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Upper middle vegan

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"I implore any upper-class vegans to check their privilege before they accuse the working-class of ruining the planet by eating chicken nuggets." Cécile Girard - Reveille

It's Sunday so today is the day I get to read - no very lightly skim - the Australian Financial Review's weekend supplement Life and Leisure. I simply do not understand who this supplement is aimed at as it features products and experiences that only a very tiny number of extremely rich people can afford. Maybe it's the equivalent of the very poor drooling over Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous - for the middle classes. Things the middle classes might want to do but can't really afford and/or justify - well maybe just once in their lives, or for a very special occasion. But then I will admit that this is a household that doesn't spend money on luxury items other than top end computers. For all I know others do buy watches for $14,000.00 so that they can go diving in style.

This weekend's issue was all about sustainability, and it's food section chose to feature gourmet restaurants that were entirely vegan. The chef shown here is one Daniel Humm whose Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park won the top prize in the 50 Top Restaurants in the World competition in 2017. I assume he has Michelin stars as well, although the article didn't say so. I do know that Michelin recently awarded Michelin stars to a vegan restaurant in France though - the first completely vegan restaurant to win them I believe. And I also know that there are several highly reputable chefs going completely vegan, not to mention the completely vegetarian ones, and the ones with vegan and vegetarian options. That Manhattan restaurant has been closed for a year whilst they planned and remodelled for the reopening. Daniel Humm is convinced that this is the next big thing:

"If Eleven Madison Park is truly at the forefront of dining and culinary innovation, to me it's crystal clear that is the only place to go next,"

It's a risk I guess, but then again maybe not. Sure it will attract vegans but it will also attract people who are curious, or who want to be seen as trendy, or who have simply dined there before - even dare I say - on a regular basis. If he can establish it as a trendy food destination - even at $450 a meal - then the wealthy will flock. After all you don't have to be a vegan to eat a vegan meal. I'm sure we all have from time to time at home. Sometimes unknowingly, sometimes because we are entertaining a vegan friend, sometimes just because. Because, apparently the really big trend is to go flexitarian - or less meat eating. Like David and I. I doubt we often go completely vegan - that means no dairy products and I find cooking without them very hard - no cheese, no eggs, no butter, no cream. But we definitely eat less meat than we used to. Not dairy though.

But back to veganism and the wealthy. Here in Australia there are an increasing number of high class vegan restaurants - the AFR gave five examples in different capital cities - interestingly not one in Adelaide which I find odd, nor in Darwin and Canberra - well perhaps more explicable. There are also, of course, heaps of middle of the road vegan restaurants, but as far as I know there is not yet a vegan fast-food chain. Well not here in Australia. And would they be as cheap as the big names anyway?

Mind you the biggies now all have vegan options - well some do, some don't - a very quick scan showed nothing on McDonald's but Hungry Jack's has a vegan range, and here is one of their options. I have no idea how much it costs - whether it is more expensive than the meat based equivalent. But they obviously feel there is a market for several vegan options - around half a dozen I think.

Because that's the thing about veganism. It's really hard for the poor - unless, of course, you live in a very poor part of the world where meat and dairy are just not available. It used to be that meat was a sign of privilege and wealth in western society, and indeed, increasingly it is becoming so in traditionally poorer, and largely vegetarian at least, societies such as India and China, even parts of Africa. The rich, mostly anyway, like to flaunt their wealth. And eating meat and dairy is one way of doing it. Probably particularly if they acquired their wealth rather than inherited it. It demonstrates their success.

How ironic then, that these days, one way of flaunting your wealth is to go vegan. Because although meat is expensive, fresh fruit and vegetables are too - particularly if they are organic. And that goes for all the dairy substitutes - all those nut milks and plant based cheese - honestly how can it be cheese? Surely it's better to just forget cheese. And no, farmer's markets are not the answer, although the Queen Victoria Market and its like might be - as long as you avoid the organic section where everything costs several times as much.

"If a two-dollar frozen pot pie dinner can keep you full for much longer than an equivalent two-dollar bunch of carrots, why would any consumer on a budget choose to go hungry in the name of ethics?" Cécile Girard - Reveille

Because on top of the expense there's the guilt. As you know I do not participate in social media, but I do know that it is a huge influencer, and I also know that 'celebrities' - real big names as well as pretend 'celebrities' are huge influencers, and that many have been pushing the vegan mantra, of sustainability, health and cruelty to animals. All true. Well - the health bit is questionable I feel unless you are extremely dedicated in making sure you get all the things you need from plants. Nevertheless the poor - and it's often the poor and the ignorant - yes ignorant - who watch those daytime chat shows with celebrities going on about saving the planet by going vegan - just either do not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables - tricky out in the outback I guess, but otherwise not so tricky here in Australia - or simply can't afford it.

I found an interesting article called Being vegan says so much more about you than just your ethics on the website which summarised what you needed to have to be a vegan:

  • Vegans generally need to be not only vigilant about ingredients, but able to unpack their meaning for animal welfare, climate change, sustainability, and personal health.

  • Vegan products and replacement ingredients are often expensive, and not within every household's budget.

  • Finally, veganism often requires fortitude and discipline—both to deny oneself short-term hedonistic pleasures in the commitment to ethical principles, and to fend off the typical perception of vegans as troublesome or challenging guests.

Which means that vegans are generally:

"knowledgeable, disciplined, able to support oneself, but also able to form social connections."

Not your average worker or unemployed person then.

And even if you had started out poor, you have obviously been well educated and risen up the social scale to be able to achieve all those things, and therefore:

"Rather than only engaging with food for pleasure, our respondents recognized that the challenges of veganism can be used to signal social status and, if originating from a lower socioeconomic class, an upward trajectory in one's fortunes."

Of course the poor can grow their own. And I do remember a mother in my child's playgroup, who did not have much money who had converted her modest suburban backyard to a vegetable garden. But yes, she did have a back garden. And she was intelligent and educated, and yes, dedicated. So not your average poor. Besides I seem to recall her husband was a butcher, so they probably got cheap meat too. If you live in a flat then you can't grow your own food.

Going back to the guilt thing just briefly I'm not sure that lecturing us on how we are cruel, exploitative and destroying they planet by eating meat products, is how to get us to convert. In some cases it might make one actually rebel against the concept. Lots of vegans - at least the ones in the public eye - are very 'holier than thou' about it all. Not enticing. Interestingly the largest group to embrace veganism are young and female. Young - idealistic - and female - more caring? Young - also influenced by media personalities they admire and a desire to be in the 'in' group - i.e. the influence of peers. Hence the influencers and the power of social media.

There are signs however, that veganism is indeed going more mainstream. Just look at the, mostly expensive, number of vegan options in your local supermarket and fast food chains. And even the rich - not known for their care of the planet - might be drawn to try it out if the top trendy restaurants are going completely vegan, so that you can't just ignore the vegan options on the menu and stick to your meat and cheese.

A brief analysis of that very gourmet looking burger at the top of the page. It's called an Upper-class vegan burger 'deluxe' and comes from the website of a Belgian food company called Ardo whose mission:

"is to preserve nature's gifts as much as possible and to turn them into delicious end products." Ardo

It of course uses their (I think frozen) products. The burger is made of quinoa and kale (what else!), so not just lentils and some more ordinary kind of greens. I have no idea what those products cost. I'm guessing a lot.

Below is Attica's go at smashed avocado - completely vegan and probably costing a fortune. Attica was also on that top 50 list somewhere. Finger limes I note. Can't get them very easily.


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