Looking back at 2018, it seems like this year has been a tipping point of sorts. Not so much #MeToo but #Meat?Oo!
Vegans have come out of the woods, and staked a claim to the mainstream.
Supermarket shelves are stocked with vegan products — some now have whole aisles dedicated to plant-based, meat-free, dairy-free, cruelty-free products. They’re not free — but, as with organic foods, the slow and steady upsurge in popularity for vegan products is beginning to bring prices down.
What has driven this turn away from meat? The headline for The Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington’s article published in May sums it up in a nutshell: “Avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth.”
He references a study published in the journal Science and co-authored by Oxford academician Joseph Poore, which begins with a stark fact: “With current diets and production practices, feeding 7.6 billion people is degrading terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, depleting water resources, and driving climate change.”
If that wasn’t enough to put you off your tandoori chicken, there are also the rising fears of what pesticides and chemical fertilisers, not to mention GM crops, are doing to our food, as well as the additional horror of how plastics have now entered the food chain and are ending up clogging our internal systems just as much as our external ones.
There’s also an increasing reluctance to see fellow sentient beings — cows, pigs, chickens, mainly — as simply ‘raw material’ fed into one end of the agro-industry and squirted out at the other on to our dinner plates.
But turning vegan is not just about changing your diet — it seems to strike right at the heart of tradition and culture. Sing your way through a vegan version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, you’d be several days short: no maids a-milking, no geese a-laying, and three French hens skedaddling over the horizon and a partridge hard on their heels.
Publishers, ever keen to exploit a trend, have not been slow to jump on the jolly vegan bandwagon. The number of vegan cookbooks has been growing year on year, and this year has the best crop yet.
It’s tricky to know where to start, so here’s a smorgasbord — some old, some new — of what’s on offer. Broken down, for ease of digestion, into bite-size chunks.
1. Men eating plants
In this section, the cooks are hairy, muscled, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, calling-a-spade-a-spade types. First up, and oozing testosterone, is the bad boy of veganism, Matt Pritchard. The author of Dirty Vegan: Proper Banging Vegan Food is a Welsh former skateboard champion and stunt man. He is pictured standing on the front cover, defiantly crossing his heavily-tattooed arms over the kind of apron a steel-welder might wear.
“Discover more than 80 cracking recipes for proper healthy vegan food,” reads the blurb, “none of this Michelin Star sh*t.” The book includes dishes called things like ‘the Full vegan pile up’ and ‘Squash & shroom momos’, and there’s one whole section called ‘Quick Hits & Gobfuls’.
Pritchard gained a certain notoriety by getting drunk on a plane, stripping off, and urinating on a rather famous fellow passenger — Swedish actor, director and martial artist Dolph Lundgren. He has since apologised, and is saying, contritely (though to be fair, the wording’s a little ambiguous), “I’m hoping [he] will have one of my vegan sausages.”
Equally exclamation-mark-worthy are the ‘Bosh! Boys’, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, who are all set to follow up last year’s bestselling cookbook Bosh! with the even more onomatopoeic Bish Bash Bosh!: Your Favourites. All Plants cookbook in the spring.
There’s a prevalence of asterisks in this section, you’ll notice, none more so than in the subtitle of Thug Kitchen’s The Official Cookbook: ‘Eat Like You Give a F*ck’. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the quintessential bloke’s bloke, says of the authors, “As hilariously foul-mouthed as these motherf*ckers are, I really like their passion for eating the right food, for cutting to the chase, and for knocking up good, nutritious food from scratch.” Boom!
And the punctuation marks continue in Gaz Oakley’s pre-Christmas offering Vegan Christmas — which features traditional recipes liberally garnished with inverted commas, such as “a ‘Turkey’ Roast and Festive Nut Roast Wreath” and “‘No Pigs’ in Blankets”. The self-styled ‘Avant Garde Vegan’ even has suggestions for “a ‘cheese’ board for afters”.
2. Plant-eating girls
Which brings me to the unabashedly super-girly Unicorn Food by Kat Odell, whose subtitle — as so often with these kind of books — says it all: Beautiful Plant-Based Recipes to Nurture Your Inner Magical Beast. (Her other book is a different kind of warm and fuzzy: Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz. Now, that’s my kind of cookery, Kat.)
She features vegan-licious, “magical ingredients” such as algae, cordyceps and spirulina, and — I kid you not — “pearl powder”, which she adds to her drinks — no doubt for that extra shimmer.
Odell’s book, bursting with pink and purple, is full of rainbows and sprinkly sparkly bits, but if you want something a bit more homely, try out Lancashire lass Jackie Kearney’s My Vegan Travels: Comfort Food Inspired By Adventure, as she roams the world in search of yummy cruelty-free street food.
She made the transition from vegetarian to full-on vegan because “it’s just all too much cheese for my liking (and my well-being, and the cows’ well-being, and the planet, to be fair). Developing vegan comfort recipes has been a long and slow burner in my kitchen, a bit like some of the food.”
If your tastes are a little more sophisticated, though, you’d do well with Marie Laforêt’s The Vegan Bible, a “gorgeous collection of 500 inventive, inspirational recipes for newcomers and long-time vegans alike” and a book that immodestly claims, in bold, to be “the only vegan cookbook you will ever need”.
3. Desi delights
There are no end of Indian vegetarian cookbooks, but now you can add a smattering of vegan ones to your kitchen, starting with Richa Hingle’s 2015 offering Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook. Or there’s Rakhee Yadav’s soon-to-be-released — and a little bit unicorn-sounding — Heavenly Vegan Dals & Curries, described by one reviewer as “a true celebration of vibrant plant-based eating”.
Chicago-based Anupy Singla is an American desi, whose mission in life, it seems, is to meld the two cuisines. The author of Vegan Indian Cooking runs a website called IndianAsApplePie, so if you’re someone who doesn’t wince at calling a roti a “y’know, kind of an Indian tortilla”, then maybe you should try her recipe for apple paratha.
As the groaning bookshelf attests, veganism has graduated from fad to (simply) food. Vegans are everywhere.
There is no one that can’t go vegan — though, perhaps if you are a nomadic Sami reindeer-herder you might find it tough. You can be a bodybuilder, like Paul Kerton, aka Hench Herbivore, who seems entirely powered by broccoli. Or a show-stopping power couple such as Beyoncé and Jay Z, or a rap god like will.i.am. Miley Cyrus is a vegan twerker. What about historical proto-vegans such as Coleridge or Tagore — or Gandhi himself, for that matter?
Or if you’re going to quibble about goat’s milk, and who was or wasn’t eating what, when, there are plenty of modern vegans to choose from — Benedict Cumberbatch, Woody Harrelson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman… Honestly, these days I’m surprised when I find out someone’s not vegan.
It’s a sign of the times. Columnist David Mitchell points out, “Our ethical compasses are calibrated according to the norms of the time in which we live. So I eat dead animals because I was brought up to eat dead animals.” Which is not to say it’s right: just that it’s ‘normal’.
Well, maybe 2019 will usher in a ‘new normal’.
Perhaps, this New Year’s resolution is to take up the challenge of changing with the times. It doesn’t quite trip off the tongue but ‘Veganuary’ is a charity set up to inspire people to try going vegan for a month — and maybe longer. It’s not as hard as you think, everyone says, and it’s summed up with my last, and final, cookbook of the year, published by the folks behind veganuary.com. Devoid of unicorn frills and powdered pearls, macho men or fusion-food-fuelled American desis, it gets right down to brass tacks: How To Go Vegan: The Why, the How, and Everything You Need to Make Going Vegan Easy.
First published in The Hindu Business Line, 28.12.2018