CHARLOTTE HUNT fights for linguistic freedom in vegetarianism and veganism; and the meaning of ‘sausage’.
The EU recently rejected the proposal to ban vegan products from using words like ‘sausage’, ‘burger’ and ‘meatballs’ under the guise of false advertisement. The proposal was mainly backed by the meat industry due to their claim that terms like ‘vegan sausage’ are misleading. All vegetarians and vegans out there can celebrate now, you have already won; vegan sausages are on a ‘meateoric rise’! With everything going on with the world, the suggestion that such a proposal was raised in the first place feels a little insulting.
Why are meat-eaters so offended?
If the proposal had passed, it would have made it so products would not be able to be marketed as ‘sausages’, ‘burgers’, etc. unless they contained meat. Why does the meat industry care so much about vegan products, especially when there’s only 2-10% of vegetarians and vegans in Europe? And why are people so angry over something that often doesn’t affect them?
Take Piers Morgan’s infamous reaction to Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll in January 2019. His co-host Susanna Reid went as far as to ask why Morgan was “so threatened by vegans using the word ‘sausage?’” It later emerged that his anger over the vegan sausage rolls stemmed from boredom, a seemingly valid and not at all childish excuse. Especially when veggie burgers and sausages have been on the shelves since around the late 70s and early 80s in the UK, yet it seems it has only become a recent problem with meat eaters.
One of the main arguments against the use of ‘sausage’ and ‘burger’ etc. for vegan produce is that it is misleading and causes consumers to think said products contain meat; apparently assuming consumers can’t read. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘sausage’ as “a quantity of finely chopped pork, beef, or other meat, spiced and flavoured, enclosed in a short length of the intestine of some animal, so as to form a cylindrical roll”. This can make a fair argument if applied consistently. So, does that mean is it now time to ban the usage of ‘sausage dog’ and instead use the correct and literal term, ‘Dachshund?’ It would only be appropriate, right?
This type of thinking would only be made fair if it is applied to every product. These aren’t the only food items that don’t use the correct terminology. Crab sticks using ‘crab’ within the name should be a crime, prawn crackers often have no prawn, and god forbid the cauliflower rice and courgette spaghetti continue to use their carbohydrate equivalents ‘rice’ and ‘spaghetti’ in their names. It is just so misleading and is false advertisement at its finest. Applying this thinking to other products further exposes the ridiculousness of the proposal.
The meat meaning
The English language has few boundaries. To prove this, let’s really focus on definitions and nuances. ‘Meat’ is a word which was first recorded in early Old English and is defined in the OED as “nourishment for people and fodder for animals; esp. solid food” – what we would mean today as all food, and hence has gone through a process of what we linguists call, semantic ‘narrowing’. Now if we revisit the definition of ‘sausage’, to summarize, a sausage is a cylinder of spiced meat. Call this nit-picking, but from this information, the definition of sausage changes completely. The meat of said ‘sausage’ could be made from any solid food, bread sausages might just be the next big thing. And the next best thing since, you know, sliced bread. This shows how finnicky the English language can be. Maybe the argument would be more understandable if the vegan products in question were just vegetables shaped like sausages, but these products are often trying to recreate the flavour and texture of meat, they’re not just a cylinder of smoked carrot.
Debunking the myth of vegan food
There really isn’t a valid argument for vegan products to not use supposed ‘meat’ associated terms. The largest argument seen is that labelling such meat substitutes with terms such as ‘sausage’ would be misleading. However, this can be quickly debunked with the fact all vegan and vegetarian meat substitute products are labelled as such. It would be an insult to the general population to believe that they would be confused over such labelling. So, can we put faith in the consumers choices and whilst we’re at it, let us also assume that they can read.
BBC News. (2020, 21 October). Eu asks: Is a vegetarian sausage really a sausage? Retrieved from http://bbc.co.uk
OED Online. (2020). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com
Ritschel, A. (2020, 10 May). Piers Morgan says criticism over Greggs vegan sausage roll was mostly because he was ‘bored out of my brains’. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/
Smith, K. A. (2014, 19 March). The History of the Veggie Burger. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/
The Guardian. (2020, 23 October). European farmers lose attempt to ban terms such as veggie burger. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/
Vou, A. (2019, 12 March). Europe is going veg. Retrieved from https://www.europeandatajournalism.eu/
Written by Charlotte Hunt