Article begins

The experience of eating is immersive; all of our senses are engaged when we sit down to eat. But how much can you know about food from its appearance? Can you tell real meat apart from fake meat—just by looking?

The German foodscape has a distinct richness in vegan simulacra of meat and dairy foods—supermarkets and restaurants offer vegan schnitzel, vegan liver pâté, vegan canned tuna, and a dizzying number of vegan yogurts. In my research, I investigate what possibilities fake meat opens up (or closes off) for eaters and explore the social implications of fake(d) meat. What aspects of sensory experience are replicable when one removes the meat from meat? What is lost and what is gained in a meat-free replication of meat? Copycat plant-based products aren’t marketed under a veil of deception; a consumer can easily identify an item made without animal products based on the description and vegan certifications printed on the label. But the products are crafted to mirror as closely as possible the look, feel, and taste of the “real” thing, making possible a one-for-one swap; these meat dupes so effectively mimic the real thing that one need not change the menu.

This photo essay of original Polaroid photographs features both traditional animal-product Christmas market foods and vegan simulacra sold at German Christmas markets in 2023. The captions of each item do not reveal whether the food object is meat or a vegan re-creation, placing you, dear reader, in the position of guessing which is which. Can you tell which is which?

A paper dish of currywurst. Chopped bratwurst smothered in a curry-spiced ketchup sauce accompanied by chunky golden fries.
A mug of Glühwein, or mulled wine (most wine is not certified as vegan, as animal products are used in wine production). An icon of Christmas Markets, the warm spiced wine is splashed out in novelty mugs, for which visitors pay a deposit. Many choose to keep these mugs as souvenirs of their visit to the market.
A Belgian-style waffle, loaded up with whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate shavings, and a healthy showering of powdered sugar.
Drei im Weggla: three small sausages and sauerkraut served sandwich-style in a roll, with a mug of Glühwein. This is the canonical meal for visitors to the Nürnberg Christmas Market.
An open-faced sandwich schmeared with creamy herb spread, topped with smoked lox, onion, and dill.
Bags of cookies and pralines on display for munching on at the market or to bring home as gifts.
Elisenlebkuchen, a soft and nutty gingerbread prepared with warming spices and very little flour, dotted with three blanched almonds.
A display of American-style donuts, including strawberry, cinnamon, and Christmas cookie flavors.


Vegan: photos 1,2,3,5,6,8,

Not vegan: photos 4,7


Ariana Gunderson

Ariana Gunderson is a PhD student in cultural and linguistic anthropology at Indiana University. She studies the social, semiotic, and affective work of meat and fake meat in Europe, Polaroid camera in hand. You can learn more about her work at

Cite as

Gunderson, Ariana. 2024. “Can You Tell, Just By Looking?.” Anthropology News website, April 30, 2024.

More Related Articles

A Reliable Narrator

Erin Routon