Everyone, it seems, has it in for the vegans. We are frequently misquoted and derided. We are depicted as crazy hippies eating nettle soup, wearing weird ill-fitting clothing made from hemp and dried moss whilst throwing tantrums in restaurants. When we’re not terrorising jolly old milkmen, we’re breaking into private property and chaining ourselves to trees.
A few days ago, Gianfranco Vissani, the popular Italian chef, claimed that “vegans are like a sect“, and that he’d happily “kill them all”. This is understandable, right? Sniffy vegans, patronising everyone else, with their weirdly-shaped homegrown vegetables and their community allotments. They can’t even take a joke. Why look, there’s one writing a retaliatory blog post right now! Foolish, humourless vegans. Who wouldn’t want to obliterate their weird sect?
Well, no actually. I find it really hard to understand why people get so offended by vegans. Sure, we’re slightly harder to cater for at barbecues, but that doesn’t seem to equate with the vitriol and anger reserved for vegans. Routinely people attack us, mark us as idiots, tell us to eat a steak and lighten up. People with nut allergies don’t get this, people who eat halal meat don’t get this, people who cut out sugar don’t get this. Gianfranco was sure to make a point that his issue lies with vegans, not vegetarians. What is so offensive about our diet?
Arguably, a vegan diet requires a re-thinking of the basic food structure that many generations grew up with – no more meat and two veg, no more eggs twice a day, no more butter in the pan or grated cheese on everything. People are ridiculously nostalgic when it comes to food, unwilling to adapt whether it’s for environmental, health, sustainability or financial benefits (or, if you’re a vegan, all of the above). If you’ve spent years studying cooking, as I presume Gianfranco has, only to find a group of people who find what you’re cooking is problematic, surely your primary goal would be to adapt so everybody can be involved? What happened to being inclusive?
I just don’t understand why people get so pissed off at vegans. We didn’t go vegan because we wanted to cause scenes at dinner parties around the country or because we wanted to continually ask for different menus for the rest of our lives. We didn’t think it would be fun to spend hours reading ingredients during the weekly shop or be sneered at by the media at large. We went vegan because we wanted to live a sustainable life, or we were horrified at the exploitation of animals, or we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, or we wanted to live an ethical life. We went vegan because we wanted to be healthier, or we wanted to reduce deforestation and help animals on the brink of extinction, or we wanted to reduce our risks of cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
What about that could possibly piss you off so much that you want to kill us all? All 2-4% of your population? What is so deplorable about people making a choice they believe to be best? I honestly think most people who disparage vegans must know both the benefits of a vegan diet, and the most popular reasons for going vegan (how could they not?), and a large part of their disgust exists in retaliation to their own guilt. Behavioural disassociation has a lot to answer for: people don’t want to believe that their choices are wrong, or that they’re making a statement they don’t fully stand behind. These issues get internalised and redirected as vegan-specific hate.
There have always been idiotic people in the spotlight who say deplorable things in order to further their own infamy. We have quite the selection of them in the UK: we love an outrageous and thinly (if at all) veiled insult towards a minority group, followed by a barely publicised apology 4 weeks later. It’s a national pastime over here. The most obvious non-political examples are Katie Hopkins, a Neo-Nazi’s wet dream, and Jeremy Clarkson, doling out racist insults on national TV: a man who was so far up the public’s arse that he never had cause to stop and reflect on his own position of assumed wealth, relevancy and comedy.
I don’t know the status of Gianfranco Vissani in Italy but perhaps it’s a similar ordeal for the Italian people whenever he pops up on a chat show. Maybe not; maybe they revere him for speaking up about the unsavoury vegan sect. Who knows? Italy have recently drafted a bill that would ban children being raised on a vegan diet after the case of a baby on a vegan diet was rushed to hospital in a state of malnourishment. Most of the media attention ignored the fact that the doctor did NOT criticise the vegan diet, and that the baby was also suffering a rare cardiac malformation, but hey, what do those things count for anyway? It was obviously the lack of steak.
It’s a shame, because there are so many amazing vegan options out there which get so little media coverage because there are no vegan spokespeople. It’s never been easier to go vegan, but with nobody really leading the way I imagine vegans do seem like “a sect” to Gianfranco. We are so poorly catered for in most restaurants and supermarkets, so weirdly absent from the mainstream cooking industry and so oddly segregated in recipe books and cooking magazines. Of course we go to separate, vegan-friendly shops and diners to avoid hunting around the supermarket for milk-free soup, to avoid picking from a “vegan menu” that consists of just one main course. What else can we do? Even the ever-crusading, justice-seeking, Twizzler-hating Jamie Oliver hasn’t picked up our cause, and he’s vegan five days a week.
A genuine Italian chef to present authentic Italian vegan food could probably make a huge name for themselves globally. How many solely vegan cookery programmes do we have? Veganism is treated like a novelty; a token inclusion on one episode of a mainstream show. Despite the huge number of famous vegans – Simon Amstell, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Bell, Ariana Grande, Ellen Page, Joaquim Phoenix, the late Prince, Jason Schwartzmann, Venus Williams, the list is endless – I still feel like veganism is treated like some weird unspeakable minority, and there persists this weird stereotype that vegans look and act a certain way. The merits of veganism are clearly getting through to people, as veganism is on the rise: in the UK, there are 360% more vegans then there were 10 years ago. The market is clearly there. When are people going to stop bashing us and start including us?