Kings of sports, queens of social media, everyone is into veganism. Are they serious?
Once upon a not very tasty time, when a walnut roast was the most inedible invention in the history of food, vegans were regarded as complete nuts. Then veganism became a thing, with cookbooks and pretty bloggers and celebrities and added facon. And now vegans aren’t just a thing, they are . . . everywhere.I thought we had reached peak vegan last week when Forest Green Rovers, owned by the multimillionaire environmentalist Dale Vince, were promoted to the Football League, becoming the first football club in the upper echelons of the game where fans won’t be able to buy a meat pie before the match. The sale of all animal products is banned at the ground.
But, no, that was not peak vegan, for today there is a new summit looming on the animal-free horizon. Next month comes the publication of 5:2 Veggie and Vegan. That’s right, there is now no need to be either a devotee of the 5:2 diet or a vegan. You can be both!
That, anyway, is the view of the book’s author, Kate Harrison, who argues that veganism can be just as unhealthy as any other diet if you go about it the wrong way. “A vegan diet and a healthy diet often go together but they don’t always go together,” she says. “So you could be looking to control your weight if you are vegan, it is not automatic that you are going to be skinny and a bit pale, which is the perception that people have got of vegans.”
The intermittent fasting that 5:2 disciples swear by could be just as beneficial for those eschewing all animal products in their diet, especially if they’re stuffing themselves with chips and baked beans. “Intermittent fasting has health benefits that we are learning more and more about and so does a diet that is reliant on plants.”
The fusion of 5:2 and veganism may just be the making of a 2017 summer supertrend, but I for one will make sure I visit its devotees on the days when they are not abstaining from cooking Harrison’s fresh corn and black bean tacos or super savoury miso aubergine. Both look pretty good.
Thirty years ago vegetarians were still thought to be a bit cranky — the most famous vegetarian restaurant even called itself Cranks. Ten years ago vegans were regarded as weirdos. However, in the past decade the number of vegans in Britain has grown from 150,000 to more than half a million, a trend driven by young people. Four out of ten vegans are aged 15-34.
Many young people, especially the thousands of teenagers who are vegans, may find their way to veganism through food bloggers such as Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella), who is vegetarian (but not vegan). But Harrison, who has no time for the “manic hypochondria of extreme eating” some bloggers push, says that there are a range of reasons that people are vegans and if she asked 100 vegans and vegetarians about their diet you would get 100 different answers.
In the past decade the number of vegans in Britain has grown from 150,000 to more than half a million
Good health is near the top of most people’s list of reasons followed by animal welfare concerns, the effect of animal husbandry on the environment, the financial cost of eating meat and even the taste.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” Michael Pollan, the American writer, famously commanded a few years ago. Today plants have become icons, superfoods such as avocado, roast cauliflower and kale promise a longer, healthier life. The hope of extending their earthly existence has motivated some of the most unlikely people to become vegans.
Bill Clinton, who as president used to inhale hamburgers, was named person of the year by Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) after he adopted a largely (but not exclusively) vegan diet. Gwyneth Paltrow, Ellen DeGeneres and Pamela Anderson are less surprising celebrity vegans, but one of the biggest boosts for veganism in recent years may have been the emergence of elite sportsmen who have converted to veganism.
The heavyweight boxer David Haye was named sexiest vegan of the year in 2014. Jermain Defoe credited his recall to the England squad in March in part to chilling in a cryotherapy chamber and “trying to turn vegan”, by cutting out the grilled salmon, eggs, dairy and even honey that he used to eat. The former bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian, also known as Popeye, is Germany’s strongest man and holds a world log lift record. He has followed a strict vegan diet for the past six years. The tennis player Novak Djokovic has opened a vegan café in Monte Carlo, where he lives, although he has admitted to still occasionally eating fish.
You can get as much protein as you need from broccoli
Continuing to eat the odd portion of oily fish does not quite fit with the traditional view of vegans as austere food purists. This, however, is the reality of diets today. We are all (or a lot of us anyway) a little bit veggie. “Many meat eaters avoid eating meat all the time. Vegetarians go to veganism by trying it a couple days a week,” says Harrison, who has been vegetarian for 30 years and eats a vegan diet some days each week. She’s not a full-time vegan because “I love cheese and butter too much” but she started fasting two days a week five years ago to lose weight.
In our hearts we know that the western diet is not good for us and that tearing up rainforest to grow food to feed animals for us to eat is an environmental disaster. And so we find a niche for ourselves on the vegetarian spectrum.
At one end of the scale is Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of Peta, who told me last year that she wouldn’t squish a mosquito on the wall of her apartment. There are others who follow VB6, the Vegan Before 6pm regimen, dreamt up by the American food writer Mark Bittman. This involves veganism during the day and a vampire-like conversion to eating what you like in the evening. This was designed for those who can’t stick to diets and lose their willpower after an evening drink anyway.
Then there are people such as Richard Dawkins, who in The Times last week compared the transportation of cows to the railway wagons that took Nazi victims to Auschwitz and said that he is vegetarian at home but is a “flexitarian” who doesn’t make a fuss when invited to dinner and presented with flesh. Farther along the scale are lightweights, like me, who eat meat but will always choose the vegetarian option when possible in the canteen, unless it looks disgusting.
Flexitarians are ubiquitous. More than half the customers who go to Pret a Manger’s Veggie Pret stores are trying to cut down on the amount of meat they eat. Porridge made with coconut milk accounts for one in five of the chain’s porridge sales.
The tennis player Novak Djokovic has opened a vegan café in Monte Carlo
Eric Lindstrom, the author of The Skeptical Vegan, which is being published in the UK this summer, is an American author who says that anyone can become a vegan. He is the living proof.
Almost six years ago he was overweight and appalled with himself at eating 68 chicken wings as an appetiser. He and his wife bet each other they couldn’t become vegan. “We started with a 30-day vegan challenge and after 30 days both of us had made it. You feel better when you eat lighter and eat vegetables and fruits. Six years later I refuse to lose this bet.”
Lindstrom did it for the health benefits and lost 30lb. Later he became converted to the idea that it was important to be vegan for animal welfare and environmental reasons. Now he is a passionate vegangelist. “Years from now you can look back and say, ‘I’ve saved thousands of animals and I lost 30lb and I feel great and I’ve got fantastic erections’, which is a huge benefit literally of veganism.”
Will we get to a place where this planet is vegan? I don’t think so
Forget what I said about peak veganism earlier. “It’s all blood flow, everything is blood flow,” says Lindstrom, who lives in New York state. He gives a long explanation of the apparently superior blood flow enjoyed by vegans. He also dispels the “protein myth. You can get as much protein as you need from broccoli.”
Lindstrom warns, as do other vegans, that you have to go about veganism carefully, making sure you get enough B12 and other micronutrients and phytonutrients. He insists, however, that contrary to some research that warns of the dangers of children following a poorly supervised vegan diet, it is perfectly possible for them to be vegan. In fact, his kids are.
“I have a four-year-old boy who can lift a Volkswagen over his head,” he says. “He’s the healthiest kid in his class.” His two-year-old daughter, who is also vegan, “totally understands we don’t eat animals”.
The one thing that you won’t be short of if you do decide to take the vegan plunge is information on what to eat. My colleagues on the food pages here at The Times sit behind walls of hundreds of cookery books sent in each year and they estimate that a quarter of the volumes are about vegetarianism, veganism or some other form of healthy eating.
The heavyweight boxer David Haye was named sexiest vegan of the year in 2014
Ella Mills’s first book of vegetarian, wheat and refined sugar-free recipes is claimed to be the UK’s biggest-selling debut cookbook, shifting more than 300,000 copies since its publication in January 2015. Today the Hairy Bikers, whom I last interviewed when they produced a lip-smacking book on meat feasts, are publishing the paperback of The Hairy Dieters Go Veggie. Yesterday, it was already in the Top 5 on Amazon’s bestsellers, on pre-orders alone. Others include Hippie Lane, a vegan cookbook by the Australian Taline Gabrielian, who has half a million followers on Instagram, and Vegan: The Cookbook — a serious doorstopper published by Phaidon.
We may have reached peak vegan, but only for now. The global appetite for meat may be growing, but in the UK veganism appears to be far more than a fad. “Will we get to a place where this planet is vegan?” muses Lindstrom. “I don’t think so. Could we start a new planet that is vegan? That would be great.”
Additional reporting by Julia Richardson
Daikon rolls with avocado
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp grated galangal
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large daikon radish, sliced thinly into 12 long strips
12 shiso leaves
1 ripe avocado, finely diced
1 cucumber, finely diced
1 tbsp snow pea shoots, minced
1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp radish sprouts
2 tbsp yuzu juice
Black sesame seeds, to garnish
1 In a bowl, whisk together the tamari, rice vinegar, galangal and lemon juice and set aside.
2 Lay out the daikon sheets on a tray or work surface. Place 1 shiso leaf on each daikon sheet.
3 Mix the avocado, cucumber, snow pea shoots and mint together in a bowl. Stir in the lemon dressing. Divide the mixture equally among the daikon sheets, positioning the mixture at one end of each length.
4 Roll up each daikon sheet tightly, pushing the roll away from you. Transfer the rolls to a serving plate, garnish with the sprouts, and use a tablespoon to sprinkle the yuzu juice over the top.
Caramelised pineapple and tofu
270g chopped pineapple
500g diced tofu, fried
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 spring onions, sliced
2 tbsp coriander, chopped, to garnish
Cooked basmati or other long-grain rice, to serve
1 Put the pineapple, tofu, garlic, tamari or soy sauce and 120ml water into a casserole. Add the sugar and spring onions and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well.
2 Set a casserole dish over medium heat and cook for about 30 min, until the liquid has reduced by half.
3 Transfer the stew to a serving dish, garnish with the coriander and serve over rice. Jewelled freekeh salad
200g whole wheat freekeh
2 courgettes, cut into 2cm pieces
1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm pieces
2 red peppers, seeds and membranes removed, cut into 2cm pieces
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
Seeds of ½ pomegranate
15g coriander leaves
Hulled tahini, to drizzle
For the dressing
Zest and juice of ½ orange
2 tbsp lemon juice
60ml olive oil
1 Soak the freekeh overnight in cold water. The next day drain the freekeh. Put it in a saucepan with 750ml of lightly salted water and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35-40 min, until tender. Remove from the heat and stand, covered, until cool.
2 Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.
3 Put all of the vegetables into a large mixing bowl, add the spices and olive oil and mix well. Spread the vegetables on a large baking tray and roast for 30 min or until golden and slightly soft.
4 Meanwhile, to make the dressing, mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine well.
5 To serve, put the freekeh and roasted vegetables in a large salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat.
6 Scatter with the pomegranate seeds, coriander leaves and drizzle with hulled tahini. Lentil nourish platter
215g dried green lentils, soaked for 8-10 hours
1½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp hot paprika
½ tsp Himalayan salt, or to taste
¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
200g quinoa, rinsed
375ml vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, thinly sliced
2 Lebanese (short) cucumbers, cut into ribbons using a mandoline or vegetable peeler
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
50g mixed salad leaves
A handful of dill sprigs
25g finely chopped mint
15g finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 heaped tbsp vegan nut-free garlic dip
For the dressing
60ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
½-1 tsp sumac
¼ tsp Himalayan salt
⅛ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 Rinse the lentils and place in a saucepan with 500ml of water. Bring to the boil.
2 Stir in the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10-25 min, or until the lentils are just tender. Meanwhile, place the quinoa and stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover with lid and simmer for 10 min, or until cooked.
3 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 5 min. Reduce the heat to low and cook for a further 5 min, or until the onion is caramelised, stirring regularly so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat.
4 In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Arrange the quinoa, lentils and caramelised onion in small mounds on a platter. Add the cucumber, fennel, tomatoes and mixed leaves. Top with the dill, mint and parsley.
5 Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately, with the garlic dip.
Veggie brunch board
½ butternut pumpkin, cut into wedges, seeds removed
1-2 tsp melted coconut oil
1 tbsp roughly chopped rosemary leaves
2 vine tomatoes, halved
250g asparagus spears, trimmed
1 tsp grapeseed oil
½ quantity crispy kale chips (see below), to serve
Spicy crumbed tofu
200g medium-firm tofu, cut into squares or nuggets
2 tbsp almond meal
1 tbsp quinoa flakes
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
¼ tsp dried parsley flakes
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
⅛ tsp hot paprika
¼ tsp Himalayan salt, or to taste
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp gluten-free tamari
For the seasoned avocado
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2 Start by crumbing the tofu. In a bowl, combine the almond meal, quinoa flakes and nutritional yeast, then stir all the spices through.
3 Pour the tamari into a small shallow bowl. Dip the tofu into the tamari, then coat with the seasoned almond meal mixture and place on one of the baking trays. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 min, or until golden, turning the tofu over halfway during cooking. Keep warm.
4 While the tofu is in the oven, spread the pumpkin wedges on the other baking tray. Drizzle with the coconut oil, sprinkle with the rosemary leaves and bake for 25-30 min, or until cooked through, adding the tomatoes to the baking tray for the final 15 min, or until cooked to your liking.
5 When you’re nearly ready to serve, heat a grill pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the asparagus spears with the grapeseed oil, season with salt and pepper and grill for 2-3 min, or until cooked to your desired tenderness.
6 To prepare the avocado, cut it into quarters and remove the stone and peel. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, olive oil, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
7 Arrange the warm pumpkin, tomatoes, asparagus, kale chips, avocado and baked tofu on a serving board or platter and serve. Crispy kale chips
280g curly kale leaves, stems removed, leaves torn into large pieces
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
¼-½ tsp chilli powder
⅛ tsp Himalayan salt, or to taste
1 Preheat the oven to 160C/gas 3. Line two large baking trays with baking paper.
2 Rinse the kale leaves and dry them thoroughly.
3 Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl.
4 Massage the mixture over the kale and spread the leaves evenly on the baking trays, ensuring the leaves do not overlap.
5 Bake for 15 min, or until the kale is cooked, browned and crispy. You may like to toss the leaves over halfway through cooking to ensure they are baking evenly.
6 Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 3-5 min before serving, to let the kale chips become extra crispy. Serve straightaway.