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Geoff Norcott

My dangerous flirtation with veganism

My dangerous flirtation with veganism
Image: Guy Venables
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I have a confession to make to Spectator readers. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s time to come clean (no, I haven’t become a Labour voter – the Tories have been bad, but not that bad).

I’ve been experimenting with using meat and dairy substitutes. Hear me out. I’m not proud of what I’ve done. As a right-of-centre comic, indulging in anti-woke sentiment, eating animal products is a badge of honour – the unspoken custom of our movement. Ceasing to do so is the kind of thing which could raise alarm within the ranks, like a bite on the neck in a zombie film.

My main motivation for this possible lifestyle change is that my tour shows start at 7:30pm and I am 45. If I eat a big meat-based meal before the show I’m going to need a sleep. If I wait to eat until after the show, my audience are going to get a hungry comedian, which means two things: I’ll deal with hecklers more harshly and the show will be significantly shorter.

So far from me having grown a green conscience, I’m looking for something light but filling before the show, which clears the way for me to have a steak slice on the way home. Calorie counting is also a consideration. That might sound a preening concern for a comic who’s supposed to be socking it to our cultural over-lords, but life spent on motorways is a speedy route to becoming fat. I have a Dad Bod and I’m ok with that. I’m #dadbodypositive, but I sometimes err on the side of pregnant mum bod.

My first step was to see what vegan options were out there in the fast-food market. I eat a lot of fast food. Put simply, it’s cheap, quick and a hot meal while on the road. Satisfying those three categories allows me to overlook the fact the fourth as they contain the nutritional value of the box they’re served in.

My wife once encouraged me to make salad at home. I’ve had some dark moments in comedy: inflatable penises bouncing off my head, a woman in Guildford heckling me because I wasn’t Tory enough, but nothing compares with sitting in a lay-by on the A43 eating a homemade ham salad, using my car key as a makeshift fork.

My experiments in vegan alternatives started with KFC and they started well. Their vegan burger is good. In common, I believe, with many things you can eat, it tasted a lot like chicken. But bear in mind I was a working-class kid growing up amid the Bejam’s led frozen food boom of the eighties, regularly consuming meats that probably contained beak, arsehole and a hint of horse.

The familiar KFC herbs and spices go some way in covering the fact you’re eating pretend meat. One of those herbs has been dialled up for the vegan burger, pepper, which suggests there’s an element of the fake chicken experience which needs a bit of artillery cover.

Having started well, I decided to try the Mcplant burger. Firstly, don’t say ‘plant’. I don’t want to be reminded of what I’m missing, or that I might be turning into one of the grass munchers I’ve spent my life pitying. Where the KFC vegan burger feels pretty close to chicken, the Mcplant burger feels like a tribute act doing a bad cover. I felt empty afterwards, so, having tried to take a lower calorie pre show meal option, I found myself charging back to the counter shortly after and demanding a chicken nugget chaser – like a junkie falling off the methadone.

I didn’t just experiment with meat substitutes, I also tried oat-milk. I’d seen the ads: creamy oat-milk, you won’t notice the difference. You can. I can’t explain why but tea made with milk doesn’t just taste weird, it feels morally wrong. There’s a watery sadness about oat-milk as it exits the carton that once seen can’t be forgotten. It looks less like milk and more like something you’d see the doctor about.

It was less bad on cereal, but maybe it’s conditioning. I’ve spent 45 years experiencing one flavour and texture on my Weetabix. Maybe that’s the point: if you’re trying to change long-term habits, the proximity to their usual experience has to be pretty darn close. Some people are morally better than me and will sacrifice more, but I’m solidly middle-aged, tired most of the time, and food and drink are my only remaining vices.

So I found my food moral bottom line. The KFC vegan burger was roughly 93 per cent as good as a normal KFC experience. That, it transpires, is my compromise threshold for saving the planet or animals, ‘7 per cent’. If they can get food within that sweet-spot I’m willing to look at my habits. However, I suspect fast food chains can’t lose in the long run. I left the Mcdonalds reminded of how much I love quarter pounders. And if you own a dairy farm, you can probably count on my business for quite a long time to come.

Geoff Norcott is back out on tour this spring with 'I Blame the Parents'

Written byGeoff Norcott

As a rare right-winger, Geoff Norcott is a unique voice in British comedy. He has appeared on Live at the Apollo, Question Time, Mock the Week and The Mash Report.

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Topics in this articleWine and Foodveganismfood