Editor's Letter

Why I can’t stomach the ethical confusion

Anyone else keep seeing the same questions popping up time and time again?

I thought vegan food was supposed to be healthy? It’s worse than meat! If you’re going to eat something that looks like a burger, why don’t you just eat a burger?

It seems to be happening a lot. The high street has been in a bit of a spin lately, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. New burgers here, vegan cheese there. It’s all so deliciously convenient.

Friends eating burgers and fries
Photo credit: Dan Gold

But the increase in convenience has brought with it an inevitable increase in opinion – some welcome curiosity, some unwelcome criticism. Some innocent confusion, some defensive aggression.

“My organic piece of chicken is far healthier than your processed vegan junk food!”
“It’s a trendy phase – hopefully it’ll be gone soon.”
“Almond milk is awful for the planet! Soya is full of hormones!” (oh the irony…)

India Knight recently wrote a piece about being offended by a vegan hotdog, and vegan junk food in general. It talked about how veganism had lost its way, how we were being duped by The Man into believing what we were eating was healthy, and that we should go back to eating grains and veggies, just like the good old days. If you want to be healthy – take a look at her diet. Pure and full of ‘clean’ meat. Whenever arguments like this begin, it really boils down to the reality of how people eat today. People don’t buy 100% natural organic meat. Just like vegans don’t all eat a 100% organic whole food diet. And thus a wonderful gap in the market became filled with seitan sausages.

Vegan food in the 21st century has little to do with health. We know we need our five-a-day. We know we need to eat a balanced diet. We know where to buy all of the ingredients we need to eat said healthy diet. What we really need to be able to do is to go to a shop and fill a basket with vegan croissants, because they’re bloody hard to make at home. Absolutely no health benefits there, but by god are they delicious on a Sunday morning with a perfect cup of coffee in bed.

Croissants and coffee in bed

Same for a cupcake piled with vegan butter cream icing when you really just need a sugary hit; vegan ‘fish’ and chips when you feel like reminiscing about Friday nights rushing down the chippy in your school uniform with your Dad; vegan ‘chicken’ pieces that cook up a treat when you’re making a green thai curry (hold the fish sauce). These things have nothing to do with health, and everything to do with eating a normal bog-standard mundane diet. Same as everyone else; healthy most of the time, giving up and eating that doughnut some of the time. And if it means that animals don’t have to suffer, don’t have to live their lives in unimaginable circumstances, end their lives in such horrific ways – I think we can all agree that there’s really nothing wrong with the vegan option, is there?

Box of half eaten donuts
Photo credit: Bethany Newman

Another point to remember is that for someone who might not ordinarily think they have the willpower to take the leap into veganism, there has to be something they can grab hold of, some kind of recognisable normality that makes the unfamiliar seem familiar, and if faux burgers are it, then fill those shelves! Vegan hotdogs don’t exist to irate those who choose to buy The Real Deal – they exist as an ethical alternative. Sometimes a rather playful alternative that we get far too excited about, but still – they’re a choice that no-one is forcing you to make, and yet people get so bloody defensive!

It’s almost as though the mentality is – we’re ok with you being vegan (how kind!) – but stay in your lane. Eat your vegetables, and if that’s not enough for you then I don’t know what your problem is. This week Sainsbury’s opened a Meat-Free Butchers pop-up, which got right under the noses of some committed meat eaters. This is probably my favourite response:

“Belittling the fantastic skills of proper butchers. Turning a carcass into cuts of meat, sausages, bacon, and other products is hard work. I should know, I butcher the pigs I raise myself. This is a mockery.”

Umm. Boo hoo.

The majority of vegans are not doing it for their health, they are doing it because the reality of the meat and dairy industry is a horror show. They are under no illusion that vegan convenience food is healthy – the same way that most meat eaters secretly know that the animal on their plates didn’t really live a happy life – but each to their own, eh.

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