I’m on a no-alcohol, no-caffeine, no-sugar, vegan diet. It’s less fun than it sounds. Occasionally I cheat, but mostly I don’t, because I don’t want to upset the lovely doctors at the Infusio clinic in Frankfurt who gave me my stem cells for the Lyme disease treatment and who insist they need the right anti-inflammatory, alkaline diet to thrive. And besides, even though it’s horrible, I’m quite enjoying, in my masochistic way the rigour and the punishing asceticism. Also, it has given me insights into a world which I never imagined in a million years I would ever enter.
Vegans walk among us. They are everywhere. But you don’t really notice this until you become one and suffer alongside them. I say ‘suffer’ because, much as they may deny it, veganism is a self-inflicted curse. Like a vampire (only without the blood intake, obviously), you are doomed to live in a nether-world on the margins of society, cruelly constrained by your bizarre dietary practices, feared and shunned by normal people, only really able to associate with your own kind because only they understand or care.
When you eat meat you’re never short of dinner options. One of those juicy aged steaks from Aldi, say; or a beef stew you made at the weekend; or roast chicken; or, if you really want to push out the health boat, fish. Occasionally, if the wife’s involved in the decision-making, you might have the odd dinner or lunch or breakfast where you forgo meat, and get your protein from cheese instead. But when you’re a vegan every one of these delicious possibilities is verboten.
What do you eat instead? Dal, mainly. Your best survival strategy is to eat like they do on the Indian subcontinent — only without the ghee, which is a bugger, because that’s what lends the buttery richness to your dal. Thai green curries without the meat are also a pretty handy option, though I’m not quite sure how vegans make it taste authentic without the fish sauce. I tell you what my solution was: get your wife to make it and not ask if she’s used fish sauce, even though it’s obvious from the taste that she has.
But you can’t eat those every night so you end up buying a book like Bosh! or Deliciously Ella. Instead of using the ugly word vegan — which sounds like a cross between a lady’s rude bits and some kind of monster from Doctor Who — they have persuasively rebranded their meat-and-dairy-free recipes as ‘plant-based’ cookery. And clearly the kids have bought this line, because both have become enormous bestsellers.
Have I bought their line? Not quite. I made the Bosh! chilli, which has two types of bean, and minced mushroom doing the work of the meat. It was delicious and every bit as satisfying as the carnivorous version. But I’m not sure I can be bothered to try their lasagne, because really why would you, except as a tortuous experiment the purpose of which is to be able to say, surprisedly: ‘This isn’t half bad and you’d scarcely notice it wasn’t the real thing’?
Except the point, to me, is that you would notice. Vegan cheese — fact — is not as nice as real cheese. Think parmesan, pecorino, stinking bishop, snøfrisk, emmental, halloumi, roquefort and all the other amazing products of perhaps millennia of rustic dairy experimentation. How are you going to begin to replicate any of these with stuff synthesised from soy protein, tapioca flour or coconut oil?
It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve discovered, for example, that the Fawn’s homemade muesli (full of cherries and raisins to make up for the sugar I’m not allowed to eat; and nuts to provide me with the protein I’m lacking) tastes even more delicious with almond milk than it does with my old favourite gold-top milk. Also, I think you probably do feel a bit less bloated, especially if (as I’ve largely been doing) you shun bread as well. And you definitely eat a lot more ‘healthy’ salad and fruit.
But would I recommend going vegan? Most certainly not. My main objection has nothing to do with the inconvenience (which is not nearly as great as it was: almost every menu has a vegan option these days, though we normies don’t notice because we’re not scanning obsessively for that VE symbol) but has more to do with moral outlook.
This might sound like an odd thing to say, given that so many vegans adopt their perversion for ‘ethical’ reasons — because they don’t like eating ‘anything that once had a face’. Fair enough. I respect their love of animals (something, as I’m sure they don’t realise, many of us carnivorous fox-hunting types share, albeit perhaps in a less blatant or sentimental way). What bothers me is their lack of respect for the species that matters above all else: the human one.
Think of those pungent kebab barbecues they prepared to delight the gods in The Iliad; all those recipes from Apicius through The Forme of Cury to Mrs Beeton to Elizabeth David; the myriad ways we’ve devised over the centuries of curing ham, of flavouring sausage, of making cheese; and let’s not forget the animal husbandry which has gone into providing the raw ingredients.
For millennia, eating animals — and very much enjoying eating animals — has been part of who we are. It’s more than just about survival: it’s an integral part of our culture, our language, our skill-set. Vegans want to end all this, which is fine, just about, on a personal level, so long as they just want to keep this practice to themselves. But they don’t, do they? They want converts. They ultimately want a world without meat. And that is where they lose all my sympathy.