The way we promote the vegan diet needs a rethink

I love burgers, fries and cheesecake. And I’m vegan. Confusing, right? Well, not anymore. Caffè Nero’s vegan cheesecake is soft and decadent. The ‘Moving Mountains burger’ is texturally divine. A burger isn’t a burger without melting cheese, so thankfully Applewood’s smoky alternative melts delightfully under the soft pressure of an eggless bun and meatless patty. 

A burger with a twist, but no less a burger. My point is simple. Vegan food is like eating your favourite meat and dairy products, only without the animal. In this sense, it encompasses more than just tomatoes, lettuce, and chickpeas. It includes some of your favourite meat and dairy products replicated in all but ingredients. 

Just look around. Pret a Manger recently launched a vegan meatball sub. Subway’s ‘Tastes.Like.Chicken’ is widely regarded as the most realistic equivalent of a chicken footlong sub in history, while ‘The Great Imitator’ at Nando’s does a pretty extraordinary job at imitating the real thing. 

Other brands are following suit. Neat Burgers offer customers a ‘Fillet-No-Fish’ burger to rival the ‘Fillet-Oh-Fish’ served at McDonald’s. The supermarket chain Asda are currently trialling a vegan butcher’s counter as the demand for plant based food skyrockets. “Veelicious”, they claim. 

Why does this matter? A recent study found a clear link between vegan diets and orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy. Many believe the vegan diet provides a pathway towards better health. With less saturated fat and an extraordinary range of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals – no wonder the health conscious are obsessed. 

And yet the link made between the vegan diet and health also fuels something rather dangerous. The ever growing interest in vegan food is a wonderful thing, but it seems overshadowed by completely the wrong message, a message which presumes all vegans are ‘healthier’ or striving for ‘better health’. This is false.

Vegans hate the thought of pigs queueing up for slaughter, caring less about their own personal health and more about securing the personal worth of a sentient being. The vegan diet can enable weight loss, and it often does. But not necessarily.

In a world of vegan ‘fast food’ alternatives, suggesting vegan food automatically creates smoother skin and flatter stomachs has become outdated and makes the transition to plant-based eating more difficult to achieve in the long run. Going vegan to improve your health is a perfectly reasonable ambition, but what happens when you reach your target? The answer? You either revert back to the consumption of meat and dairy products, or re-shift your target in the pursuit of unrealistic goals for your body. Neither choice is healthy or sustainable. 

Likewise, I despise vegans who actively seek to vilify meat eaters. Eating meat doesn’t make you a bad person. They are my best friends and family who I love, care, and respect. My diet is my choice and my values are the product of my own life experiences. Drinking cow’s milk and eating sirloin steak isn’t evil. I’ve done it many times before. 

But it does suggest the way we promote the vegan diet needs a rethink. We must find a way of enabling people to make the connection between food and death, between the traditional foods like pigs in blanket with the unnecessary torture and murder of our friends and equals.

Choosing vegan alternatives for specific meat or dairy products is not about knowing this link exists, but accepting it’s unquestionably wrong. It signifies our acknowledgement that the cats and dogs in our home are no more worthy of a life than the sheep or pigs roaming the fields outside. Vegan food is available now more than ever before. 

This is why the vegan diet should be attainable for everyone, including those with a history of disordered eating. It promotes restriction with the wrong information. But this is our fault, not the food’s. Vegan choices are in hot demand. And the greater the demand, the greater the incentive to make the vegan option taste and feel like the real thing. It’s worth a try. 

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Sam Gordon Webb

July 2021
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