I was recently invited to a Modern Indian Vegan Supper Club with Chef Saurav Nath, formerly at Michelin –starred Bennares & Gymkhana, in South Kensington, for a seven course dinner delight, hosted by Humayun Hussain, who has twice made appearances alongside super-chef Gordon Ramsay.
The menu was an imaginative combination of flavours, with Indian roots, matched with British seasonal ingredients.
Cucumber and Cumin refresher
Jerusalem artichoke and Chantilly carrot soup, infused with curry leaf, mustard, asfoetida and a sunflower seed, leek and kale pakora
A melting kidney bean and tofu galouti kebab, beancurd and panko breadcrumb croquette, wasabi yogurt, radish salad and edible coal chutney
Tandoori grilled sous vide, braised beetroot tikka flavoured garam masala, coconut chutney and mushroom pickle
Wild garlic and sprouted purple broccoli, basmati rice kitchadi, fennel and royal cumin flavoured soya dumplings, and rhubhard chutney and kiwi raita
South Indian style courgettes, lentils with spinach and roti
Pineapple and coconut halwa samosa, sago pudding and gram flour caviar and pomergranate soil
The evening was heartwarming, the food cooked well, and it allowed me to meet a number of very interesting people who all had different takes on what it meant to be Vegan, wedded with the the ‘why’s ?’ and the ‘how’s?’ continuously asked from non vegans who had come along too… and there was a general wash of heartiness that always comes with good food, hefty eating and merry drinking.
But once the night was done and the evening came to a close, I spent lots of time thinking about many of the conversations I had had.
From formidable, devout oldies who consisted of ladies who had been Vegans for years, and had been participators at Greenham Common Womens Peace Camp in the 80’s, to more middle aged inspirational environmentalists, who had written books about the changing nature of our planet because of mass-meat production and consumption…and then in particular with the younger crowd I had met, newly become Vegans who’s reasons were health and fitness based… and I felt disheartened.
I have been Vegan my entire life, and I remember the days when you were greeted with confused looks, and wide eyes from sales people who looked down their noses at the ‘fussy’, minority ‘weirdos’, who were Vegans…simply asking for soya milk, instead of dairy milk for their lattes.
Yet lately, it’s all the craze.
You have every nut milk under the sun, and along with the speed of gentrification, the amount of Vegans, Gluten Frees, Raw Food-ists and Fruitarians have tripled in the last few years.
*(BBC article ref: Ipsos Mori which suggested there were at least 542,000 people – or 1.05% of the 15 and over population in England, Scotland and Wales – following a vegan diet. Ten years before the estimated number of vegans was just 150,000.)
Walking along Dalston high street, a place no longer recognisable to me, a lot has changed. Whilst property has sky rocketed, and such places coined too hipster even for hipsters… Veganism has crept up and has also stolen the shelf life of a lot of food produce.
It is old news, that global warming is happening (you only have to look at the snowfall we had in March to recognise this) and that the meat and dairy industry has contributed significantly to pollution around the world.
It is old news, that the exploitation of our seas has made extinct infinite species of fish, and ruined marine ecosystems in countless places.
It is old news, that a Vegan diet is healthier than its carnivorous counter part…and old news that, a moral ethical code should exist within all humans, for the world to ‘be a better place’.
So why now? Why is Veganism blowing up now? And is it actually a ‘good’ thing?
I think the internet and social media, in particular, have a huge dealing hand in this food game…
It has allowed us to access things fast, see what’s available on a large interactive scale, and has made us feel more connected to the celebrities of our world, many of whom have turned Vegan in recent years for health and vanity reasons, e.g. celebrity mums who want to get back into shape fast, or athletes who are realising the exceeding potential of a plant based diet.
In the past, I think Vegans abstained from animal products for ethical reasons (as was definitely the case, in 1944, when ‘Vegan’ first became the word that is used today, thanks to Donald Watson, member of Leicester’s Vegetarian Society, taking the first 3 letters and last 2 to make this term)
It was a political stance.
An activist approach to making a statement on a world that was first beginning to really churn the machines of an industrious world. Hence the link, to hippies, and chickpea-sprouting lovers being Vegan -not your ‘average’ human being… Vegans were considered eccentrics, with an ‘extreme’ oppositional worldview.
But today, I think our politics are different.
The politics of nourishing ones personal wellbeing has been made greater with the feeling of being unable to change and/or being uninterested in the rest of the world.
Whereas before, we were excited by the technological advancements of a capitalist world. Now we are tickled by contactless cards, but not swept off our feet. In fact now, amidst the chaos, people lean to holistic well being strategies to keep a calm mind amidst the chaos, and keep their feet grounded in a world where it’s politics are becoming increasingly difficult to understand.
“The core audience on YouTube engaging with vegan content are women aged 18-26, making up 36% of all engagements globally,” says Denis Crushell, vice president of Europe for Tubular.”
“Audiences who watch veganism videos also tend to watch videos related to health, nutrition, dieting and fitness as well as channels which publish food and drink, beauty and entertainment content.”
I believe this is the audience for Veganism today, a generation of younger people wanting to live ‘clean’, ‘healthy’ lives, and look, and feel as happy as their virtual celebrity friends, who feel close, and perfect.
These make up, I believe, a few of the younger people I met at the supper club the other night.
I suppose, on reflection, this health conscious view of it came as a surprise to me, because having been raised a Vegan, my indoctrinations are probably more instinctively old school, and hark back to the days when Veganism was ideological.
I would have preferred the world nowadays, with the education and awareness available to us to have chosen Veganism as a craze for a more political stance, because it would show that we have learnt that the ‘way’ in which we are doing things is wrong, and needs to be altered.
I think an abuse of anything is likely to cause damage eventually and nothing should be cultivated in extremes.
And whilst for now I feel it should be against corporate fast food factories, and the meat industry in general, one day, who knows… it might be to do with plant based harvesting.
Yet, I believe that if we only become Vegan for navel gazing reasons, for the food we eat and not for the philosophy we suffer the potential consequence of not realising that the same industrial abuse can happen again.
That chances are, we WILL have to find a new way of eating if Veganism becomes equally dominant one day.
We have already seen, rising avocado prices because of higher demand fuelling illegal deforestation, and the almond milk craze putting the state of California in drought situations as a high cash, yet water-intensive crop.
These are just two examples of how extreme-consumption can make any produce ineffective, unethical and unsustainable for long term use.
Ultimately whether or not I think what has happened with the Vegan buzz is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing, doesn’t matter… but I do feel sure about one thing.
That is, that a Vegan lifestyle is a healthier one for the planet -at the moment
And whilst this trigger for change is one that may create equal problems in the future because we have, unfortunately, in my opinion, not changed our ingrained greed, and incapacity for balance… we have only changed the product we wish to consume.
Veganism, no matter how or why you get into it…is still, for now, one of the best ways to ensuring a longer life for our earth
So, yes, keep subscribing to Vegan youtube videos, doing pilates and drinking green smoothies- there’s no judgement on my part- but perhaps, lend an ear once in a while to the politics of where Veganism came from.
The philosophy behind being a true Vegan.
Which is one that is based on green altruism, utilitarianism, compassion and looking out at life with eyes and ears open… ready for new problems that I have no doubt will arise, that require new shifts in ideas and change.
Words and Photos BY: FATA