SUZANNE HARRINGTON: So what do vegans actually eat?

Next Saturday, Cork will be the vegan capital of Ireland when it hosts Vegfest at the City Hall. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

And yet here we are, waking up in our millions to the idea that food isn’t only about tasting good and filling you up. In the short term yes of course it — civilised society is only ever three meals from anarchy — but people are starting to think longer term. 

We are thinking about huge awful scary unquantifiables like cancer and climate change, and relating them directly to what’s in front of us on our plate. 

Is our dinner directly linked to disease and environmental destruction? Non-hippie entities like the World Health Organisation and the climate science chief at the UN say yes, absolutely.

But what do vegans eat? Twigs and tree bark, sneers my 13-year-old as he shoves past me on his way to McDonalds. Indeed the first recorded vegan cookbook, published in New York in 1874, included recipes for ‘berry mush’ and ‘rhubarb toast.’ Mouth-watering.

These days we have pulled pork, maple bacon, southern fried chicken, teriyaki duck, fish fingers, garlic sausage, whipped cream, ice cream, cream cheese, melty cheese, milky chocolate, condensed milk, caramel, almond milk Baileys, and most recently, Guinness, now no longer filtered through extract of fish bladder. Delicious. 

And proper junk food — juicy burgers, spicy chorizo, kebab, peppered steak, hot dogs, pizza — which now come without any added animal. Intense desserts, rich and gooey. All from plants.

Thanks to stealth veganism, plant-based eating has increased 360% in the UK in the past decade (we don’t have figures for Ireland, but the very fact that Vegfest is happening in our various cities suggests Irish vegans are on the up). 

In the past, saying you were vegan was like admitting to membership of the Taliban.

Thanks to an unlikely alliance of hipsters, fitness fans, tree huggers, the avocado princesses of Instagram, and graphic footage smuggled from slaughter houses, the plant-based diet marches ever further forward. 

And where trends go, commerce follows — giving punters ever more innovative food, with ever more mainstream availability.

Visiting Vegfest in Brighton recently, along with 10,000 others, I buy some goodies to take home. 

Cue the KFC-loving anti-vegan 13-year-old standing in front of the fridge, head back, mouth open, a can of squirty cream aimed directly down his throat. The cream hissing as it splurges into his mouth, with him groaning in ecstasy. 

I lean in and whisper, “It’s vegan, you know.” He holds the can out accusingly, reading the small print, and scowls. 

“Well,” he says crossly. “They shouldn’t make it so nice then. Bloody vegans.”

We’ve come a long way from mung beans. Happy Vegfest and hail seitan.


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