Vegetarianism has lost its ability to provoke.
Try veganism instead - you have nothing to lose but your elevated blood cholesterol.
Friday November 02 2007 10:30 GMT
Twenty years ago, if you told a colleague that you were a vegetarian, he might have prodded and tugged at you to make sure you were real. Then would come the generous advice about getting sufficient protein and vitamins because it was a well-known fact that vegetarians are self-harming, pasty-faced weaklings.
These days if the subject comes up, people will tend to say something like "I eat much less meat than I used to, and mostly free range or organic."
We are now a nation of "meat reducers", with only National Farmers' Union regional reps prepared to argue in public that you need meat to stay alive; that the livestock industry does not place a heavy burden on the environment; and that chickens, cows, sheep and pigs - nearly 1,000 million of them every year - are content in their stinking sheds and in the killing factories.
Since vegetarianism has lost much of its capacity to provoke, is veganism the new vegetarianism? Animal Aid believes so. That is why - on November 1 - we launched what we believe to be the world's first ever Vegan Month. It will be an annual event and will promote, through a variety of attention-seeking stunts, as well as printed and online resources, the merits of a totally animal free diet. That means no dairy, no eggs, no honey and, of course, no meat or fish. Let's not call it abstinence. We vegans love our Thai stir-frys and our hearty casseroles. We relish proud vegetables, "cheating" meat substitutes, ice cream, chocolate and yoghurt ... all without recourse to any animal parts, or secretions.
The data shows we tend to be slimmer, and we are less prone to a range of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and colorectal and some other cancers. Veganism is also kinder to the environment; it requires considerably less land, water and energy. Yes, we are guilty of eating lots of soya from faraway places but then 75% of the world's soya crop is fed to livestock. It is non-vegans who consume the great bulk of soya.
My principal consideration, however, is the poor old dairy cow, as well as the egg-producing hen and her offspring. Male chicks are useless to the egg industry and so, every year, 30 million of them are gassed or tossed alive into giant industrial shredders. The milk-producing cow is now selectively bred to carry in her udders so much milk that she can barely stand upright. Increasing numbers are confined all year round under "zero grazing" regimes, where they are deprived of everything that makes life tolerable. Once again, their male offspring are regarded as a waste by-product. Scores of thousands every year are shot or slaughtered within days of birth.
Vegan Month is the uninhibited offspring of Veggie Month, which Animal Aid also initiated - 15 years ago. Veggie Month remains a successful enterprise and we will continue to promote it every March, but the shock and awe it once engendered has faded.
The fundamental question, of course, is this: how cool is veganism?
A useful measure is that the uncool and bellicose Gordon Ramsay - who has gone public about the pleasure he gets from boiling lobsters alive - has already exhibited his violent distaste for vegetarians, and so think how much he must be irked by vegans. In the opposing corner is kickboxing poet Benjamin Zephaniah, dedicated vegan and a man who said "up yours" to the government for recommending him for an Order of the British Empire. The Empire, he wrote, reminded him of how "my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised".
Morgan Spurlock, who force-fed himself McDonald's fare in the ghoulishly unputdownable Supersize Me, is not a vegan. But he did detox and repair his wounded liver on a vegan diet. The president of Slovenia, Dr Janez Drnovsek, is a vegan. Dale Vince is vegan. He's the founder of Ecotricity, the world's first renewable energy company and the largest alternative electricity supplier in Europe. And did you spot that all the communal catering at this summer's climate change camp near Heathrow was vegan?
More startling is that reporters from two hard-boiled news gathering organisations, the Daily Mail and BBC's Newsnight, recently took a month-long vegan challenge. I expected low-grade mockery but both were impressed by their experience. The Mail's Edward Batha reported, after his July 2007 adventure, that he'd lost two kilos, saw a reduction in his blood pressure, and a 23% drop in his cholesterol level.
Is veganism a growing phenomenon? Data on the number of UK vegans is sparse but the indicators are clear. A 1993 food company survey put the figure at 100,000. A 2005 Food Standards Agency estimate offered a total of 345,000.
Non-dairy equivalents can now be found in regular food stores and coffee shops across the country. And an Animal Aid survey (pdf) earlier this year of 600 supermarkets found that vegan cheese, "meats", ice cream, milk, yoghurt and chocolate are now widely available (with Waitrose and Sainsbury's leading the pack). The news on the restaurant front is encouraging too. There are now at least 15 exclusively vegan restaurants in London, including the superb VegVeg chain, specialising in Buddhist-influenced south-east Asian buffets. And 100% vegan restaurants can also be found around the country, including Bournemouth, Nottingham and Glasgow.
So enjoy. You've nothing to lose but your elevated blood cholesterol levels.
About this article
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Friday November 02 2007.
It was last updated at 10:30 on November 02 2007.
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