Dan Rookwood is (slowly) coming round to veganism.
How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry – they’ll tell you soon enough. Those who practise veganism typically do so with a quasi-religious zeal that even the average Scientologist would find a bit much. Vegangelists commune around the office kitchenette competitively swapping anecdotes about how amazing they feel as they chow down unconvincingly on some plant-based mulch. This circle can be a bit intimidating to breach as you reheat last night’s lasagne in the microwave. ‘Don’t mind me and my tasty plate of indeterminate minced cow/pig parts!’ What the vegan diet may lack in things like vitamin B12, calcium, iron and flavour, it more than makes up for in smugness. Just kidding. Some of my best friends are vegans. Where I work, Whole30 – the paramilitary wing of vegan-extremism – has been sweeping the office like a wasting plague. Popping out to grab a quick coffee with a vegan often turns into a discussion with the barista about the various non-dairy milks on offer. It’s literally nuts. Ordering food at restaurants with strict vegans can sap you of the will to live – or to let them live. When I was growing up, vegetarians (as they were then collectively known) were eyed with suspicion and treated with disdain. The veggie option on the menu was invariably a solitary box-ticker called a nut roast that looked like the bottom of a budgie cage and probably tasted worse. (Can’t say I’ve ever tried either.) These days it’s a totally different story. Veganism has gone fully mainstream. There are vegan restaurants and cafes sprouting up everywhere. Supermarkets have entire aisles dedicated to vegan produce. This isn’t a fad diet; it’s a cultural movement. Australia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world, according to market researcher Euromonitor International. In August 2016 a survey by Roy Morgan Research found that 2.1 million people living in Australia say they ate a complete or mainly vegetarian diet, with the highest proportion in Sydney (14.4 per cent). It’s a fair bet this figure will have shot up since. The number of vegans in the UK, meanwhile, has mushroomed by 700 per cent in the past two years, up from 540,000 to 3.5 million. Throw another tofu kebab on the barbie. You used to be able to spot a vegan a mile off – if not smell them. But the musty-crusty Byron Bay stereotype is changing. According to the Vegan Society in the UK, 42 per cent of vegans are millennials aged between 15 and 34. This generational shift is largely influenced by popular culture. A-list stars of sport and entertainment from Tom Brady to Brad Pitt are spreading the green gospel. There are cookbooks and pretty bloggers and 60m #vegan posts on Instagram. And we have all binged on an unbalanced diet of Netflix shockumentaries in the past couple of years. Food, Inc. is a powerful and persuasive polemic that has converted me to organic produce for life. Cowspiracy and particularly What The Health ram veganism so far down the viewer’s throat, however, they are much more difficult to swallow. All tongue-in-cheek cynicism aside, I totally get it. People are increasingly embracing a plant-based diet for entirely valid reasons. Many of us, myself included, live with the cognitive dissonance caused by eating meat and yet being opposed to animal cruelty. Then there’s the environmental impact: on average it takes 5kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat, and one study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization attributed 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions to the livestock industry. Plus, of course, there are serious health considerations to weigh up. In 2015 when the World Health Organization released its landmark report denouncing bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham and other types of processed meat as carcinogens, people took notice. With the exceptions of Morris dancing and incest, it’s hard to dismiss something unless you’ve tried it. I gave a paleo diet a go for a while but full-on veganism just isn’t for me. A true Pom, I need cow’s milk in my tea and there’s no facon way I’m giving up my full English. I have a Pavlovian response to the smell of bacon. That response being: I eat it. I am genuinely trying to pork out less though. So I’m giving serious thought to becoming a ‘flexitarian’, a person who eats meat only on special occasions. It’s just that there are still quite a lot of special occasions. Like hangovers. And weekdays.