Plant-based is the new vegan, if you hadn’t heard. The two terms are mostly used interchangeably, but the phrase plant-based conjures more healthful images and, consumers say, sounds less restrictive. That’s led to the rise of plant-based everything: milk, meat, cheese, skin care products, and “chicken” nuggets.
But as Reducetarian Foundation president Brian Kateman notes in this essay for Entrepreneur, the nuggets in Tyson’s new line of Raised & Rooted plant-based foods contain eggs. Eggs may be vegetarian, but they are certainly not vegan, as they are an animal-derived product. He writes that “Tyson has taken the phrase ‘plant-based’—which means ‘contains only plants’—and co-opted it to mean ‘contains plants.’” He warns that this creates consumer confusion about what plant-based foods really are, an especially dangerous thing for an industry that’s still emerging. Because most vegans choose plant-based foods not just for health reasons but for reasons related to animal welfare, eggs from potentially factory-farmed sources are unlikely to fit with their expectations for a plant-based product. Unlike French fries, which often turn out to not be vegan because they’re fried in oil containing animal fats, Tyson’s plant-based nuggets are advertising themselves as such.
There is apparently no regulatory requirement for labeling foods “plant-based,” so it’s up to manufacturers to use this term in a way that’s consistent with customer expectations. Much of the debate so far about labeling plant-based foods has focused on whether non-animal-derived milk or meat alternatives can be called “meat” or “milk.” As consumers seek out plant-based foods, though, perhaps it’s time for the industry, if not the government, to step in with a verification process that defines what exactly the term includes and excludes. Readers who follow a plant-based diet, would you ever be okay with eggs in those foods?