Coffee Shop Promotes 'Fake' Meat with 'Fake' Celebrity Chef

Introducing a vegan bacon sandwich and a lookalike Gordon Ramsey to promote it.



Whether it’s a campaign to incentivize beans, not burgers, or Marion Nestle calling out imitation meats for their highly processed nature, Treehugger is no stranger to discussions about how far the plant-based meat trend really should go. After all, while reducing how much meat—and especially beef—we eat could help reduce pressure on both land and climate, there are legitimate questions about manufactured alternatives that are often high in sodium and other less healthy ingredients. 

That’s led some companies like the Field Roast Meat and Cheese Company to shy away from terms like "fake meat," seeking instead to highlight the "real" ingredients their products contain. United Kingdom-based coffee shop chain Costa, however, is taking a different approach with the launch of their new plant-based “Bac’n Baps.” (Baps is a British term for rolls, in case you were wondering.)

Not only is the company declaring that it’s “proud to be fake,” but it’s enlisting the help of a Gordon Ramsey lookalike to be the face of the campaign. Why Ramsey? Well, there’s an interesting corporate backstory on that front—as the "real" celebrity chef once roasted (sorry!) the coffee chain for their original "real" bacon bap having insufficient quantities of bacon.

Costa Gordon Ramsey lookalike

Here’s how a Costa spokesperson described the campaign: 

“Gordon Ramsay might be famous for pulling kitchens apart, but the country’s favourite look-alike definitely knows how to put our Vegan Bac’n Bap together. At Costa Coffee we always look to challenge our alternative food offerings to provide as much choice for our customers as possible, and this breakfast alternative is very proud to be fake.”

No word yet on how the "real" Ramsey feels about this campaign. He appears to be busy cooking up reindeer burgers instead, which has the potential to be a more sustainable alternative to beef

Marketing silliness and viral videos aside, the new campaign does raise an interesting question about the role of these plant-based meats. As comments on a recent post about the smell of veggie burgers show, many of our readers are inherently suspicious of these highly-processed "meats," and would much rather prioritize either real vegetables, or more sustainably raised meats.

A 2019 United Nations report concluded that plant-based diets and reduced meat consumption could significantly help our ability to fight climate change. But meat alternatives aren't necessarily to the simple solution: A Johns Hopkins University study found that "many of the purported environmental and health benefits of cell-based meat are largely speculative."

That said, plant-based meats are not—so far, at least—showing up as a replacement for pasture-raised, grass-fed, organic, and sustainably reared meats. Instead, more often than not, they are showing up at fast food restaurants, burger bars, and other convenient locations. Costa Coffee, for example, is better known for lower cost, relatively mass-produced meals. In other words, they are replacing exactly the types of meats that many of our readers would argue should be the highest priority for phasing out in the first place. 

While I would love to see more whole foods, real vegetables, beans, and other healthier fare being served in fast food restaurants and other convenient locations, we do also have to be realistic about the food culture we currently exist in. And if we can lessen the amount of industrially farmed meat being served as we transition toward a truly healthy food culture, then I for one am all for it. 

If that means embracing the idea of "fakeness" to help market to the masses, then it’s certainly worth a shot. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Climate Change and Land." Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2019.

  2. Santo, Raychel E., et al. "Considering Plant-Based Meat Substitutes and Cell-Based Meats: A Public Health and Food Systems Perspective." Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, vol. 4, 2020, doi:10.3389/fsufs.2020.00134