The deal with meat-free meat

24 June 2019 | Aaron Wise
The number of vegans in the UK has grown fourfold in the past four years from roughly 150,000 to 600,000, according to the Vegan Society. Unsurprisingly, the UK food industry has had to address this surging number of meat-free lovers.

You may notice on most menus in restaurants now that they cater for vegans. Some supermarkets have vegan sections and even pop-up street food vendors are creating dishes for those who shun meat and dairy. While vegans were once a niche, they are now seen to be hip, trendy pro-planet activists. I think it’s great. I actually trialled being a vegan last year for six weeks and although I’d never do it again, it’s a lifestyle choice and you have to respect that.

Obviously, with this growing trend, food establishments have to create a wider choice of meat-free alternatives and, credit where it’s due, most have. So many places now offer meat-free burgers, sausages, the lot. Again, I don my cap to those creating and offering more choices…but, when does pitching something meat-free as meat become a tad too hyperbolic?

Sainsbury’s has declared it has opened the UK’s very first meat-free butchers in London. Yep, the image of a butcher standing proudly behind his stall of meat is exactly what the supermarket chain has replicated. The steaks, burgers, kebabs and sausages all look, smell and probably taste like meat, except they’re not.

This plant-based illusion has gone too far in my eyes. Yes, it’s good PR for Sainsbury’s and the majority will agree that it’s excellent marketing too, but come on, how much longer are we going to continue on this ‘meat-free meat’ bandwagon? We’re bleeding it dry; pardon the pun.

Shouldn’t we be celebrating the vegan lifestyle by championing the mass variety of delicious plant-based dishes, rather than creating things that look like meat for those who want to pretend they are still consuming animal products? A bit bizarre in my eyes, but hey, if this pop-up concept in Shoreditch proves a hit, which I’m sure it will, then food brands might as well continue to milk it for all it’s worth – although not literally, of course.