A vegan sausage by any other name would smell as sweet. Yet France has recently amended its agriculture bill to ban the use of so-called ‘meat and dairy terms’ to describe plant-based products that serve as meat substitutes. These include patties made from soybeans, and dairy alternatives made from oats, coconuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and soy.
The words in question include ‘sausage’, ‘steak’, ‘burger’, ‘milk’, and ‘cheese’. The use of these to describe vegan products will now be subject to fines of up to 300,000 Euros. In defence of this new bill, the French politician and farmer Jean Baptiste Moreau tweeted that:
‘it is important to combat false claims. Our products must be designated correctly.’
Moreau is completely right to highlight the importance of combatting false claims. But the false claims are his own.
All uses of the expressions targeted by the new bill are perfectly meaningful and informative and explicitly designed and marketed to appeal to people actively seeking to avoid animal products, not to deceive others into buying such things in ignorance. Moreau would have us believe that there is no such thing as non-dairy milk, or that sausages contain animal flesh by definition. These false claims must be combatted. To give just one example, everyday expressions such as ‘coconut milk’ and ‘coconut cream’ have been in widespread circulation from long before plant-based diets became fashionable. While meat and dairy for now remain the paradigm cases of milk, butter, steak, and sausages, they are not the only ones. Indeed, the paradigms are already shifting.
Language evolves naturally alongside our behavioural practices and the rise of new uses and meanings of words cannot be stopped through legislation and it is wrong to try to do so. If one really wants to remain stuck in the past it is worth remembering that the English word ‘sausage’ and the French ‘saucisse’ are both derived from the Latin ‘salsus’ meaning salted. Perhaps Moreau would also like to ban unsalted sausages?
The real motive behind this anti-vegan rhetoric has nothing to do with the correct designation of…