Let’s Get Real: How Using the Phrase “Fake Meat” Helps the Meat Lobby

Recently, a headline from an article in Bloomberg sparked a Twitter conversation about what to call plant-based meats, which is the phrase that the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) prefers.

Some reporters, editors, and headline writers are using the phrase “fake meat” or “faux meat” to describe the plant-based meat category. It’s time to set the record straight on the phrase “fake meat” and offer some helpful guidance to our friends in the media on why that phase is not only inaccurate, but harmful.

The phrase “fake meat” is problematic for several reasons: It is vague and can mean a lot of different things, it does not say anything about the origin or composition of the food, and it makes a very deep-seeded value judgment that meat from animals is “real” by comparison. The words “fake” or “faux” have negative and disparaging connotations. Would you want to eat something called fake?

I understand the shorthand: that these foods are meant to give consumers a similar taste and experience as animal meat but are not in fact from animals. Yet using the word “fake” does not help readers understand the category and plays right into the meat lobby’s playbook to stop competition from the plant-based meat industry.

PBFA has been on the front lines of fighting the meat lobby’s attempt to stop our members from using meat terms such as “beef,” “sausage,” and “chicken,” despite such legislative efforts being blatantly unconstitutional, as a recent court decision found. The meat lobby loves to use words such as “fake” and “imitation” to disparage our members’ foods. And of course, they claim that “real meat” comes only from an animal. When the media uses this same framing, they are unwittingly furthering the malicious narrative pushed by the meat lobby to denigrate plant-based foods.

PBFA can help with a few suggestions for alternatives to “fake meat”.

PBFA members have put a lot of thought and resources into how to best label their foods, and PBFA has taken the lead in setting voluntary labeling standards that are instructive here. In the standards, we use the phrase “meat alternatives” to describe the entire category. Then we go deeper by defining qualifying terms such as “plant-based” to mean 100% free of animal ingredients (some meat alternatives contain small amounts of dairy or eggs). The phrase “meat alternatives” has been around for a long time and while many of our members do not think they are making alternatives to anything, the phrase can be a neutral-sounding way of describing the entire category. To be more forward-looking, we strongly encourage the phrase “plant-based meats” because it’s the most accurate, descriptive, and companies are moving toward making 100% plant-based options.

Finally, a word about what is “real”. We take issue with the implication that somehow meat from animals is real and meat made from plants is not. This is related to another critique we have seen a lot lately: that plant-based meats are overly “processed;” again with the implication that somehow meat from animals is not. Seeing only one ingredient listed on the neatly wrapped package of beef at the grocery store conveniently hides the reality behind how that meat was produced. Conventional animal production comes with a parade of horribles that our members are trying to displace. You know what is “real” about animal meat? For starters, the overuse of antibiotics, environmental hazards (many contributing significantly to climate change), debilitating chronic diseases, animal cruelty, and worker exploitation. So let’s get real about what we are calling meat.

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