“Bloody” vegan burgers may disgust a vegetarian like me, but I’m hardly the target market

I thought a meat-free burger with a distinct “meatiness” sounded gross – but this is for fence-sitters not converts.

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From next month, Britain’s bloodthirsty vegetarians and vegans will be able to better satisfy their thirst for flesh with a more realistic meat-free burger – one that oozes a lookalike “blood” when bitten into. So convincing are these veggie burgers, supposedly, that they'll be found in the meat aisles.

Sainsbury’s will lead the way in this latest advance from the fake meat industry, stocking the “bleeding” burgers in 400 stores nationwide as part of a new vegan range – becoming the first UK supermarket to do so.

Produced by Danish manufacturer Naturli’ Foods, the patties are made from mushrooms, almonds and tomatoes, a combination that, the Guardian reports, makes for a distinct “meatiness”.

Although the flavour is said to be less comparable to an actual burger than that of the veggie burgers produced by Naturli’s US rivals, the addition of beetroot makes for a realistic colouring and a meat “juice”. Which seems a bizarre USP because, having been vegetarian for the majority of my life, meat juice is absolutely the last thing I’m looking for of a meal.

I was raised on an entirely meat-free diet right up until the point that I discovered, on a school trip to Prague aged 15, that pepperoni is in fact unfairly delicious. To my parents’ dismay, I returned home determined to uncover which other culinary delights had been missing from my childhood (I found the answer in KFC).

Fast forward five years and I realised that I was only eating the heavily processed meats because with anything that might have been slightly healthier, it was too hard to separate the food from the animal. Three years into a vegetarian renaissance, cravings are rare and limited to junk food. Quarter pounders when drunk in McDonald's at the end of a night out, chicken nuggets when my boyfriend eats them hungover in bed on a Saturday morning, Haribo when they’re on offer by the till in Tesco. I may not have given in, but I can’t deny being tempted.

Far from tempting, though, is a bloodied burger, not even if to get my hands on a fake one were as easy as going to Sainsbury’s. And I say that as somebody who last weekend made a 40-minute journey from my home in south London to Camden, just to try vegan fried chicken.

When I ate meat, the sight of blood on a restaurant plate would have disgusted me enough to guiltily send my meal back to the kitchen. Very well done was the order of every similarly charred dish. So, why, I thought immediately upon hearing of this non-meat, meat juice-filled burger; why have they made this? Who, I wondered, was asking for it? What is the point of it? Why would a vegetarian, somebody who doesn’t want to eat an animal, want to feel as though they were eating an animal?

But the truth is that these bloody burgers aren’t for me. They may be vegetarian, but they aren’t designed to preach to a hungry choir, but to cater for those on the fence. In the past two years, the number of part-time vegetarians in the UK has swelled by 2.2 million. More and more people are looking to embrace a “flexitarian” or “reductarian” lifestyle, with half the population only eating meat three or four times a week.

Between the rise of documentaries such as Cowspiracy and What the Health, and social movements like Veganuary and Meat Free Mondays, more and more thought is being put into what’s being put onto our plates. For an increasingly health-conscious public, concerns that eating too much meat is bad for you is the main motivator for those who are either already reducing their meat intake or are interested in doing so. This perhaps comes as no surprise after England’s former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, claimed that cutting the UK’s consumption of animal products by 30 per cent would prevent 18,000 premature deaths each year.

After health and weight loss, concerns for both animal welfare and the environment are the next most common reasons for cutting down on meat. A wealth of research has found that switching to a plant-based diet could help reduce the effects of global warming, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimating in 2013 that livestock production accounts for 14.5 per cent of global gas emissions. What’s more, the meat industry takes up 77 per cent of the world’s agricultural land, despite only contributing to 17 per cent of the world’s calories. This is not to mention the impacts on deforestation, water pollution, biodiversity loss and land degradation.

It’s easy for me to dismiss bleeding veggie burgers as being gross – a bit too close to the bone, as it were – and claim that no vegetarian would want to eat them. That may or may not be the case, but it doesn't really matter what I or any other vegetarian or vegan thinks. If these bloody burgers are what persuades meat eaters to give veggie food a go, after accidentally stumbling across them in the meat aisle of a supermarket, then it's a good thing for everybody. 

Indra is the New Statesman’s digital sub-editor.