The Great Vegan Wind Up

As supermarkets and makers of processed food jump excitedly aboard the vegan bandwagon, a high profile report proposes a radical, plant-based shift in the planet’s eating. However, food writer Joanna Blythman argues we shouldn’t be taken in by the smoke-and-mirrors claims of the vegan lobby

By Joanna Blythman

April 26 2019

Not so long ago, vegans were a vanishingly small minority, an estimated 1 per cent of the UK population. Now when you turn on the TV or pick up a paper, you’d think that their ranks had swollen exponentially.

In a highly orchestrated Orwellian groupthink exercise, fuelled by protests,

stunts and a voracious media apetite for vegan-related headlines, we’re repeatedly told that for the good of our health and for the environment, we must wean ourselves off animal foods and onto ‘plant-based’ eating.

This organised vegan chorus reached new heights recently with the slick launch of the EAT-Lancet diet, which its ambitious advocates presented as ‘The Great Food Transformation’, a radical planetary shift in the way we eat.

For those of us who simply want to enjoy reasonable amounts of traditional animal foods, to make our pastry with butter, to enjoy the odd steak, to sink our teeth into a cheese sandwich – in other words, to consume the animal foods that sustained our ancestors for millennia – EAT-Lancet is an alarming prospect. Just to give you a flavour of it, sign up for this diet and you’ll be permitted no more than one-and-a-half eggs a week, and seven grams of meat a day (that’s about a third of a rasher of bacon). And although it has been presented as vegetable-rich, vegetables account for only three per cent of the recommended EAT-Lancet diet, with grains providing 60 per cent of our total energy requirements.

Developed in California, the ‘Impossible Burger’ uses such hi-tech ingredients, but adds in a genetically engineered form of iron that creates a ‘bloody’, meat-like appearance
Developed in California, the ‘Impossible Burger’ uses such hi-tech ingredients, but adds in a genetically engineered form of iron that creates a ‘bloody’, meat-like appearance

If we were to adopt this regimen, the inimitable Full English Breakfast, and cafe favourites like Eggs Benedict would disappear from our menus. Chefs would soon find that their char-grills were redundant. You’d toil to find a coffee bar that serves proper milk in amongst the expensive soy and oat lookalikes.

Seeing the way the commercial wind is blowing, food manufacturers and supermarkets are slobbering over the profits to be made from chasing the vegan pound. Many of the most debased, ultra-processed, health-wrecking foods on the market at the moment, things like sweet breakfast cereals, ‘fruit drinks’, additive-packed industrial bread, can be recast in a flattering aura of health when they are presented as vegan.

Companies have rushed out a new portfolio of vegan, ultra-processed foods to cash in on the trend. They’re being sold as better for us than their animal food equivalents, but one look at the ingredients shows that they are anything but. Be it vegan ‘burgers’ or ‘chicken-less fillets’, the recipe tends to be only variations on the same cheap ingredients: lots of water, some kind of protein powder (such as pea protein isolate, soya), a stiffening measure of chemically altered ‘modified’ starch, powerful food glues (carrageenan, xanthan, guar), industrially ‘refined’ vegetable oils, all this flavoured up with what’s known in the fake food industry as ‘flavour modulators’ – sugars, excess salt, synthetic flavourings. Developed in California, the ‘Impossible Burger’ uses such hi-tech ingredients, but adds in a genetically engineered form of iron that creates a ‘bloody’, meat-like appearance.

These vegan doppelgängers not only ape animal foods by employing all the food technologist’s black arts, they also appropriate their descriptions. Sometimes this language theft is done with a sense of humour. For instance, an ‘artisan plant-based cheesemonger’, La Fauxmagerie, recently opened its doors in London. Vegan haggis, vegan cheese, vegan milk, vegan ribs and more – imaginative copies of real animal foods – are flooding supermarket shelves. In restaurants, menu descriptions of these food-like vegan configurations are a free-for-all. While a restaurateur who tries to pass off beef as lamb faces prosecution under various food regulations, terms, such as ‘vegan burgers’ or ‘vegan hotdogs’ don’t seem to trigger any official action.

Is this the future of a full  English breakfast?
Is this the future of a full English breakfast?

It would all be amusing if it weren’t so worrying. This plant-food push could put some of our best farmers out of business, and have very serious consequences for the nation’s health.

For starters, a vegan diet contains no vitamin B12; lack of that micronutrient causes pernicious anaemia. Nutrition expert Dr Zoe Harcombe, who has analysed the detailed composition of the EAT-Lancet diet, says that anyone who followed it would become deficient not only in B12, but also in vitamins D3, K2, potassium, sodium, calcium, essential fatty acids, and absorbable iron.

It’s tempting to turn a deaf ear to the vegan cacophony, to see the whole plant-based surge as another passing avocado and quinoa-laced fad, even as an Instagram-led eating disorder that will run its course, unfortunately harming those who are naive enough to fall for it along the way. But influential vegan zealots won’t allow us that liberty. In addition to holding well-financed launches in 40 countries, EAT-Lancet is lobbying intensively in the corridors of power to impose its prescription on us by way of dictatorial interventionist measures. These include, “influencing nutritional labelling and dietary guidelines”, taxing meat, and last but not least, “removing meat from restaurant menus”.

If ever there was a need to stand up for our right to eat real food, as opposed to fake food, it’s now.