This Word Can Get You Arrested in Mississippi
Some people just want to watch the world eat veggies. But not lawmakers in Mississippi, who banned companies from using the term “veggie burger” on food packaging.
It sounds satirical, but it’s true. The penalty for labeling a non-meat patty as a veggie “burger” is up to a year in prison.
The law was put into place to protect cattle farmers. The crux of the argument is that labeling non-meat items as “veggie burgers” is deceptive, but let’s look at the term hamburger. Traditionally, it’s made with beef, not ham. That sounds an awful lot like false advertising. Who’s deceiving whom?
The argument has already gone through with “almond milk,” and the dairy industry lost. As a sometimes-vegetarian (and attempted vegan), I’ve seen all the terms: “chick’n nuggets,” “Tofurky,” “nice cream” (I really like that one, for a dessert made with almond milk), and, perplexingly, “veggie meatballs,” which really are confusing, but what else would you call them? “Veggie spheres”?
I don’t know anyone who bought a package of veggie burgers and was shocked that they didn’t contain meat. But the items are increasingly showing up on grocery shelves and in restaurants, and customers are buying them. Burger King is rolling out the Impossible Whopper, a vegan burger that tastes like meat, and so far it’s been a hit. The company that makes it, Impossible Foods, can’t keep up with demand.
Beyond Burger is also selling a burger that tastes like meat. It’s available in some restaurants, but also many grocery chains. If you want to try it, it’s probably displayed in the refrigerated vegetarian food section, as it was when I found it. Right next to the Tofurky and the green smoothies, and close to the bananas; even though it was labeled “burger,” it was as far away from the butcher as you can get.
What’s behind this ban? Fear. Fear from meat companies that customers will choose food that is better for animals, better for the environment, and often, better for our health.
Indeed, I think a lot of Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger’s future customers aren’t going to be vegetarians, but meat-eaters curious about how the imitation burgers stack up.
Of course, vegetarians now have a great choice to add to their diets. I have to eat at restaurants sometimes with co-workers, and it’s a relief to find a vegetarian item on the menu. Ordering the “Impossible Burger” avoids a lot of the awkward questions that ordering a “veggie garden burger,” or having to ask the waitress what’s vegetarian, does. You probably know what I’m talking about: the “Oh, why don’t you eat meat? It won’t kill you!” or “No meat? But what about BACON?” rabbit hole.
Customers want their “cruelty-free, vegetable-based patties,” and we’re going to keep buying them. You can change a label, but you can’t change our minds.