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BY JOANNA BELL

Back in the pre-Corona glory days, a friend joined me for dinner at my favourite French bistro. Our custom is to order a selection of starters and side dishes. “Let’s split the boudin noir, pork filet mignon, and the foie gras,” was my simple suggestion. Then came her shocking response: “Oh, haven’t I mentioned? I’m vegan now.”

These words make me despair. It’s not the first time I’ve been saddled with a fellow millennial who’s dropped that bombshell. Sinking your teeth into the creamy brains of a calf is a lot less enjoyable under the watchful eye of a Greta Thunberg-worshipping, woke food faddist. As time wears on, more of my friends – once steadfast in their love of flesh – are turning into the crusaders we used to mock. Now I find myself stranded, as on a desert island, while veganism takes hold and seeps into the very bones of our society.

It would be no surprise to me if in the not-too-distant future carnivores are told to eat our meat outside, just as smokers were banished in 2008. Well, at least my friend could enjoy a glass of champagne with me, albeit accompanied by a lonely-looking salad. Then she asked the waitress, “Is the champagne vegan?” I thought she was joking, but the speed at which the sommelier came over suggested they’d been asked this question many times before. “May I suggest, Madame, a very nice vegan Chardonnay?” You know that society is remoulding itself into a politically correct dystopia when people expect to be served vegan fare at a French restaurant.

I have never considered myself to be a meat purist. Indeed I suffered a brief stint as a vegetarian after my auntie was attacked by a Limousin cow and died from her injuries. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but soon after I was served medium-rare, roast beef at a restaurant in Maidenhead. The bloody mass made me recoil. You might think I would have devoured the lot as a sort of revenge. Instead, the very idea of eating cows appalled me, so I gave up beef and then all other red meat and poultry (in spite of no relatives having died after an assault from a chicken).

I desperately tried to fill the meat shaped hole in my diet with joyless portions of soya ragu, vacuum-packed tofu, and vegetable stir-fry. I remained a stalwart vegetarian until one restaurant presented me with ‘a substitute for scallops’. The proud waitress served oyster mushrooms in teriyaki sauce, with kimchi on the side. It was desperate, tragic even, for there really is no substitute for the salty texture of pan-seared scallops.

I became a vehement pescatarian. And so I gorged on shellfish; I necked Carlingford Bay oysters; and guzzled mussels and scallops. It’s a mystery to me that vegans consider shellfish culinary sacrilege. Those little blighters have no brains, and while they have a nervous system, they don’t feel pain. How can this sustainable food be unethical? It doesn’t violate any code and even pregnant women and children can eat cooked mussels and scallops for their nutrients and low mercury count.

Soon I slipped, joyfully, and started eating meat, but my new mantra was quality. Now I seek out great cuts. I ask waiters about the provenance. As a result, I enjoy well-reared beef and good poultry more than ever.

As to my new vegan friends, I tell them – as I chew on soft pink flesh, relish the sweet melting fat, and slurp the last bit of marrow from my ossobuco – that I’m happy to embrace any future role reversal and be a committed if marginalised carnivore.

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