Stealing food definitions

Today’s world is a polarized one.

In so many situations, so many contexts, we are expected to pick a side. We may not even know much about the subject matter, but we feel compelled to choose a position.

This week, I’m going to offer my two cents on a subject that is dear to me. I’m going a bit long today, but I hope you’ll bear with me; it’s for a good cause.

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against anyone with a different philosophy than mine. If you have a rationale to offer, I’d like to hear it.

Although this is a bit of a rant, much of my desire to share is an effort to start a conversation. I believe the best way to get away from all this polarization is to understand the whole story from all sides.

You’ve heard of cultural appropriation? It is defined as the adoption of elements of a certain culture by another culture, often one that has a more dominant position or has oppressed that certain culture through history.

It differs from cultural exchange or appreciation, where there is generally a mutual respect and understanding of the culture’s history.

My concern is not about culture per se, but rather food. My beef, if you’ll pardon the pun, is with the new terms being bandied about for new kinds of food that bear no resemblance to the original food with the same name.

How is it OK for a substance created in a lab from plants to be called meat?

I understand the desire to find foods that are as sustainable as possible, supporting the health of our planet. But does a food that requires 19 different processes really seem like something better for you than an ingredient our species has been consuming for thousands of years?

Is it truly more sustainable?

Why do producers of spreads or pastes made with nuts or soy want to call their products “cheese”? (or “cheez” – I’m sorry, but bad spelling doesn’t get you off the hook in my book)

Cheese is a dairy product, with an established history of how it is produced. So much tradition is involved in many cases that the names of certain cheeses are protected by the regions in the world where they originate.

They are cultural ingredients, not just food.

Milk has become another engineered food category. In the dairy case at your local grocery store you will find products that come from cows and goats as one might expect. You’ll also find products made from rice, nuts, soy and perhaps even oats.

I think it’s important to be clear here: you can’t milk an almond or a soybean, and these are not flavours of milk like chocolate or strawberry. Why aren’t they called juice; doesn’t “almond juice” sound more authentic?

Appropriation is perhaps too strong a word here, but the lack of respect for the original word’s definition is my focus.

Not only is it confusing for consumers to have variations of products that are so completely different, I also think it’s plain old lazy for marketers to decide they will just use established terms even when they could be misleading.

These new engineered foods are altered to create the same texture, taste and even nutritional value of the original. Non-dairy beverages that compare themselves to milk may have emulsifiers, sweeteners and other additives. Many of them are fortified to increase the nutritional value.

Vegan versions of ground meat use plant-based proteins that require processing, which negates their raw food benefits. Some of them contain up to 400 mg of sodium.

I realize people have different tastes and want a range of options for their diet. What I would like to see is more distinction between the engineered alternatives and the simple, one ingredient original.

Instead of lumping all the beverages together in the dairy case, why not create a section that makes it clear what is non-dairy? Just as the meat section distinguishes between beef and pork and chicken, why not be clear and have a section marked vegan?

And for any marketing people out there, think of this: when a new version of a baking product was released, they didn’t call it a new kind of butter – they called it margarine. Why can’t you come up with another name for these new foods too?

I want to leave you with one big thought: perhaps the issue here is not about how plant-based products avoid the impact the current unsustainable methods of the mass market farm.

The same unsustainable methods are used with almonds (just ask the bees how they like being shipped around in February to pollinate almond trees). And I’ve seen commercial vegetable fields blanketed with trimmings that are left behind because consumers want nicer looking, more uniform food.

We need to change our general attitude to how we grow food. Sustainability is the key practice we need to enforce, and that will make it less convenient for us in some cases.

But success in the long term is not about taking the easy way out. We need to work together and focus on the big picture to make sure we find a total solution for maintaining our food, and culture.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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