What’s Meat Got to Do With It?

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Plant-based food people argue that standards of identity lead to other absurdities.

Beefsteak tomatoes, for example, could be impacted by the Missouri legislation, as that law prohibits “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”

In the case of Louisiana, Jessica Almy, the director of policy at the Good Food Institute, argued that rice noodles could have a similar problem. Because they’re made of rice, not wheat, they don’t meet the U.S. government’s technical definition of noodles.

The makers of rice noodles are not particularly worried. “We appreciate the opportunity to address the new Louisiana Senate Bill 152,” said Tiina Henkusens, the regulatory affairs director in North America for McCormick & Co., Inc., a company which makes rice noodles under its Thai Kitchen brand. “Thai Kitchen Rice Noodles are made with only Rice and Water as indicated on the ingredient statement. Rice Noodles appropriately describes the product.”

Ultimately, these semantic squabbles are about marketing. They’re not being fought by consumers.

“This is basically a fight between two industry sectors,” said Ms. Simon of the Plant Based Foods Association. “We didn’t pick the fight. Meanwhile, what is the consumer doing? They’re happily enjoying their meat and dairy alternatives.”

When Ms. Stoutenborough opened the PuraVegan cafe in 2011, she said it was the only vegan restaurant in St. Louis. The cafe received prank phone calls with meat jokes, people pretending that they wanted to order steaks. Potential customers did not even know how to pronounce “vegan.” (They rhymed it with pagan.)

“Now we don’t have to tell people how to say it anymore,” Ms. Stoutenborough said.

She said that she understood where the traditional meat producers were coming from; change is always uncomfortable. But she wasn’t worried about the Missouri law, and didn’t expect vegan progress to cease.

“What people eat on this planet is changing,” she said. “And when things change, some things flourish but some things don’t.”

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