Apparently, it’s not enough anymore to tout all the alleged benefits of veggie analogs. Now, we’re seeing the emergence of “vegetarian butchers.”
Wow. Talk about taking it over the top.
Okay, now I’ve heard everything.
It’s one thing to concoct all these tofurkey entrées, chick’n stripz and veggie shamburgers — some of which, to be very honest, are quite appetizing — and then position them as better-for-you substitutes for those who’ve convinced themselves that animal foods are verboten.
It’s quite another to launch a business model called the Herbivorous Butcher.
But that’s exactly what a shop in Minneapolis is calling itself, and the gushing description of its business model . . . well, let’s just say it leaves a really bad taste in your mouth.
“In the back room of the Herbivorous Butcher, Kale Walch garbs himself in a bright white apron and cocked black hat, ready to literally make some bacon,” says a story on the foodie website Eater.com. “Using an oversized rolling pin to flatten a hunk of red, ethically slaughtered protein, the young butcher proceeds to slice and portion out the hulking mess with a pizza cutter.”
So you’re probably thinking, as I did, that young Kale is preparing some variation of free-range/pasture-produced pork to be sold at a farmer’s market to what the article referred to as “eco-conscious consumers.”
But you’d be wrong.
“Unlike the other butchers, the Herbivorous Butcher takes humane and sustainable butchering to an extreme,” the story explained. “Rather than killing animals, [he] uses ground-up corpses of various local, non-GMO flora to make vegan-friendly products consumed by meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike.”
There is so much wrong with that paragraph I almost don’t know where to start.
Ground-up corpses of non-GMO flora? Seriously?
Apparently, even the purveyors of so-called healthy vegetarian alternatives have to pile onto the PETA-inspired meat-is-the-bloody-flesh-of-an-animal-corpse meme that attempts to demonize producers and processors alike.
Not to mention the reality that if even a fraction of the population somehow decided to embrace the Full Vegan, it would be nearly impossible to replace all the animals foods they’re currently consuming with plant-based substitutes — without relying on genetically enhanced crop varieties.
Walch even extended the product stereotyping to his customers.
“We had a big booth at Minnesota State Fair this year, and we were handing out samples of some of our most popular products,” he was quoted in the article. “Some of the most hardcore, deep fried-looking people came up and were pleasantly surprised, and they said, ‘I can actually do this.’ ”
I guess “hardcore, deep-fried” is code for “consumers who prefer to eat the ground-up corpses of animals,” as opposed to non-GMO flora.
Look, there are solid environmental, nutritional and even ethical reasons why plant proteins can and should be one of the keys to meeting the challenge of feeding the nine billion humans expected to reside on Earth by 2050.
Grown efficiently and processed strategically, plant proteins — whether soy isolates or pea protein or rice bran — are the perfect complement to meat, poultry and dairy products that have traditionally been 100% animal-derived. Such ingredients can be sourced from crops grown synergistically in conjunction with livestock production, and they offer nutritional contributions that enhance low-end meat products.
These days, with what we know about resource limitations, there is absolutely no rationale for a foodservice operator to be touting the superiority of 100% all-beef burgers, except to trade on the ignorance of too many Americans about how our food supply is produced and the pressures that “traditional” methods of growing crops, raising livestock and manufacturing products for foodservice or retail sales place upon the environment, on energy supplies and on the land itself.
From that perspective, the popularity of analog and specialty foods containing both animal- and plant-derived ingredients is a good thing.
But it’s counter-productive in terms of educating people about the issues associated with food security and affordability when the veggie-vegan community adopts the ridiculous positioning embodied by the Herbivorous Butcher.
Even though Walch and his like-minded brethren contend that they’re merely offering so-called “flexitarians” a way to bridge the gap between a meat-centric and a vegan diet, the truth is that their business is all about catering to customers who have come to believe that meat production is evil, destructive and totally unnecessary.
If the goal of entrepreneurs like Walch is to convince those folks that a purely vegan diet is the end game, I’d suggest it’s a false, as well as an unattainable, goal.
If they just want to capitalize on the sensibilities of a more affluent, “conscientious consumer” slice of the public, however, then god speed.
Even as they’re trying to disabuse people that meat-eating is something akin to apple pie and motherhood, the bottom line is that there’s nothing more American than cashing in on people’s willingness to part with their disposable income.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.