What’s in a name? The backlash against vegan ‘milk’, ‘meat,’ and ‘cheese’

To some people, allowing non-dairy beverages to use the word “milk” in their name is not a pressing issue. But to dairy farmers, it seems vitally important. So it’s not a huge surprise the chief of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently announced that his agency will crack down on the use of the word “milk” to describe non-dairy beverages. This is not just a U.S. issue and is part of a larger trend: The EU disallowed soy or tofu products to be marketed as milk or butter, and France recently banned the use of meat-related words to describe vegan products. 

almond milk

Farmers complain that allowing terms like “soy cheese” or “vegetarian sausage” is confusing to consumers. Vegan food supporters think the real issue is that these farmers are threatened by rising interest in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. “It’s a shame that instead of embracing vegan and vegetarian food, France has adopted a position of defensive paranoia,” said Wendy Higgins of Humane Society International about the French ban.  She concluded that “ultimately it won’t stop the rise of compassionate eating because the delicious, nutritious, Earth-friendly and ethical benefits will prevail regardless of what you call the products.”

It will be interesting to see how things like vegan ‘cream cheese’ will be labeled under the new rules. While most of the vegan and vegetarian counterparts to meat, milk, and cheese aren’t going to be mistaken for their namesakes, some of the items are getting closer to the ‘real thing’. Serious Eats notes that the best ‘faux burgers’ are approaching the taste and texture of beef burgers, for instance.

Forcing companies to discontinue the use of misleading terms is not new, but the argument made by vegan product manufacturers is that they are not attempting to fool anyone, but merely trying to provide consumers with clues about what the product is intended to mimic. It seems unlikely that removing the term “milk” from items like soy milk or almond milk will cause a dramatic drop in their sales and an increase in dairy milk sales. And ‘Impossible burgers’ can’t be responsible for any decline in hamburger sales because they aren’t even available for purchase in stores at this time. What’s your take on the trend of banning the use of meat-related terms to describe vegan products?

Post a comment


  • sir_ken_g  on  July 19, 2018

    Beware of "impossible" meat products.
    They contain unique untested proteins.

  • kimboston206  on  July 20, 2018

    There are a lot of things to consider here, from both sides of the argument. Please keep in mind that the discussion is also influenced by how much money big food companies spend on lobbying.

  • lgroom  on  July 20, 2018

    This is a big issue in Wisconsin where dairy farmers are really suffering because of the fact milk drinking is no longer commonplace. We even have restaurants that offer free milk. This is why cheese is so reasonably priced anymore because there is such a glut of milk that it is made into cheese, which stores well.

  • Nancith  on  July 25, 2018

    I can see how farmers may feel "threatened" by this terminology and that these analog products are cutting into their revenue, but it seems doubtful that the use of the words "milk", "sausage" etc in veg. products is causing the decline in consumption of actual dairy and meat. Folks are buying the other products because they want to consume less real meat & dairy, not because the labeling persuades or fools them into purchasing vegetarian versions. It will be interesting to see what new labeling is developed.

  • raowriter  on  July 25, 2018

    The interesting thing is, the farming industry still benefits from the rise in vegetarianism and veganism: after all, they are plant-based. But certainly, these benefits affect different categories in the farming sector. We all face continuous changes in the careers we follow, and I guess farmers are not exempt from this. But faux meats? Would not touch such heavily processed highly suspect peoducts.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!