If a burger is meatless, is it really a burger?

Who gets to decide what we call a patty-shaped thing between buns?


By Jennifer Latson, Houston Chronicle (TX)

Sep. 6, 2019


If it looks like a burger, smells like a burger, and tastes like a burger, is it safe to call it a burger? Or must a patty be made of meat and not meatless meat to merit the label?


The linguistics of mealtime have gotten complicated lately, thanks in part to the rise of plant-based alternatives to the foods we normally associate with animals. Dunkin' now sells a Beyond Meat sausage breakfast sandwich; Burger King is bringing the plant-based Impossible Whopper to the masses.


Stocks are soaring for the two leading non-meat makers, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods and analysts predict the market for so-called alternative proteins could climb as high as $140 billion by 2029. On menus and packaging, they're described in meaty terms: as burgers, sausage, bacon and the like. (In a fishy twist, Tyson Foods, the meat industry behemoth, recently announced its plans to debut plant-based shrimp early next year.)


But ranchers have a beef. Last year, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association petitioned the federal government to prohibit "products not derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered" from being marketed as meat. The trade association invoked the federal truth-in-advertising law, arguing that "current labeling practices may cause consumer confusion."


Is unwitting vegetarianism really a problem? Probably not, analysts say. Few if any consumers who buy plant-based meat do so accidentally, even if the label says "burger," observes Jaeyeon Chung, a marketing professor at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business.


"They're doing so out of a conscious decision not to consume real meat, and they are putting effort into searching for an alternative," Chung says. "This isn't a traditional marketing scam where counterfeiters try to deceive consumers by selling products similar to what people really want to purchase." An Impossible Burger isn't the culinary equivalent of a fake Rolex, she explains: Its purpose isn't to confuse people into buying a poor-quality imitation of the original, but to deliberately choose a new product that meets different needs.


Plant-based pushback ...


Mainstream appeal ...


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