product is tasty but doesn’t meet some, most or all of the other criteria, many people will have it again.

Many people come to vegan food with a lot of prejudices, the most important of which being that it won’t be as tasty as what they are used to. So that is the idea that should be countered in the first place. Personally, I’m prepared to sacrifice some of the other criteria if necessary. I may use lots of salt, sugar or fat, or sometimes even use ingredients that I know are not environmentally the best choices.

I want to get people over the treshold they are wary to cross. I want to take away their misconceptions about vegan food. The best way I can think of how to do that, is to offer them something that tastes great. Taste should be the number one priority for anyone who wants to get anyone to eat differently.

After having tasted how great vegan food can be, in many cases at least part of people’s defensiveness will crumble. Give people great tasting vegan food, and all the rest will become a lot easier.


A yummy veggieburger or a dreadful vegan burger?

For those who dig them, here’s another thought experiment (you know I love those).

Suppose you’re out and about with an omnivorous friend. He’s very hungry and he wants to humor you and try something veg. The only restaurant in the area has two things on offer: a delicious vegetarian burger (you know it contains a bit of egg or cheese) and a very dry and tasteless vegan burger. Which one do you recommend he order? (Or a bit more difficult: Which one would you buy for him?)

veggie vs vegan

In an ideal world, of course, there’s great tasting vegan burgers everywhere, but going along with this thought experiment may help you discover or make explicit something about your values. I’m sure we agree that the vegan burger is in theory the more ethical choice. But does it follow that it is necessarily the best choice?

The experiences omnivores have with vegan food will have a very big impact on their thinking about vegan and animal rights issues. Those who have had only Bad Tofu Experiences will likely be much less open to going vegan, while those who know the joys of vegan dishes may realize that once they quit their omnivorous diet, they will have great alternatives.

So in this context, of course, it does not seem to be a good idea to suggest a bad product to a person, even though it’s vegan. A yummy experience with the veggie burger (which will look pretty plant-based to your friend anyway) will do much more to open his mind.

I remember speaking at a (non-animal rights related) seminar that took place in a hotel. I had eaten there the night before and I knew the vegan food was quite bad. But after the talk I gave on the problems of eating meat, the organizers asked the audience who would want to switch to a vegetarian meal that night. Almost everybody raised their hand, and I thought: “Noooooo! Not here!”

Take away one: Helping people have great vegan taste experiences is absolutely crucial. If we can’t serve them good vegan food, it might actually be better to let them eat a hamburger.

Take away two: Don’t think just about short-term impact, but also about the long term.