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.


Is Ben and Jerry’s vegan icecream “veganwashing”?

Ben & Jerry’s recent announcement that they would soon be offering a vegan ice cream flavor has been cheered by many. Inevitably, however, they were the few dissident voices claiming that this was not a victory for the animals at all.


Ben & Jerry’s, so these people claim, made this move purely for profit. It’s a commercial decision, not a moral one. It has nothing to do with the ethics of animal rights, but is pure consumerism. It is even veganwashing.

Well duh. Of course profit is what drove the decision to offer vegan ice cream. Does it matter? Not so much.

I’m all in favor of erasing all the injustices of capitalism and creating a much fairer and more equal society (with or without capitalism). Yet I’m happy that today, for the first time in history, commercial interests finally can drive vegan product innovation. It means not just that there is a sizeable market, but it is also the way to get these companies on our side. It is the only way businesses invested in animal (ab)use will stop being an enemy to our cause: when they find out they can make money with the alternatives, and, as demand grows, replace more and more of the old with the new.

Does it matter that all of this is not ethically motivated? Hardly. I’m repeating it ad nauseam on this blog, but behavior (selling or buying vegan icecream) can precede attitude change (believing in animal rights etc).* It is extremely important to have vegan options out there: it’s important for businesses to sell them, and for people to buy them.

Is a vegan Ben & Jerry icecream flavor a reason to celebrate? Given the sometimes abundant negativity in our movement, I would say that we’d better celebrate too much than too little. Is it a reason to congratulate Ben & Jerry’s? Why not? Sure, they are still using the milk of thousands of cows, but the more we let them hear from us, the more they know we value what they’ve done. Not that Ben & Jerry should become complacent, but congratulations encourage, and create more goodwill than criticism.

So I’d say, go get a vegan Ben & Jerry icecream (if you’re somewhere where you can find it), and have a little faith in people. A vegan portion of Ben & Jerry’s may be just what they need to open their hearts and minds for the plight of animals.

* if you want to find out more, read this chapter from Meyers’ Psychology