Why I’m not going vegan any time soon
We’re currently in the midst of ‘Veganuary’, where people across the UK and other countries try cutting out animal products from their diet for a month. Even outwith the month of January, vegan food options (particularly those touted as ‘meat substitutes’) have been becoming increasingly popular and widely available.
I’m not going to argue against veganism in itself — it isn’t my place to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t consume, or what lifestyle choices they should make. However, what I do want to do is go through some of the reasons why I’m not jumping on that particular bandwagon any time soon. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you agree with me.
The conventional wisdom holds that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for your health. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that only eating plant-based foods is healthy, and since I was a child, I’ve always had the idea of a balanced diet drummed into me by older relatives, school teachers and the media.
As a lay person (at least with respect to nutrition and other types of food-related science) I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of how good vegan foods are for you. That said, there have been a few articles questioning how healthy vegan junk food is, in particular. Some even go so far as to suggest that it might be less healthy than the meat products that it purports to replace.
In addition, humans have been eating meat products of various kinds since time immemorial. To argue that this means we should continue to eat them forevermore would be both simplistic and easily countered by those of a militant plant-based persuasion. I’ll simply say, then, that I remain to be convinced of the supposed health benefits of a meat-free diet.
I tend to get irritated when I see plant-based products being given what I’d argue are misleading names. A few years ago, I was in a Gregg’s branch and ordered a sausage roll. The lady behind the counter replies ‘sorry, we’ve only got vegan ones left’. I felt like saying ‘how the hell can something with no meat be a sausage roll?’.
There are dozens of examples of this kind of thing, but they all give veggie products names of meat items, from ‘vegan chicken nuggets’ to ‘vegan shrimps’. I don’t believe anyone sensible would seriously think these products contained the meat they are named after, but even still, it feels a bit disingenuous. I feel that trade description-type legislation in the UK could do with beefing up to deal with this new phenomenon.
TASTE AND EXPERIENCE
Despite what I’ve said above, I did once accidentally buy plant-based ‘Chick*n Burgers’ from Aldi due to not reading the packaging closely enough (I never said I was sensible!). While they weren’t unpleasant, they also didn’t recreate the taste of a proper chicken burger, at least not for me.
I have since tried a few other ‘meat substitute’ type products out of curiosity, but the outcome has been much the same — they’re tasty enough, but not close enough to the real thing to make them a viable substitute. It is true that I tend to buy things at the cheaper end of the scale where possible, and there might be more expensive versions that taste more like actual meat products. This is also an area where there are constant new developments, so it will probably improve.
That said, I’m not sure the various ‘substitutes’ will ever fully recreate the taste and experience of eating meat products. For example if you’re on holiday somewhere sunny and go to a nice open-air restaurant for lunch (or supper) and want a beer and a burger, would something ‘plant based’ really scratch that same itch? Maybe for some people it’s close enough, but for me, only the real thing would do.
I used to have a perception that with the exception of loose fruits and veggies from supermarkets and grocers, vegan foods were generally overpriced and more expensive than their meat counterparts. I believed that things like ‘vegan chicken nuggets’ were for the same urbanite hipster types who sip £6 ‘craft beer’ out of jars because they deem it to be edgy.
Having done some research though, I’ve discovered a number of studies which state that a vegan diet can actually be considerably cheaper. That said, is it cheap enough to get me to abandon meat? No, at least not at the moment. Were the cost of meat products to increase to the point of being unaffordable, I wouldn’t have much choice. But while I can still afford real chicken, bacon and the odd cheeseburger, I’ll continue to enjoy them.
Again, it isn’t for me to tell anyone what dietary or lifestyle choices they should make for themselves, so I’m not arguing against a vegan way of life in itself. If that’s your thing, by all means, fill your boots.
But for me, I don’t feel that meat substitute-type things will ever be the same as the real thing, and they shouldn’t be labelled with the same names as meat products. In addition, I’m not persuaded of the supposed health benefits of an exclusively plant-based diet, nor that it is better for you than the ‘balanced’, omnivorous diets I’ve been taught about since my childhood.
Finally, the cost savings wouldn’t be enough to persuade me to go vegan for financial reasons, even in deepest, darkest January when everyone is strapped for cash. As long as I can still afford (for example) a pepperoni pizza from the supermarket, I’d rather have one of those.