On the 3rd of January 2019, High-street bakery chain Greggs launched a vegan sausage roll. In no small part thanks to Piers Morgan’s angry tweet (“Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns”) and a very witty social media team at Greggs, the internet was in hysterics about the controversial reinvention of the classic baked good. People are descending on Greggs in their droves to try the new product, with stores “screaming” for more stock to keep up with demand. Is this a sign that veganism just a trend encouraged by social media or is the movement really changing minds and habits?
The figures seem to say it all – with one in eight people in Britain now following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and over 20%more reducing their meat consumption, it seems clear that more ethical food choices are booming. It’s a market which according to research by Mintel is worth more than £572 Million in the UK as of 2017, with more and more companies such as Pizza Hut, Iceland and even Mcdonalds jumping on the bandwagon to release new vegan products as well as most supermarkets having their own vegan ranges. Tesco named it the “fastest growing culinary trend” of 2018, and the Economist has dubbed 2019 the “year of the vegan”. There is a mass of alternatives available to milk, cheese, and yoghurt or even meringues, ice cream and custard. Meat alternatives range from steaks to pies, fish fingers to chicken bites and burgers are being made to ‘bleed’ using beetroot in order to resemble their meaty counterparts. The wide variety of products available seems to make veganism more accesible to people considering changing their diet, such as those joining the Veganuary movement this year.
To see how much Veganism has changed over the years, I spoke to the very person who inspired me to try it. An old school teacher of mine, Dougald Tidswell, has been vegan since the late 90s. Although he was already vegetarian, Dougald was motivated to change his diet and lifestyle after talking to others involved in the hunt sabotage which he participated in. “Talking to them and seeing their reasons for also seeing dairy and egg production as a huge problem, I realised I agreed with them, so over the course of about 6 months, I cut out dairy and eggs”. Discussing the rise in readily available vegan products now, Dougald claims “it couldn’t be more different” to when he first started out. “I wouldn’t say it was hard but you had to cook for yourself a lot of the time, your choice of restaurants was pretty limited, and you were constantly reading ingredients lists and explaining to people. It wasn’t particularly mainstream. While vegetarianism was pretty widespread, veganism was very much seen as a fringe – only for those animal rights extremists.” With increasing numbers joining the vegan movement, his advice for those struggling or just starting out was to “see every meal or snack as a choice, choosing vegetarian over omnivorous is a more positive choice. Don’t beat yourself up if you missed that mention of egg white on the ingredients list”.
This seems in stark contrast to the constant jokes about vegans being ‘preachy’ and the continued emphasis on ‘militant’ vegans that media such as Good Morning Britain and This Morning have been examining. However, there is no denying that there is tension between meat eaters and those trying to reduce meat consumption. Though often for health and environmental reasons, at its heart, this is an issue about morality and ethics. This is bound to divide… – it literally is life and death for the animals involved. Veganism has a stereotype of mainly being for those who are white, upper class, young and often female. It is much less accessible for those who perhaps don’t have as much time to prepare the fancy meals that Youtube influencers cook up in their immaculate kitchens or those who can’t afford the (often expensive) meat replacements. In theory veganism can be very cheap – after all, beans and rice, for example, are some of the cheapest staples – yet, to be easy, tasty and enjoyable, it often does cost in either time or money. For those barely managing their other responsibilities like children, or a 9-5 job, it’s clear to see why a lifestyle overhaul such as veganism might not appeal, and feelings of anger or resentment might grow towards those who seemingly judge you for your food choices. Equally, those who are vegan often feel subject to judgement for being a ‘snowflake’ or being mocked with “but bacon though!” and the infamous barrel of questions about where we get our protein from, which makes a diet that can be challenging at times even harder. Therefore, maybe something as simple as a sausage roll might just bring the two worlds together and ease some of that tension. It is affordable at only £1, delicious (much nicer than I was expecting, once I finally tracked one down!) and according to some doesn’t come across as ‘pretentious’ or unknown as something like tofu or seitan. The surge in popularity is opening up discussion, driving down prices for meat-free products, and bringing people together. Maybe, just maybe, a humble sausage roll might just change the world.
– Charlotte Darnell