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The main course at a vegan dinner?

Imagine you're a vegan. Or maybe you are a vegan, in which case you don't have to imagine it. Now imagine you hear about an event coming up in your area billed as The Vegan Potluck Dinner Anyone Can Contribute To. You make up a batch of your favorite couscous salad recipe and go to the dinner.

When you walk in, the first thing you notice on the table is a large platter of fried chicken. You say to the host, "I thought this was a vegan potluck?"

The host answers, "Well, it is, but everyone has agreed to allow some animal-based foods under certain restricted circumstances."

"Under certain restricted circumstances? Like what? Why is there fried chicken here?" you ask.

"Well, even though there are many good meat analogues available for things like hamburgers and sausages, there's no meat analogue for fried chicken. It's simply not replaceable with a vegan equivalent," the host replies.

You pick up a bowl, walk resolutely past the chicken, and help yourself to some minestrone. You proclaim it delicious, and the person who made it says, "Thanks! I made it with beef stock, but there's so little meat in there you hardly notice it, do you?"

You quickly put down the minestrone, pick up a plate, and take some corn on the cob. You bite in and discover that it has been coated not with margarine but with real butter. You turn to the host in disbelief and say, "This isn't so little that I don't notice, I noticed instantly! And you can't say butter isn't replaceable with margarine. Why does this corn have butter on it?"

And the host replies, "Well, some people just feel butter is higher-quality than margarine."

So you put down the corn, pick up a clean plate, and head for the desserts. There you see a large chocolate cake. You take a piece, bite into it, and are delighted! You ask the person who made it how he got it so light and fluffy. "I've never managed to get a cake this texture using aquafaba and soy milk."

"Well, I used eggs and cow's milk. You said yourself, you just can't get the right consistency with vegan ingredients. Besides, don't be so paranoid – eating meat and other animal products isn't illegal; no one is going to sue us!"

As you stand there sputtering in disbelief, the host says, "I know how you feel, but you have to understand: We have two goals at this vegan dinner: to be vegan, and to be a dinner. And those goals sometimes conflict with each other, so we have to find a middle ground between them. Of course we prefer vegan dishes whenever they're practical – did you try the couscous salad someone brought? – but surely you concede it isn't possible to have a really high-quality dinner without any animal products at all."

Finally in exasperation you cry, "What on earth is the matter with you people? What does fear of getting sued have to do with anything? And where did you get the idea that a meal's being vegan is in conflict with its being a high-quality dinner? And if you were going to have animal-based foods here, why the hell did you advertise it as a vegan potluck dinner? Vegan means no animal products of any kind! Ever!"

There is a stunned silence for a moment. Then you hear a few people call you an "extremist". One person calls your ideas "wacko".

*   *   *

A few weeks later, you hear about another vegan potluck dinner and decide to go. This time, everything is truly vegan! There's a tasty ratatouille (no fried chicken), the minestrone is made with vegetable broth, the corn on the cob has margarine on it and tastes great, and the chocolate cake is light, fluffy, and scrumptious without a drop of milk or any eggs anywhere near it. You think, "Wow! These people have definitely put the lie to the notion that a high-quality dinner can't be purely vegan!" The only drawback? Everyone's speaking Spanish.