I have been aware of umami (the ‘fifth taste’) for a long time, and always assumed that umami appeals to me like it does everyone else, and sometimes intentionally put umami in my cooking. After all, many of the ‘umami rich’ foods happen to be foods I like.
But I was struck by this section of “Is Umami a Secret Ingredient of Vegan Activism”:
Interestingly, some research suggests that a subset of the population may be impervious to umami. Rice and beans versus grilled chicken? It’s all the same to them. And maybe these people have an easier time going vegan (which could also mean that they have less patience with those who struggle with giving up animal foods).
Even before I was a semi-vegetarian, I would have taken the rice and beans over grilled chicken. In fact, I never felt like I wanted more grilled chicken.
Might it be simply a conincidence that I happen to like some umami-rich foods? I’ve used nutrional yeast, but I never felt like it did anything special for the flavor. And I never felt like konbu dashi (stock made from a kind of seaweed) made a dish any better than if I had used plain water.
Heck, when I transitioned to being vegan, cheese was a lot easier to give up than I expected.
When people make statements like ‘I could never give up [non-vegan] food!’ and don’t refer to a particular health or socio-economic concern, I don’t take them seriously. If they haven’t even tried, how do they know? And managed to transition both to vegetarianism and later veganism on the first attempt, so I tend to assume that everybody exaggerates the difficulty.
But, if I am umami-resistant, and umami is why so many people crave meat/cheese/etc., it really is harder for other people to make the transition to veganism if they don’t eat a lot of vegan umami.
Heck, not having umami cravings might be like not feeling sexual urges or sexual attraction. You assume you are just like everyone else, until you think about it, and realize you might not actually experience the same feelings as most people after all!
I had always figured that people (with sufficient agency) eat animals and animal secretions anyway, in spite of the unethical nature of consuming animals, because of cultural conditioning, social pressure, and ignorance of just how much harm they are doing, or misinformation about health effects (in very rare cases, they might be genuine unethical sadists or sociopaths). I myself was not raised vegan, and I can affirm that cultural conditioning, social pressure, and ignorance – particularly ignorance – were why I ate animals. But perhaps ‘umami’ is a physical factor.
When I try to persuade people to go vegan, I should keep umami in mind, and bring it into the conversation when somebody claims that they will always crave eating animals.
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