It’s been a big week for cheese.
No, there isn’t some kind of international cheese shortage, and no, we haven’t been attacked by rounds of mutant camembert. Instead, the opening of a humble vegan shop in Brixton in South London has pushed the issue of what we actually mean by the word ‘cheese’ into the mainstream news agenda.
La Fauxmagerie markets itself as a ‘Plant-based cheesemonger’, and quite clearly states that it is selling cheese-like products for the vegan market. Early sales have been excellent, and the prospects for the fledgling business look good.
Except of course the vegan cheesers have found themselves at the centre of a storm, after Dairy UK got in touch to say that they were violating EU law by using the word cheese and they should desist immediately.
Dairy UK was quoted as saying: “It concerns us that consumers are being misled with the use of dairy terms like cheese by the plant-based sector. Only products which are real dairy cheeses can use the term ‘cheese’.”
By the letter of the law, Dairy UK are right. The EU ruled in 2017 that dairy terms should not be used by the non-dairy sector to describe their products, though it is still down to individual countries to actually apply that law.
But by the law of common sense, this is patent nonsense. Fauxmagerie is very clear about what it is selling – people buying products from there know full well they are not buying actual cheese but rather are getting something akin to cheese which fits in with either their ethical or health requirements. A consumer who buys any food marketed as an alternative product has only themselves to blame if they don’t know what they are getting. Additionally, by using a word such as ‘cheese’, it is describing to the consumer the type of produce they are buying.
The dairy industry would no doubt lobby for a new word to encompass this type of product. But bluntly, they fail to recognise the fact that language changes, and the reason that cheese continues to be used is that, frankly, people understand what it means in the vegan context. As I mentioned back in January, attempts to rename Vegan Cheese as Gary a couple of years ago were always doomed to fail, for a whole host of self-evident reasons.
And if we are going to attack the use of Cheese in the vegan world, then clearly, we need to come up with an entirely new dictionary of terms for all the vegetarian and vegan dishes now flooding our supermarkets. The reason? Well if you look up actual dictionary definitions of words like sausage, milk, butter or even haggis, you will find that those official definitions all reference the meat or milk which are constituent parts of their make-up. So if you take the argument to its logical conclusion, you could never have a vegetarian sausage or toast with peanut butter. And as for a Soy Latte, when the word Latte is itself an Anglicisation of the Italian word Latte, meaning milk, well that clearly should be consigned to history.
The world has moved on and language, as it always does, has moved on as well to encompass the changes in our 21st-century lives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using the terms for food with which we are all familiar, and we should welcome rather then resist their adaptation to the new eating habits which are now becoming more popular.
I don’t think anybody is confused.