There’s Nothing Hypocritical About Vegans Eating Fake Meat

fake meat

One of the most common responses to vegans who eat fake meat is a charge of hypocrisy: Why would vegans, who oppose eating slaughtered animals, want to eat realistic fake meat? Would this not be comparable to creating fake or simulated versions of other harmful products or actions? For example, we might view someone who opposes dog fighting as morally suspect if they gained great pleasure from playing a dog fighting video game.

On the other hand, I’m surprised at how common the anti-fake meat response is, from an ethical standpoint. Disliking the taste or texture of meat is a pretty uncommon reason why vegans give up meat products. Many vegans will openly say that they liked the taste of meat when they gave it up (even if their embrace of veganism occurs alongside a loss of desire to eat animals). The obvious ethical benefit of fake meat products is the enjoyment of the taste and texture of meat, without the animal suffering.

Returning to the dog fighting game example, we could say enjoying such a game is suspect because it might mean the individual secretly gets pleasure from seeing animal abuse, or at the very least isn’t repulsed by it. Additionally, one could argue that normalising these kinds of games risks normalising real-life forms of abuse. However, this is often an argument made against violent video games, and researchers have found no evidence of any meaningful link between such games and real-life violence. Enjoying the Grand Theft Auto games, in other words, doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it increase the likelihood of you committing violent crimes.

Perhaps a better example would be creating a real-life copy of something in the physical world (a realistic-looking child or animal model). If someone denounced real-life abuse of children and animals but then enjoyed engaging in simulated versions of abuse against these models, this would seem not only alarming but hypocritical too. I don’t think eating meat quite resembles this kind of example, however, or similar ones. When vegans give up meat and other animal products, they don’t miss the fact that their food used to come from a sentient animal that was exploited (this is what they want to eliminate from their diet). What many (not all) vegans miss about meat is how it tastes. Some mushrooms can be similarly enjoyed for their meaty taste and texture, so the fact that a certain taste or texture is tied to meat products is beside the point.

I haven’t heard of ethical vegans who miss the fact that meat is real flesh, who would, on this basis alone, turn down realistic fake meat. (Many vegans say there is nothing ethically wrong with consuming lab-grown meat, and some may even try it themselves, but the fact that it is genuine meat derived from animal cells does not make it more enticing than realistic fake meat made from plants or mushrooms; in fact, the opposite is often the case.) I’m also not convinced by the argument that eating fake meat is hypocritical because it legitimises the eating of real meat. This claim requires evidence, and it could equally be argued that eating fake meat achieves the opposite effect: the denouncement of real meat (given that the existence of fake meat tells us we have reasons – ethical and environmental ones – to opt for the fake version over the real one).

Claiming that ethical vegans are hypocrites for eating fake meat products is often a knee-jerk response that is based more on making veganism appear silly than concerns about preventing unnecessary animal suffering. The more vegans are perceived as hypocrites, the more comfortable it feels to avoid considering veganism as an option. It is true that we are all moral hypocrites, but this is true to varying extents, and if we can respect the interests of animals while still being healthy and satisfying our taste preferences, then we have stronger reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle than not. Furthermore, if the philosophy of veganism is about not contributing to animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable, then promoting fake meat would in no way contradict this aim.

If I were to try to steelman the anti-fake meat argument, it’s reasonable to think that vegans would feel aversion to anything resembling real meat (in both appearance and taste) because of the emotion of moral disgust. We can feel disgust towards things we deem morally reprehensible. If an ethical vegan forms a strong belief about the wrongness of animal products, then the sight of them can involve an emotional reaction that was absent in their pre-vegan days. It may seem strange, then, and perhaps even hypocritical, for the sight, smell, and taste of realistic fake meat not to evoke a similar negative reaction, such as one of disgust.

Nonetheless, many vegans might indeed feel unsettled with fake meat products that are too realistic (and this might be why they also wouldn’t try lab-grown meat or the 3D-printed plant-based steak from Redefine Meat). This could be a form of moral disgust: the inability to separate meat-resembling products from negative concepts such as abuse, torture, exploitation, killing, etc. Yet it is also possible (and common) to be able to separate the taste of meat from these negative connotations. There are plenty of vegans who have no issue enjoying fake meat while also feeling aversion to real meat because the two belong in distinct conceptual and moral categories (‘fake’ and ‘real’, ‘ethical’ and ‘unethical’). Because of these distinctions – the important and real differences that exist between real and fake meat – there is no valid reason to view the eating of fake meat as morally hypocritical.

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