Vegans and the rest are further apart than Remainers and Brexiteers, says Stephen Jardine.
This time last January, things were going so well. For a month I switched to a vegetarian diet to test the impact on someone who has always been a happy carnivore. By this stage I was already enjoying the experience and feeling the benefits and by the end of the month, I’d decided to cutback my meat consumption permanently.
Given that positive experience, this year I decided to go the whole hog, or rather mung bean, and embrace Veganuary. After last year, just how hard could it be? The answer is, too hard for me.
It didn’t begin well. At the start of the January I emptied the fridge and then stocked it with vegetables, nut butter, hummus and other vegan-approved foods. I then stepped back and realised, there was actually nothing I really wanted to eat. Putting that down to years of conditioning by the meat industry, I turned instead to the groaning shop shelves of vegan snack and meals. While they kept hunger at bay, I couldn’t help but think of all the things I would rather be eating.
One week in, I downloaded some vegan recipes and cooked roast vegetable salads, coconut curries, baked sweet potatoes and black bean burgers. Everything was fine but it wasn’t delicious and the thought of eating food like that for the rest of my life filled me with more than the January blues. But it wasn’t the food that finished off Veganuary for me, not even the vegan cheese, which deserves a special place in hell.
It was not what you eat but who you are. When you say you are trying vegetarianism, most people just want to know how it’s going. Say vegan and the frequent reaction is a narrowing of the eyes and simple question, why?
If you thought the gap between Remainers and Brexiteers was wide, it is nothing compared to the divide between Vegans and the rest. “How do you know if someone is vegan? They will tell you,” goes the old joke. There is a suspicion veganism and insufferable smugness are too closely related. You don’t have to look further than the Veganuary website and it’s claim that 23,831 animals will be saved as a result of the initiative. That probably sits alongside the promise of £350 million of EU cash for the NHS in terms of spurious fantasy.
The reality is, no animals are saved by 60,000 extra people eating vegan in January. The global meat industry will keep on turning and for every person turning their back on a lamb chop, another is ready to pick up the cutlery.
In terms of how our industrial food system operates, veganism changes virtually nothing. However that doesn’t make it wrong. Once you top up your vitamins to avoid any deficiency, there is plenty of evidence it’s a healthy diet. And vegans can be assured they are not helping to perpetuate the industrial food.
There is a way to bridge the divide between vegans and the rest – through part-time approaches like VB6. It involves eating vegan during the day then whatever you want after 6pm. A mass adoption of that more achievable goal would be much more likely to impact on the meat trade but it would also involve some understanding on either side of the vegan debate and that still seems to be unpalatable.