Have I mentioned, Dear Readers, that this New Year I’m transitioning? I know, I know. It’s bound to come as a shock — you should have heard the volley of unrepeatable epithets when I broke the news to my husband. Admittedly there have never been any intimations that I was ever interested in any kind of drastic life change. Yet, here I am in 2018, jettisoning all my prejudices and openly embracing (wait for it, wait for it) Veganuary. Yes, Veganuary; careful you pronounce it properly with a hard “g” or it sounds like some sort of Towie lady-grooming offer. But I digress — when actually all I want to do is impress.
I have joined 52,000 British people (or as I would previously have derided them, “sheeple”) in going meat, poultry, fish and egg-free this month. I’ve registered my pledge with the Veganuary campaign, I’m telling everyone I meet within 12 seconds, and I’m examining ingredient labels in forensic detail.
There will be no pancakes for breakfast and no milk in my coffee. My vegetables will remain unbuttered, my pasta will stay Parmesan-less and every one of my favourite chocolate brands will remain out of bounds.
Gravitating towards a diet of fruit, veg and virtue-signalling is actually called transitioning, which still makes me laugh. But only inwardly; as we have discovered in recent days, vegans are not to be trifled with, especially if there’s gelatin in the jelly, eggs in the custard or cheese on the pizza.
Take the case of Laura Goodman, the Shropshire chef who posted online that she had “spiked a vegan” and received such abuse and alleged death threats that she felt forced to resign from Carlini, the restaurant she co-owned with her fiance. Apparently she was upset after spending time writing a vegan menu for a group of diners, only for one of the party to order a pizza with mozzarella cheese on it.
Very unprofessionally, she sounded off about it on a Facebook page called The Boring Group: “Pious, judgmental vegan (who I spent all day cooking for) has gone to bed, still believing she’s vegan”.
Social media retribution was swift and her comeuppance came quicker than a flash-fried Brussels sprout, when the restaurant received a flood of bad reviews on TripAdvisor and Google and its own Facebook page was so overwhelmed with complaints that it was taken down.
Since then she has resigned as head chef, the restaurant has issued a statement and an apology, her partner has explained she had been drinking, but the spectre of lawsuits continues to loom over the business. Oh and a bunch of militant vegans and vegetarians will be mounting a protest outside Carlini on Saturday night.
I could go along too because I’m a vegan, you know. But why would any sane person want to? Yes, Goodman got in a grump and made the mistake of saying something stupid on a public forum when she should just have endlessly ranted to her partner like the rest of us do.
According to later reports, some members of the group she served were vegetarian, in which case mozzarella on a pizza was a perfectly reasonable dish to choose. And even if every last vegan were to order a blue steak instead of her conscientiously prepared pomegranate couscous, as head chef and co-owner, she should’ve taken it on the chin and notched it up to experience.
What she did was woefully misjudged and patronising; but does she deserve to be pilloried and treated like a pariah for it? Seriously; death threats? From vegans?
Some of us (did I mention I’m vegan?) clearly find it easier to love goats and bees — honey is theft, people! — than humanity, which is a shame because it does the whole highly laudable vegan movement no favours.
See how I’ve been radicalised? I’ve only been vegan for five days and the proselytising has already started! But so too has a new mindfulness.
I’m questioning my meat consumption, which wasn’t that extensive to begin with as my 15-year-old daughter has been a staunch vegetarian since the age of 12 when, overnight, she grasped the illogic of eating cattle but not eating dogs.
Thanks to her withering supper table sermons, I know that not only is intensive farming cruel but that the production of meat places a disproportionate burden on the Earth’s resources. Beef and sheep rearing are responsible for 51 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions; that effectively means we would be better off giving up meat than abandoning our cars in order to save the planet.
I’m also aware that beef requires 160 times more land to rear than cultivating potatoes, wheat or rice, and leads to extensive deforestation.
Oh and by way of busting the pale and weedy image; Beyonce, Brad Pitt, Lewis Hamilton and Ariana Grande are all vegans.
Is veganism a lot to take on? To my mind it can’t be as gruelling as Dry January, which I did a couple of years ago. That was a journey. Mostly to the off-licence on February 1. So cutting meat from my menu has not so far been a huge problem. And before you ask; after the initial 100mph wind that blows the bins over and endangers light aircraft, one’s digestion adapts quite quickly to the new regime. My greatest sources of anxiety are cheese — I’ve had to freeze the remains of the festive Stilton because I don’t trust my willpower — and baked goods. I am trying not to ruminate about the buttery mince pies, Stollen and posh biscuits in the cupboard. I say ruminate, I mean eat. I say “trying not to”, I mean “furtively guzzling”.
That represents the real battle, but the Vegan Society reassuringly says that if you are transitioning, nobody will mind if you break the rules once or twice. Presumably as long as the hardline Shropshire mob don’t find out and turn up at your house with pitchforks and flaming torches. Or the social media equivalent. Meat may be murder, but character assassination comes a close second.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2017
Judith Woods is a columnist and writes features for the Daily Telegraph.