In what seems to be a rather extreme reaction to the blight of fake news, French MP and farmer Jean-Baptiste Moreau successfully proposed a measure last week to ban vegetarian and vegan meat or dairy substitutes from calling themselves meat- or dairy-based names. “It is important to combat false claims,” he tweeted. “Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin!”
Ironically, Moreau shares a position with a number of vegans and vegetarians I know, many of whom find the idea of “fake meat” repulsive. Why would you give up chicken, then spend ages trying to find something that resembles chicken in every way, shape and form? There’s an ongoing debate to that effect swirling around the Impossible Burger, which is said to taste like meat, which “bleeds” (beetroot) when bitten into.
I can understand a certain squeamishness, but I am a firm believer in fake meats. I have tried many “interpretations” of bacon because before I gave it up I enjoyed the taste enormously. I just don’t like it enough, now, to buy into the horrors of industrial meat farming. I’m also fascinated by the ingenuity and invention that goes into making “fake” foods, the point being that they’re cruelty-free, some of which are genuinely delicious, some of which less so. I once tried making a carrot into “smoked salmon”, based on a very convincing internet recipe, the result of which tasted like a raw carrot had been dragged over a bunsen burner and left out on the pavement for a few days to warm through.
I realise that labelling food is mired in the endless complexity of French language and identity, but the rule does leave me perplexed as to who it’s protecting. Surely people are capable of differentiating between a burger made of lentils and one made of beef? One thing is clear: Moreau is yet to sample the delights of vegan cheese, as there is absolutely no way he’d get it confused with the real thing.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist