26th Sep 2023


French 'veggie burger' ban goes against tradition of culinary innovation

  • An impaled veggie burger. The debate over 'meaty' terms for plant-based food has a special resonance in France, where cuisine and tradition continue to act as markers of national identity (Photo: Pexels)
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Back in 2020, the French government put forward a law to ban the use of certain terms for plant-based foods, such as burgers or sausages. However, the French government's decision was challenged in court by the European Vegetarian Union, which aims to defend and promote sustainable and conscious diet choices.

After hearings in the Conseil d'Etat, the controversial "veggie burger ban" has now made it to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as it awaits answers to a set of specific legal questions.

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The ECJ's decision will undoubtedly be important for the future of plant-based food labelling across Europe and will have an impact across member states.

But, while we wait for those answers, it is perhaps opportune to take stock of some of the arguments put forward to ban these denominations and why they ultimately fall flat.

The debate has a special resonance in France, where cuisine and tradition continue to act as markers of national identity and are increasingly used to define political boundaries and battlegrounds.

Throughout French history, local cuisine has been renowned for its rich flavours and intricate techniques, embracing innovation from the Renaissance to the Belle Époque. French chefs have continuously explored new ingredients, techniques, and global influences while preserving age-old traditions to create culinary delicacies.

Beyond flavours, French gastronomy has been a living testament to constant innovation. The 1960s Nouvelle Cuisine movement further popularised innovative cooking methods and introduced technologies, such as microwaves, which are now taken for granted in our modern kitchens.

This spirit of tradition and openness should now extend to embracing "meaty" terms for plant-based foods, weaving them into the tapestry of French cuisine.

With the pressing environmental challenges we are currently facing, could not the move to more plant-based diets therefore be an interesting new shift?

It seems entirely within reach to imagine plant-based sausages making it into a Cassoulet from Toulouse, or a seitan steak being served with a side of plant-based sauce béarnaise.

The essence of this pivotal decision lies not merely in linguistic semantics, but in the powerful message it conveys.

Plant-based options represent a significant course of action in our collective pursuit of a more sustainable and compassionate food future. They offer a pathway towards reducing our ecological footprint, conserving precious resources, ending the exploitation of animals, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Rather than confusing consumers, as some detractors would put forward, meat alternatives help consumers to make informed choices that align with their values without compromising on taste and experience. Using 'meaty' terms provides transparency, helping consumers to readily identify products that they might already know.

To those concerned about protecting the integrity of French culinary heritage, I understand your sentiment. However, let us recognise that the very act of innovation is at the heart of this cherished heritage.

The debate over the use of 'meaty' terms has given rise to alternative names such as 'disks' or 'tubes'. Yet, this discourse only serves to create confusion and unnecessary division among consumers.

Language evolves to reflect societal changes, and culinary terminology is no exception. Embracing known terms for plant-based foods acknowledges their place in the culinary landscape, conveying their connection to familiar tastes and traditions.

The goal is not to impose divisive distinctions, but to unite individuals under the shared experience of savouring delicious and sustainable food choices.

In the end, it is not a mere legal debate or a matter of labels. It is about the legacy we leave for generations to come—the legacy of cuisine that adapts to the needs of our planet and societies.

By allowing 'meaty' terms for plant-based foods, we celebrate a gastronomic journey that pays homage to French tradition while paving the way for a more sustainable and compassionate future.

Author bio

Felix Hnat is the president of the European Vegetarian Union (EVU).


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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