Veganism is having a moment, and it’s proving to be a long one. For months now, we’ve seen supermarkets stocking more and more plant-based food: a pizza here and there, a flourishing free-from section, sometimes even an entire range of vegan lunch options. Eateries – chains and locals alike – are introducing vegan choices and advertising them pride of place. Clearly, businesses really care about being as welcoming to vegans as possible! (Or do they…we’ll get to this later).
Whatever the motivation behind this onslaught of veggie goodness is, I’m here for it. I love nothing more than confidently ordering a vegan lasagne down my local pub and hearing the staff talk about how popular it’s been, or plumping for a vegan pizza having a meal out with friends who may have assumed I’d be settling for salad. Better options – particularly at easily accessible places – can only be a good thing: they open up plant-based eating to an innumerable chunk of the populus, appealing across a whole cross-section of different income levels, abilities, and more. This beckons a more positive, inclusive, compassionate world, and is a future I can get behind.
If you missed all the chatter around Simon Amstell’s 2017 mockumentary, Carnage, allow me to recap: it depicted a near-future where the majority of people had turned completely away from eating animals, having become repulsed and – in what I personally think is a problematic use of humour – “traumatised” by the idea of it. Do I anticipate a future within my lifetime where plant-based people make up the majority? Not quite, but that’s OK. What I do see is a society which is moving in that direction with compassion, understanding, cultural sensitivity, and options to cater for everyone – this is what I hope for, and what I think we have a shot at. On a few conditions, that is.
We gotta let people into the vegan club.
I’m pretty vocal on Twitter about the many issues within the vegan community, and one of those issues is that some of us would rather remain an exclusive, self-important members club than open the door just a little and let people dip their toes in. Thankfully, there are vegans advocating our cause more inclusively, celebrating any steps a person takes towards lessening their consumption of animals: embracing a flexible approach to plant-based living and understanding that shopping at vegan-owned, local, organic, etc. businesses is very often unrealistic is a huge step towards more people becoming interested in vegan lifestyle. They may not be fully fledged members of the club, but they’ve gone in for a trial run.
As we know, the world is a capitalist hellscape
When it comes to the vegan future a lot of us dream of, we have to be realistic. As we know, the world is a capitalist hellscape: terrible companies like Monsanto and Unilever rule the roost, influencing political decisions and consumer behaviours, and monopolising our diets. It’d be fab if vegans and the plant-curious the world over had easy access to a utopia of local, vegan-owned, circular economy-supporting, ethically run, organic and fairtrade and everything else under the sun establishments to meet our every need, but the world simply does not function like that. And the more we push this as the ideal, the more we will alienate the average person from giving our lifestyle a go.
There was a hoohah online recently when a popular figure in the vegan movement posted a rant to Instagram telling vegans to “get off [their] fucking backsides” and contribute to the community by running and supporting businesses to keep money in vegan pockets. The rant was in response to a vegan market which had been organised by a non-vegan owned company, who also run non-vegan events. Putting the fact that the rant writer himself runs a successful vegan market, which this non-vegan-run extravaganza would be in direct competition of, aside, I can understand the frustration. In my opinion, it’s akin to following a band from their very first album and then watching people latch onto their music once it’s hit the mainstream – it stings, but ultimately you recognise your emotions as wanky and exclusive. Or not.
Back to that thing about businesses caring about vegan people being included: they don’t. Businesses love making money from whoever will give it to them, and with veganism being en vogue at the mo it is simply impossible to stop non-vegan entities, mainstream establishments and high street chains from jumping on the bandwagon. And why would you want to? Veggie Pret are expanding, Goodfellas’ Falafel pizzas are flying out of freezer sections in supermarkets nationwide, and everyone’s more interested in vegan food than ever before. Look, it’s that vegan future we talked about, glistening on the horizon!
I try to live as ethically as possible, and part of that certainly is shopping locally and sustainably, and supporting small businesses. But with veganism growing at the rate that it is, we have to not only accept that big businesses will catch on, but also embrace it as a sign of very good things to come.