3 Good Reasons for Vegan and Vegetarian “Substitute” Products

Published on July 7, 2024, filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

When you’re looking at the vegan and vegetarian diet, it’s hard not to hear about, ask about, and talk about “substitute” products—plant-based replacements for what otherwise requires animal suffering and death.

The way I see it, the term “substitute” seems valid on the surface, but quickly gets awkward. It’s awkward because “substitute” suggests some qualitative difference, one where the substitute is inferior to what it substitutes. While logically, nothing says a substitute cannot be equivalent or even better in quality, this is how I know German, English, and Spanish to work, and how I’ve witnessed conversations to handle the subject.

While the term may therefore not be the best one (“alternative” may be more apt), there are good reasons for these “substitute” products. These reasons I rarely see mentioned:

1. Acknowledging Limited Forms

Steaks, sausages, mince aren’t just associated with their animal origin—they’re also associated with a certain form. It makes sense that food of a particular form also carries a similar name.

A slice of dead animal of a particular size = steak. A slice of plant or plant mix of that particular shape and size = steak.

Here, the substitute refers to the form.

2. Maintaining Social Connection

As social animals, we share meals together. Food and habits around food connect us. It makes sense to maintain that connection and to keep eating similar food.

Put animal-part sausages on the grill, put plant-part sausages on the another grill. Awesome.

Here, the substitute keeps us together.

3. Making It Easier to Live More Empathically and Sustainably

The vegan diet rests on empathy. It’s also more sustainable, by consuming fewer resources. To encourage empathy and sustainability, it’s useful to make it easy to become a vegan. Having products of the shape and name people are used to, does make it easier to become a vegan.

Here, the substitute encourages to spread less suffering and act more responsibly.

❧ I miss these points in the public discourse. They are important. Vegan and vegetarian “substitute” products are not substitutes. They are alternatives that emphasize our connection and that make it easier to live empathically and sustainably. Instead of frowning upon them (or even fighting them), the smarter response is to cherish and embrace them—until we’ve collectively moved away from causing suffering and death.

Why some alternatives need to be near-exact replicas of the cruel version—like, including gristle—, I don’t understand. That seems to overshoot the mark.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!