How Should We Talk About Fake Meat?

by | May 31, 2018

How do you talk about fake meat?

When we talk to our kids, what should we call veggie burgers and seitan “ribs” and nori-wrapped soy “fish”? Some of us enjoy meat substitutes, because they’re yummy, and because they feel familiar to us (while not harming any animals). But how should we talk about fake meat?

If we call these products “fake meat,” are we normalizing the idea of eating animals? There’s no one right answer, but here are some pros and cons to different tactics.

“Made from plants” / “Vegan”

One tactic is to call meat substitutes by what they were designed to taste like, just tacking on the words “vegan” or “made from plants.” For example, “chicken strips made from plants,” “vegan hot dog,” “vegan bacon.”

Pros: Kids get to feel like they’re eating the same stuff as their peers (not missing out) while also getting the message that they eat vegan food. Hopefully, they will understand that not all hot dogs are vegan, but they can eat vegan hot dogs. You can also use this language for things like cookies, that are sometimes vegan and sometimes not; if you call your cookies vegan, then it will be easier for your kid to learn that, when they’re offered a cookie, they can ask if it’s vegan or not.

Cons: You’re utilizing the language of the meat-eaters. Even though you’re communicating to your kid that you eat vegan food made from plants, you’re also calling the food “chicken,” subtly communicating that chicken is food. Also, when non-vegans hear you, it might reinforce their stereotype that vegans are always talking about how they’re vegan.



“Fake meat”

Saying “fake meat” (or “fake chicken,” “fake fish”) works just like “made from plants” / “vegan.” It’s just an add-on to a non-vegan food title.

Pros: It’s easy; many of us already refer to meat substitutes this way. Kids will understand they only eat fake meat, not real meat.

Cons: Kids could get the message that their omnivorous friends eat real food, but they eat fake food. It also could get confusing, because you’re already trying to keep lotion and bouncy balls out of their mouths, and then you’re telling them to eat fake food. And, again, despite adding “fake,” you’re mentioning animals/meat when you talk about your food.


Tell your kids what it’s made of.

Use ingredient words to talk about meat substitutes. Are those frozen strips mostly made of soy? Call them soy strips. “Ribs” made from wheat gluten? Call it barbecue seitan.

Pros: It’s wonderful to know what our food is made of. Your kids will be better set up to learn nutrition, cooking, and to eat more whole foods if they understand what those savory foods they love are made of. And this tactic doesn’t use any language that has to do with animals; words like patty and strips are food shapes, not animal shapes.

Cons: Sometimes there are a lot of ingredients. And sometimes it’s awkward—how do you talk about a vegan hot dog without using the word dog or sausage? And some kids might feel left out if their friends are eating a burger, but instead of a “veggie burger,” they’re eating a “mushroom carrot patty.”



Brand names

Field Roast. Tofurky. Gardein.

Pros: It’s easy; your kid will know what to ask for to get the same food again. This language doesn’t promote the idea of eating animals. It might lessen the chance that your kid will accept meat from someone else, as they’ve never been told they eat “meat” of any kind.

Cons: If you mostly try to avoid brand names and advertising, you might not want to talk about your food in these terms. Also, this way could bring you further from a whole-food, plant-based diet, as your kid might be less likely to try a homemade veggie patty when they’re used to having “Field Roast.” Gardein makes a lot of stuff, so you’ll still have to figure out how to differentiate between filets and crumbles and tenders. Some brand names, like Beyond Meat, still have the same issues as the “vegan meat” tactic. And of course, if you make homemade meat substitutes, this tactic won’t work at all.

No matter how you talk about your food, you’re setting your kids up right, just by feeding them plant-based food!

How do you talk about fake meat to your kids? Let us know in the comments below.


Darcy Reeder’s been a journalist, a vegan pastry chef, owned a vegan pizzeria, and now she plays with kids all day (as a mama and a Kaleidoscope Play & Learn facilitator). See more at her blog Vegans in Love, her Etsy shop ItsyPunx, and on Instagram @darcyreeder.


4 Responses to “How Should We Talk About Fake Meat?”

  1. Julianne
    May 31st, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this article. I just had a conversation with our 3.5-year-old about her Gardein fishless patty. I had used the word fish with her befor, but now she is making a connection with the animal and I had to explain it was fake fish because we love fish and don’t want to hurt them. I think the word fake turned her off though.

  2. Darcy Reeder
    May 31st, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

    Thanks for your comment! Yes, we’ve gone back and forth between all the tactics in this piece, so I figured it made the most sense to write it as pros and cons, rather than advocating any one “right way.”

    That’s awesome that your kiddo is understanding on her own that she doesn’t want to eat animals!

  3. Charlotte
    May 31st, 2018 @ 9:02 pm

    This has been something I have been very conscientious about with our 3.5 year old lately. I have made an effort to stress that he eats “vegan nuggets” and “vegan cheese”. I am proud to say that he now asks if something is vegan or if it is made with animals. Just today he turned down cheese at school :o) proud mom moment!

  4. austin
    June 3rd, 2019 @ 8:02 am

    it doesn’t seem right

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