News from the world of vegan versions of things: Boy did our “legit vegan lobster roll” recipe ruffle some feathers. We sifted through about 50 comments expressing varying degrees of displeasure from a simple “no” to the more elaborate: “‘Animals are food not friends’ -Bruce McSharkbite.” Look, we get lots of our life wisdom from Pixar movies too. I myself play host to an Inside Out-style panel of jerks in my brain, voiced-over by Rashida Jones, Reggie Watts, Pendleton Ward, Christina Hendricks and, regrettably, Andy Dick. But I digress.
Here’s what the vegan lobster roll boils down to: Food Republic doesn’t endorse fake meat and we don’t call for soyrizo, veggie bacon, Tofurky or any other processed ingredients in our recipe section. That stuff is packed with sodium and fillers and has a comparable carbon footprint to meat and dairy. No respectable dietician would recommend eating it instead of meat. Instead, our vegan and vegetarian recipes focus on bringing out the naturally satisfying nature of vegetables by pumping up the flavors in innovative ways. My vegan eggplant dog for example, doesn’t even try to be a fake hot dog, nor do FR recipe contributor Adeena Sussman’s snuggy bunnies.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you hate every lobster roll you ate while you were omnivorous. You don’t even hate non-vegans — there’s no hate involved; you’re simply affected deeply enough by your knowledge of our food systems to no longer want to participate in some or many of them. It’s not hard to become impassioned by the freedom and want it for others.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m not vegan, having researched American food culture and production for a decade. I know terrible things; all food writers do. Does still eating meat and dairy in spite of that mean that I’m less empathetic than a vegan? Who cares? We all arrange our stack of moral priorities differently. But one of our readers called another an asshole because I chose to publish this specific recipe. Come on, folks. As a food website, we’re as inclusive as we can possibly be, which includes but is certainly not limited to vegan, meat but dairy-free, gluten-free but only vegetarian and containing soy, lacto-ovo-taco, raw and everything else. Do I eat raw food? No, I like my food cooked, particularly my meat (only sometimes though). Do I understand the raw food diet? Sure, particularly knowing with certainty that nobody stays raw forever.
“At least I have an idea of what flavor profile I’m dealing with, and know how to plan the rest of my meal accordingly.”
Give that raw person their time, just like that time you went Paleo, your brother tried green juicing, quitting when the overloaded pulp container exploded all over the kitchen, and your mom discovered this “new thing called yerba mate” (“you make it in this neat wooden cup!”). Give the vegans their own lobster rolls and know that they are not obligated to discontinue using the phrase “lobster roll” because their version contains no lobster. You’re thinking of false advertising, and that would only apply if they were selling vegan lobster rolls advertised as lobster rolls, period, with no animal-free qualifiers.
Now, for the guy who asked in the comments “How can a lobster be vegan food? Tell me,” here you go: it’s a hearts of palm sandwich prepared and seasoned as though it were a lobster roll, to remind one of lobster rolls past and let one indulge in a famous, regional, much-loved summer treat. Another commentator pointed out, rightfully, “A ‘hearts of palm roll’ won’t sell as well.” Hearts of palm makes awesome vegan fried calamari too, because “fried hearts of palm rings” simply doesn’t hold the same appeal. “Lobster roll” is a descriptor meant to evoke inclusivity, not a set-in-stone “thing which is only one thing and that’s that.” That’s way too narrow-minded a view to be taking regarding something as vast as the world of food. Know what I’m saying?
Additionally, for the reader who suggested someone be fired for publishing the recipe (again, that would be me), you definitely haven’t tried the absolutely delicious, 100% legit vegan lobster roll meat-avoiders across the board will totally enjoy, and you really should. For the reader who said “bye, Food Republic,” one bite of this fresh, briny treat and you’ll be back. To the gentleman who said, “Vegans wish they could eat lobster rolls. Too bad they suck,” vegans don’t wish they could eat lobster rolls, and they most certainly do not suck. They could physically eat a lobster roll right now, but they’ve made a thoughtful commitment not to. It’s never “ugh, I’d love to try your nachos but I can’t.” It’s only, “You know me, animal product-free.” They won’t shrivel up and burst into a shower of granola if they eat something non-vegan, fun as that visual may be.
Thankfully, towards the end of this rather heated social media discussion, we heard voices of reason from the folks this recipe was published for.
A reader from Canada said, “Maybe vegan foods are labeled the way they are so that they are recognizable to the target audience. For me, having something called ‘vegan whatever’ conjures up memories of enjoyable things I ate in my former life. It isn’t the same as an actual lobster roll of course, and I don’t expect it to be. But, at least I have an idea of what flavor profile I’m dealing with, and know how to plan the rest of my meal accordingly.”
Another reader added, “If calling vegan recipes by their descriptive taste name helps non-vegetarians to try the alternative, I’m all for it.”
Okay? Now clink beers, pop open a can of hearts of palm and get your “seafood” on if for no other reason than to say you did.