By Karina G. MeyselContributor
Tues., Aug. 27, 2019timer2 min. read
Renewed fascination with vegetarianism and veganism has spawned the latest
trend toward meat-free eating, and with that, the latest generation of
commercially available “plant-based meat” products. There is, however,
something disingenuous about the current vegetarian and vegan craze, when
those “plant-based meat” products look, taste and feel just like the very
products they are meant to replace.
Embracing a vegetarian or vegan diet means embracing a dietary culture that
precisely sets itself apart from one that includes meat. Thus, it is the
consumer’s fundamental conceptualization of meat (real or fake) as the
pre-eminent protein source that requires examination and reshaping if the
current trend toward vegetarianism and veganism is to last.
Heightened social consciousness with respect to animal welfare, personal
health and the large carbon footprint produced by the livestock farming
industry are valid arguments in support of a meat-free diet. These same
points, however, have also placed meat lovers in a moral quandary.
Cognitive dissonance theory posits that conflicting beliefs, thoughts,
attitudes and behaviours that a person has on a particular matter will spur
an effort by the individual to mitigate those tensions. Here, plant-based
meat products seem to assuage the tension between thoughts of “I shouldn’t
eat meat; it’s bad for animals, the environment and me” and “I love meat,
the way it looks, feels and tastes; it’s the quintessential protein source.”
Plant-based meat products appear to be a specifically Western phenomenon.
Their popularity demonstrates Westerners’ resolve to finally shake their
meat habit, but the commercial success of these products reveals the
consumer’s persistent reluctance and resistance to give up meat. After all,
consumers demand not just meat-free products, but products that are
essentially meat’s doppelgängers.
The faux meat manufacturers readily oblige and use every trick in the food
chemistry kit to create plant-based products that are so meat-like that they
could be mistaken for the real thing. Duly touted as synthetic wonders,
these plant-based meat offerings are scrutinized for being overly processed
and questionably healthy, seeing that the “plant” in “plant-based” has all
but faded into obscurity.
Social psychology suggests that enduring attitude change necessitates
changes to that attitude’s underlying structure, namely its cognitive,
affective (emotional) and behavioural components. As replicas of real meat,
plant-based meat only serves to reaffirm the consumer’s conceptualization of
meat as the foremost dietary protein source. A sincere and sustained embrace
of a vegetarian or vegan diet requires a severance of deeply held notions
about meat’s status as a pre-eminent food source.
Individuals who are sincere about embracing a vegetarian or vegan diet will
find golden resources among fellow citizens who have followed genuinely
vegetarian and vegan diets for years, if not generations, without the use of
any highly processed, plant-based meat products.