The meat lobby may be powerful, but is it entitled to cultural ownership of the burger? The European parliament is to vote on whether to ban terms such as veggie burger and veggie sausage, as well as “cheese-like” and “yoghurt-style” for plant-based alternatives to dairy products. The meat industry complains of “cultural hijacking” by vegetarian/vegan products leading to consumer confusion and proposes that “names currently used for meat products shall be reserved exclusively for products containing meat (including) steak, sausage, escalope and burger”. This includes chicken and there’s already a ban on plant-based products being labelled “milk”. One suggestion is for plant-based sausages and burgers to be called “tubes” and “discs”. As in: “I must remember to pick up some Linda McCartney tubes later.” Yummy!
This shows how rattled the meat industry is by the popularity of vegetarian/vegan food. It fails to understand that people eschew meat products for complex reasons (animal welfare, environment, health) and are unlikely to suffer from “consumer confusion”. Sure, I’m a lifelong vegetarian and have an axe to grind, but still, I’ve never accidentally bought meat. In 2019, the House of Lords select committee heard that fewer than 4% of people had mistakenly purchased a vegetarian product.
Meat producers point out that not all meat alternatives are healthy and can be high in salt, sugar and additives. Fair point – I’m all for rigorous regulations for all foodstuffs. Nor is this about vegetarians/vegans existentially hankering after food that resembles meat. All that wondering over how, even though we don’t eat meat, fish or chicken, we are still conditioned to need it represented (faked) on the plate. In truth, those vegetarians/vegans who eat meat substitutes (and not all do) aren’t yearning for the real thing. It’s just easier sometimes to replicate classic meals with meat substitutes, to cobble together “burger and chips”, “sausage and mash” or “Thai chicken curry”. Indeed, if you take nothing else away from this column, please understand that some vegetarians/vegans are bad cooks, and lazy with it, just like many meat-eaters. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
This is why it’s bizarre to watch the meat industry making what amounts to a conceptual power grab. Sausages, burgers, steaks, escalopes and the like are essentially food shapes and food shorthand, all of which has been around for so long it is the property of anyone who eats, not just people who opt to eat meat.
Put like this, why would anyone bother arguing about what goes into a sausage shape or a burger shape? Would anyone care to copyright the teabag (slap a ban on impertinent fruit infusions?). Whatever decision is made, dictating that certain food shapes or dishes are only made with animal flesh seems like cultural hijacking. The meat industry can keep its meat, but burgers belong to everyone.
Billie Eilish turned the tables on the body-shamers
Who will weep for the body-shamers? Pop star Billie Eilish, 18, was photographed walking along a street dressed in long shorts and a top, whereas generally her body is swathed in avant-garde, carefully asexual layers.
The result? Ridicule from certain quarters. One comment was about how Eilish had developed a “mid-30s wine mom body”, as if this were somehow a bad thing. Eilish responded by sharing someone else’s video about the importance of normalising bodies. She then seemed to brush the whole thing off, as did her amused, scornful fans, who triumphantly posted lots of photos of Eilish holding her many Grammys.
That’s all fine for Eilish, but has anyone spared a thought for the legions of hardworking body-shamers? How did they feel about this? They work tirelessly to make high-profile successful young women such as Eilish feel bad about themselves, to taint their success and happiness with vicious personal criticisms and then this happens. As in, nothing happens. No pain, no tears, no hint of an eating disorder.
It must be devastating when the body-shamed point-blank refuse to crumble into ashes and instead roll their eyes, yawn a bit and flick you and all the other trolls away like insignificant insects. Sorry, guys, it looks like body-shaming just got that little bit more difficult.
The Queen unmasked as elitist? Perish the thought
Should the royal family be sending out an anti-mask message? The Queen has carried out her first public engagement outside a royal residence since lockdown, visiting the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. She was accompanied by the Duke of Cambridge. Neither wore a face mask.
It’s reported that necessary precautions were taken for the DSTL visit and social distancing was strictly observed. Glad to hear it, especially as one presumes the Queen is as vulnerable as any other 94-year-old around the virus.
However, that isn’t the only issue. Donald Trump has been widely criticised for avoiding wearing masks as though they were, erm, the plague. Even after contracting coronavirus, it wasn’t long before the president was back in public, unmasked, wheezing like a broken concertina trying to crank out The Star-Spangled Banner.
Clearly, Trump is determined to nab that crucial anti-masker/QAnon crossover vote. Back in Blighty, the royals are very high-profile public figures and whether or not they wear masks matters. If the Queen was concerned that it would be beneath her regal dignity, then this is unacceptable. The rules have to be the same for everybody or they’re meaningless. Perhaps some clever cove in government – Dominic Cummings? – could explain this to the Queen?
All over the UK, regions are being placed under varying degrees of lockdown to combat the spread of the virus. The royals need to lead by example and opting out of wearing masks on public engagements isn’t only irresponsible, it comes across as insensitive and elitist. I’m sure the Queen and Prince William aren’t anti-maskers, but what does that matter if the effect is the same?
o Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist