The Sunday Times Magazine: Is veganism the future of food or a cynical marketing fad?


Plumes of pink smoke engulf men holding megaphones and women with purple hair. “Fur trade, torture trade,” they chant, marching down London’s Piccadilly in a blockade, sending pedestrians fleeing. “What do we want? Animal liberation! When do we want it? Now!” Whistles screech, drums bang, placards punch the air. “Fur is worn by repulsive heartless hags”, “Compassion not fashion”, “Your pompom had a face”, read the slogans.

Opposite Fortnum & Mason (where they sell 17 types of foie gras) the protesters stop. Some jeer a passing man, others heckle passengers on a bus. One group surrounds a heavily pregnant woman, Sarah, who is with her five-year-old son. She appears to be wearing a fur bobble hat. Berating her, they wave posters of a skinned rabbit at the child. When I catch up with her, she is shaking and red. “I just want to get back to our car,” she blusters. “I respect the right to protest, to have an opinion. I don’t respect … as ever, there are factions within any movement who are stronger than others and I think we just came up against a rather unattractive side of it.” It is certainly a very different scene to the one I encountered six months ago, when my adventures in veganism began.

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At the launch party for the new vegan menu at the Real Greek restaurant chain, women in knee-high boots and boys in biker jackets are dancing to Lionel Richie’s All Night Long. Paparazzi gather outside. Inside, celebrities drink while waiters ferry meat-free canapés: béchamel-less moussaka, beetroot-and-lentil salad, honey-free baklava. Why vegan, I ask the manager, brandishing a tray of filo pastries. “It’s healthier,” he declares. Why vegan, I ask a girl by the crudités. “It’s fashionable to follow a plant-based diet,” she concludes, almost straight-faced.

“It’s amazing, it’s a great change,” says Jo Wood, ex-wife of the Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie. Her Jo Wood Organics range includes vegan beauty products. “When I first went organic in 1991, everyone thought I was potty. With veganism it was the same. Now things have totally changed,” she says, stopping to pose for photographers in a jumper that says “Rock & roll” — and a pair of leather trousers.

There was a time when nothing was less hip than a meat-free diet. In the 1980s it was sad Neil from The Young Ones espousing “vegetable rights”. By the 1990s, when my mother was dabbling, it still meant lentil lasagne and plastic Jesus sandals. The 2010s saw increasing interest in veganism, a stricter kind of vegetarianism that excludes all forms of animal-derived products, including milk and eggs. Now, miraculously, veganism is cool. There are vegan cocktail bars, “plant-based” food festivals, vegan-friendly holidays, restaurants, pubs and club nights. On social media there are plant-based influencers such as Sean O’Callaghan, writing the Fat Gay Vegan blog, and BOSH!, the trendy vegan cookery channel on YouTube that has more than 1.8m Facebook followers.


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