VEGAN, NO ANIMAL INVOLVED
A product is considered vegan when none of its ingredients comes from an animal source. That meaning, it will never include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey or additives like carmine, a colourant made of cochineal.
What it does include: veggies, nuts, legumes, cereals, pseudo-cereals like quinoa, seeds, seaweed; fermented food like tempeh, an iconic vegan protein source made from legumes (soya, chickpeas) with the collaboration of Rhizopus oligosporus, and other products like vegan burgers, vegan sauces, vegan pizzas, vegan ice-cream. With no dairy, meat or cheese involved, they are completely vegan creations.
Wait, did any of the names above disturbed you for a second? If so, welcome to today’s discussion.
VEGAN PRODUCTS WITH NON-VEGAN NAMES
A week or so ago, @historicalitalianfood shared on Instagram a vegan carbonara sauce. For all of those who does not know it, carbonara is made with eggs, cheese and guanciale (last one a cousin of bacon that it is not bacon). Knowing that, the account’s owner question was:
“When the three primary ingredients – eggs, cheese and pork are removed, is it still carbonara?”
Summarizing the comments, the main opinion was: “it is not, they should change the name.” Even a small percentage, gave some ideas for that change, like introducing the expression “inspired by” instead of labelling it as “vegan carbonara”.
However, as someone that has been vegan and has worked on a food labelling regulatory department, I would like to give a new perspective into the topic.
ON FOOD MEANING AND IDENTITY
When talking about vegan products imitating non-vegan meals, non-vegan customers claim that removing the original ingredients represent a loss of “essence”.
They state the veganized result of a meal has no connection any more with the original one, losing its identity and becoming a completely different dish. On this point, Karima Moyer-Nocchi the owner of the account, added:
“In the discussion of meaning, what does the word carbonara communicate to the public, and what should the public expect from this product (referring to the vegan sauce)?“
Two perspectives are good to consider on it: legality and culture. Food legislation on vegan food has not been truly written yet. The market has grown much faster than the capacity of the legislators. Nevertheless, there is a general statement in Europe that serves as a mandatory for food products: it should not lead to confusion.
From a legal perspective
Causing confusion means someone could buy it expecting something different from what it is. If we think about it, what is the chance this would happen?
On one hand, a customer looking for non-vegan carbonara enters the supermarket, if so, with a taste, an image of what he wants. When reading “vegan” he would at least, check the ingredients. Cause even if the person did not know what vegan refers to, which is very unlikely to happen, he would have noticed it is a different version of the “carbonara” he is used to.
On the other hand, to consider it confusing, the customer should know first hand what carbonara is. The ones who defend that carbonara without egg, cheese and pork should not be labelled as carbonara, could point out many more products. For instance, on a quick search on Google, I found 4 sauces labelled as “carbonara” where its main ingredients are water, oil, cream, onion, and bacon. No cheese, no egg, and no guanciale.
From cultural perspective
In addition, we find one of the most fascinating aspects of veganized meals: the fear of identity loss that surrounds it.
Similarly to food colonization, non-vegan consumers often feel offended by vegan recipes as if it was a cultural appropriation made to obtain better selling results. Example seen in the comments of the vegan carbonara sauce post.
“Why should it be called “Carbonara” if the ingredients are totally different? The name in this case is obviously only a marketing tool that makes people buy this product.” – Non-vegan opinion
In any case, there is a huge difference between what one would identify as food colonization and the veganizing process. While one, is considered to be promoting the disappearance of food tradition and identity in the name of economical profit, the other one is looking for the opposite: making food traditions long-lasting.
VEGANISM AS A LONG-LASTING TRADITION TOOL
Imagine a vegan that used to celebrate every Saturday a burger and chips family night. For him, counting on a vegan version of that burger is not only important in terms of being able to keep celebrating it, but also essential as an icon of his roots.
When deciding to be vegan based on animal ethics, he was looking for a change in his life according to a new paradigm, new ideals, and life outlook. He was not looking for breaking with his past, family, friends, or even national identity.
Although some of these areas will inevitably be transformed, many can remain the same thanks to the vegan versions of those meals. Rescuing once again Karima’s question:
“What “carbonara” communicate to the public?”
While it might only tell a list of ingredients or a specific culinary process for some. For others, “carbonara” as well as “burger”, represents a moment, a memory, a way of gathering and connection to the roots. It is in the last group where we find both: the ones who would never admit carbonara without eggs, cheese and guanciale and the vegans who keep trying to be connected with the world they grew up.