"veganism is the wellness industry’s new cash cow."
David Cox - The Guardian
I have been meaning to do a post on veganism for some time, although it always has seemed too big a subject really.
Anyway, as you know I get The Guardian's weekly newsletter which often supplies me with ideas or tempting recipes.
Of late and somewhat subconsciously I think, I have noticed more and more vegan articles, and vegetarian ones too. And this week in particular as I initially scanned the list I thought that it was almost all vegan. Well that was the impression I had. So today I actually counted them and rather surprised myself. Of 14 articles, 4 were specifically vegan - well one didn't mention the word but it was - and 4 and a half were vegetarian. So over half of the total if you count the vegetarian ones. Now to be fair it is January - or Veganuary as they call it, which is the month when you give up eating animal products. I checked the numbers of participants - for it is an actual organisation which began in the UK. And it's a bit confusing because the numbers seem to move around a bit depending on which website you look at but it looks to me as if last year worldwide it was 450,000 who officially signed up - this year 350,00. Now if those figures are correct you'd be a bit worried if you were an enthusiastic vegan wouldn't you? But of course, there are lots of people who might do the vegan thing for a month and not register. Even so - even if it's a million, on a world scale that's not a lot is it? But then again the bulk of the world would not know about Veganuary necessarily and they might still be vegan. And do those numbers include people who are already vegan anyway?
The point is, I guess, that like most minorities these days, they are noisy and messianic and so you hear a lot about them. I think the UK numbers are something, like around 1 million vegans and 2 and a half million vegetarian. A lot and growing, but still very low in terms of the main population. In one way it is very, very good that minorities these days have found their voice and are allowed, even encouraged to raise it. On the other hand it tends to give a distorted picture of what the actual situation is. If one does not belong to a minority one tends to be ignored. Well also probably fair enough. If you are not a minority you tend not to have any problems so don't need any special attention. Except it sometimes makes you feel guilty for just being lucky.
So first of all is Veganism a good thing? Well from the point of view of the animals, yes, of course. The environment and sustainability too. Well sustainability maybe not - some fruit and vegetables are not sustainably grown, and also let's not even get into all the things that go into some of those pretend meat things.
There are plenty of superstars and sports stars out there trumpeting the virtues of a vegan diet and how it can do all manner of wonderful things, both physically and mentally. I have now read quite a few articles one the health virtues and have come to the conclusion, that like vegetarianism, but to a greater degree, if you are careful about what you eat, then you will probably get just about everything you need - except for vitamin B12 - everyone is agreed on that one - and calcium, Vitamin D, and iron. Which, of course can be replaced with supplements, but as one writer said, if you are taking that many supplements it can't really be good can it?
“It’s restrictive and unless we pay attention to the elements of the diet that it excludes, then we might be putting ourselves at risk of developing deficiency-related problems." David Rogerson
I confess I get a tiny bit bored with reading about all the actual health benefits, or disadvantages, particularly when the Terminology becomes more 'scientific', but it seems to me that there is some worry about bone density, gut health and even some mental issues. Overall I suspect that dietitians think a Mediterranean diet is the best option. Eat much less meat and fish, and lots more vegetables, and legumes. And I guess that's what I'm trying to do at home. So far so good really although I'm not doing that well on the legumes. I really have to do something about those beans in the pantry. I should add legumes to my 'once a week' list.
Veganism though often seems to be more than a diet doesn't it? It's a cause, and there are stories of people being attacked rather nastily for giving up on veganism for example, not to mention diary and meat producers. Vegans tend to be a bit more fanatical than vegetarians - or is it that just like every other minority, religion and cult the fanatics amongst them make the loudest noise, whilst the 'ordinary' members just carry on doing their thing without causing a stir.
"No diet is a miracle cure. But when what you eat becomes a lifestyle – an identity, and with it a membership of a community – people can be left feeling as though they can’t change their habits without letting others down." Ellie Abraham - The Guardian
And in January 2020 in the Uk this seems to have been sort of recognised because:
"A UK court last week established that ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under UK equality law. This means that vegans will be protected from discrimination by law." Vegan Australia
Now what do they mean by discrimination - surely not just that a restaurant doesn't serve a vegan dish?
One specific and rather interesting unintended, or perhaps unforeseen, consequence of the rise of veganism has been that apparently restaurants are increasingly replacing vegetarian options on their menus with vegan ones. Which is making vegetarians mutter. You can see why they do it. If you have a small menu and only offer one vegetarian option, then you aren't going to satisfy vegans, because although vegetarians can eat vegan food, vegans cannot eat vegetarian food. No cheese. Which not unreasonably upsets some vegetarians.
It's not just practicality though. Well according to various restaurateurs anyway.
“It’s not that vegetarian has become cool or uncool, there just doesn’t seem to be an opinion about it. It’s forgotten ...
“Creativity didn’t move on,” he says of vegetarian cooking, which he believes has failed to shake the worthy-but-dull image that has dogged it since the 1970s: all brown rice, lentils and limp quiches. For Dargue, the discipline of vegan food is much more exciting: “It forced us to think,” Tony Naylor/Andrew Dargue - The Guardian
Surely vegetarian has inspired huge amounts of creativity - I mean look at the rise of Ottolenghi - initially off the back of a couple of vegetarian books.
And certainly even haute cuisine - Michelin stars - is beginning to go vegan. You probably heard of the first French restaurant to get a Michelin star - ONA (Origine non Animale) run by a woman as well - Claire Vallée, and the really big news - the three starred New York restaurant, run by Daniel Humm - 11 Madison Park has gone vegan. A big deal. There are now five or six Michelin starred vegan restaurants. No doubt there will be more. Here are some of their offerings.
The one in the middle is 'faux gras' a substitute for foie gras made from lentils, walnuts, mushrooms and cognac. It's odd isn't it how one genre of vegan food is food that is imitating a meat or dairy product? It almost implies that vegans actually miss meat. And I know this little cartoon is not really appropriate but I did like it.
Obviously there are lots of creative things you can do with fruit and vegetables and legumes without trying to pretend your finished result is sort of meat. And besides as one commenter in The Guardian said:
"I wonder how far this creative cooking departs from the wholefood tradition which was, in my interpretation, about avoiding or limiting processed foods. Are fake cheese, falafel custard and vegan doughnut made from basic ingredients in the kitchen or do they use pre-prepared factory processed ingredients?" - Guardian commenter
Also, like the gluten-free brigade, just because it's vegan doesn't mean to say it's healthy - look at all those sugary things in the health-food aisle.
And a final complaint if that's the right word. It seems to me that veganism is really a white middle-class thing. Can 'ordinary' people afford it? Well yes, of course they can, and the fast food chains, where the food often eat, are providing vegan options these days, but those options are not likely to be any healthier than their non-vegan ones. The 'ordinary' people are not going to eat in posh or even 'ordinary' restaurants really, and those meat-like offerings are expensive. Are the poor and uneducated going to be able to work out what they need to eat to get a balanced diet? I'm sure there are lots of other questions that could be asked with respect to the poor - in western society anyway. Doubtless there are millions, no billions of people in the rest of the world who are vegan anyway, without knowing it.
However, to end my mini rant I will show you some of the vegan dishes that were on show in that Guardian newsletter - scrumptious looking all of them, although not that healthy?
Personally I'm happy to cook vegan every now and then, and maybe I even do without knowing it sometimes, but not all the time. I like cheese and other dairy products too much, meat and fish as well. And if you are really concerned about the animals that provide the dairy products I'm sure you can buy super organic, free range versions. If you have money anyway. I aim to eat at least one vegetarian meal per week - it could well be more - but I'm not going to look deliberately for vegan - unless I'm cooking for a vegan friend.