France’s language purists have decided that “soy milk” and “vegetarian sausage” do not exist

France being French.
France being French.
Image: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier
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The French elite has long been protective of its mother tongue. Its latest target: fake meat.

French parliamentarians have decided that they don’t like the tendency of vegetarian food producers to call things by their animal-based equivalents. A new rule (link in French), approved last week, bans so-called “misleading” practices that “associate terms such as ‘steak,’ ‘filet,’ ‘bacon,’ ‘sausage,’ with products that are not solely, or not at all, composed of meat.”

That means terms like “vegetarian sausage,” “meatless bacon,” and even “cashew cheese” and “soy milk,” are now off-limits. The ban was proposed by National Assembly member Jean Baptiste-Moreau, who said it is “important to combat false claims.” Baptiste-Moreau is a member of president Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République En Marche party. Breaking the rule can bring fines of up to €300,000.

When Moreau tweeted about this legislative accomplishment, he wasn’t so zealous about the integrity of French to avoid using emoji and hashtags.

The measure is yet another attempt by French rule-makers to stop their language from evolving naturally. Politicians and scholars at the Académie française frequently try to combat changes that they think harm the integrity of French. They have tried to halt the influence of English, for example, even though it is widely incorporated by French speakers every day.

It doesn’t seem likely that somebody trying to buy real meat would accidentally get the fake version. Plus, words change all the time. (After all, “hamburger” used to refer specifically to people native to Hamburg, Germany.) One day “sausage” could refer to a seasoned meat cylinder, and the next to a seasoned protein cylinder. C’est la vie.