Michelle Schaefer © March 17, 2019

Message boards and comments sections are full of a handful of questions repeatedly asked of vegans. The most common, of course, is, “Where do you get your protein from??” Men often worry they will become too thin.  (Men need MEAT!) Women, too thick. (All those CARBS!) But recently, there’s been an expansion away from body-centric concern into the moral sphere. Why, carnivores wonder, do so many vegans love to eat ‘fake meat’? And if a vegan noshes on chick’n nuggets, ‘shroon burgers, and not-dogs all day long, isn’t that a clear indication that they really just want to eat the ‘real’ thing? Following Mind If I Order The Cheeseburger? author Sherry Colb’s edict of taking seemingly ridiculous questions seriously (though you won’t find a response to the ever-absurd, “Can vegans have oral sex?”*), here are some answers that may prove satisfactory to inquiring minds.


Maybe vegans just don’t want to miss out on Every Single Summer Cookout their friends have. Perhaps vegans occasionally enjoy the company of other humans, and don’t want to be excluded from the Superbowl Sunday bash just because they won’t be sucking down chicken’s wings with wild abandon. So they bring a bag of FRuffalo Wings and try to blend in. Veggie Burger as social lubricant? Wouldn’t be the first time humans have tried to make socialization a little easier.


Ask anyone schooled in adoption, and they will tell you the use of the term ‘real’ mom to indicate ‘birth mother’ is a great big fat NO-NO. Even in lay society, we’ve come to know, accept, and enthusiastically understand this. The same may be said about referring to animal products as ‘real—fill-in-the-blank’ (burger, milk, cheese) and ‘fake.’  Take the example of a homemade mushroom burger, mixed with salt, spices, and breadcrumbs or vital wheat gluten. There is nothing fake about it. It’s an uncomplicated food source, shaped to be convenient for a modern busy human.  It’s a plant-based something—it’s just that that something is shaped like what we’ve come to know as a burger. So it’s a plant-based burger—not a fake burger. If you think this is wrong, think of pie. Pie is usually round, whether you put the adjective ‘pizza’ or ‘blueberry’ in front of it; yet you’re not likely to confuse one with the other.

The recent lawsuits by Big Ag against calling plant-based milks ‘milk’ is indicative of desperation on Big Ag’s part, not genuine confusion on the consumer’s part. And to anyone who would argue that plant-based burgers are the stuff of scary modern food science: that ‘real’ burger you’re enjoying is actually a Frankenfood congloberate (sic) of 100 (or more) ground-up land animals, food coloring, and saline, so chill with the righteous indignation already. (And stop accusing vegans of being sanctimonious; meat-eaters are just as bad or worse.)

Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles, and no one in Colorado or elsewhere who chooses to eat them is chewing away on those deep-fried balls, confused that they’re swallowing a saltwater bivalve mollusk. So relax, Big Ag. Consumers aren’t as dumb as you look when you pull your ‘can’t call it milk’ lawsuit stunts.


But the real reason some vegans love ‘fake’ (ahem) meat is simple: humans love to eat handheld, high-protein food. We want to walk and eat, drive and eat, watch sports and eat. It’s tough to do any of those things if the food of choice is an arugula salad with pomegranate seeds. So it’s not that vegans are trying to be more like meat eaters, it’s that humans like convenient food—and vegans like convenient food that didn’t involve any bloodshed. Read Carol J. Adam’s Burger, and prepare to be astounded. Hint: we’ve liked handheld protein-rich foods for a really long time. Just ask the Earl of Sandwich, i.e. John Montagu, circa 1762. No one wants to leave the gambling table for a bite when the cards are hot.

Whether as a means of blending in with our carnivorous compatriots, proudly downing a plant-based option le familier, or simply embracing a smart and natural transition in food trends, finally, vegans can have their protein-rich ethics—and eat it, too.

* Oh, for goodness’ sake, YES.


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