It is, I suppose, a symptom of the times that we now must have an official ruling on what something can or cannot be called.
Example: milk. A goodly percentage of the population takes it for granted that milk comes from cows (or supermarkets). But the dairy industry is not exactly overjoyed at the numerous liquid products that are being labeled milk — coconut, cashew, almond, soy, etc.
A group in Congress has actually waded into this particular quagmire, asking the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on plant-based products marketed as milk, saying customers are being misled. Nonsense, says the Plant Based Foods Association (bet you didn’t know there is a Plant Based Foods Association), consumers know full well what they’re buying, and they do it because they prefer an alternative to cow’s milk.
The rice industry is understandably unhappy that non-rice products are being labeled and sold as rice. Aside from the yuckiness quotient of some of the rice substitutes, there is (to me) another annoyance involving rice. When I go to the rice section of my local supermarket I’m confronted with package after package, across numerous brands, of rice/pasta mixes. The photos on the package look like rice, and the products are often labeled “Rice sides,” with the pasta content mentioned only in small type.
A rice/pasta salad, with some olive oil and herbs, can be tasty enough, I admit. But if I want rice, I want rice, not a mix masquerading as rice. A rice/pasta mix is not a rice side.
Many restaurants offer veggie burger options. This one at the Red Robin restaurants features a “custom-blended, ancient-grain-and-quinoa veggie patty piled high with Swiss cheese, lightly fried, Parmesan-sprinkled mushrooms, tomato bruschetta salsa, fresh avocado slices, sun-dried tomato spread and shredded romaine on a whole grain bun.”
Now, the latest group to take umbrage over plant-based products are cattlemen, who have filed a petition with the USDA asking for “official” definitions of “beef” and “meat.” While veggie “burgers,” in various forms and brands, have been available in the freezer section for years, they’ve not been considered a threat to the behemoth beef industry.
But that may be changing. A couple of companies, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are now offering plant-based “meat” products that many say taste as good as beef or pork. Beyond’s “burgers” even “bleed,” thanks to some added beet juice. “Why do you need an animal to create meat?” asks the Beyond Meat website. “Why can't you build meat directly from plants?”
The website also touts its brat-type sausage, “the world’s first plant-based sausage that looks, sizzles, and satisfies like pork.” To my knowledge, the pork folks haven’t yet weighed in on this one.
I expect, however, the major beneficiaries in this contretemps will be the lawyers and consultants who do the jousting over semantics. And science and technology will continue searching for ways to develop new food products that are plant-based, or even synthesized. But what to call them may be an ongoing challenge.
In the end, however, as with most products, consumers will decide to what degree they want plant-based products to supplant the more traditional ones.