I have two reasons for not being vegan, and neither of them are that I disagree with veganism. I think veganism is ethically required of me if I follow almost any of my other standpoints: it’s pretty much the best thing we can do for the environment as individuals, and it is an incredibly admirable lifestyle. At least half the vegan hate lurking out there is because people know that they could do more good for the world in their own lives. I was MVFS (mostly vegetarian while sober) for two years, and a vegan for exactly four days, before I gave up. Firstly, because veganism is wound so tightly with clean eating culture and lifestyle Instagram accounts, that I was not able to healthily pursue it. And second, because vegan food is absolutely disgusting.
Whilst the first seems by far the more interesting, others have spoken about it far better than I could — read Ruby Tandoh. Hopefully by this point there are very few who would deny the toxic culture that’s sadly enveloped so much of what could be a beautiful and positive lifestyle, albeit one that’s really into weirdly racist slavery parallels. For now I’ll be looking at the second, which rather than portraying me as a level-headed self-love activist shows me in my true colours: the unchaperoned child at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Food is the highlight of my day. I have more recipe books in my room than fiction books, and, by no slim margin, more actual food in my room at this very moment than reading from my course. I love the gluttonous excitement of a Domino’s pizza arriving, the fact that you know full well that you don’t even particularly like Domino’s pizza, but, much like Ben and Jerry’s, there is an immeasurable comfort in the ugly, greasy, bitter-sweet ritual of the purchase, the unveiling, and the overeating. I love it when you add cream to a warm pan that you’ve been frying bacon in, when the cream turns gently-toasted-marshmallow brown, bubbling and sticking to the sides.
Don’t get me wrong, vegetables make the cut: baby carrots with honey, the mint, tarragon, walnut and feta salad from my local Persian restaurant, pretty much anything with caramelized onions on.
The problem I have, above and beyond veganism’s perils, is that you lose some of the most beautiful and peaceful rituals that exist. There is nothing life-affirming about an activated cashew, a £13 Buddha Bowl that tastes of grass or, let’s be honest, your fifth helping of chickpeas this week.
Of course, from a utilitarian point of view this is pathetic: the horrors of the dairy industry and slaughterhouses are anything but beautiful and peaceful, and the fact that we want to keep eating these things shouldn’t matter, but I do even if it does. Life is too dark and relentless to lose anything this joyful.
Clearly, the solution is to make new rituals around plant-based and cruelty-free food. We must find cathartic recipes and delicious fast food that simply don’t involve the ingredients that hurt the planet and the animals that live on it.
I’m happy to try and do this – honestly I am – but for one reason or another the world just isn’t game. Whilst there are some fantastic vegan places popping up which offer the sort of finger-licking-goodness I’m after – Temple of Seitan in London for instance – and many Asian-inspired restaurants such as Wagamama are mastering the art of ‘you wouldn’t know it’s vegan’, most others are lagging behind. I don’t want quinoa or a range of lukewarm plain vegetables whilst my friends are eating a burger, I just want you to make the burger without meat, eggs or dairy.
I know I’ll never be able to give up non-vegan things entirely, or even just give up meat, but I wish I could make more vegan choices without losing the joy of food. Until restaurants, supermarkets and bloggers accept that veganism is a simple restriction on ingredients rather than a life ban on seasoning, texture and luxury, that’s going to be a difficult task.