Posts Tagged stereotype

A vegan Christian?

My last blog post was about me stereotyping other vegans. As if to teach me a lesson, I was stereotyped right back today. Having accepted the hospitality of some Korean Christians, I mentioned that I was a vegan. In a not-wholly-surprising turn of events, there was no vegan option at their lunch. After all, they didn’t know I was coming.

They had plenty of vegetables, but these had all been mixed up with meat to make a sandwich filling, so I ended up eating just bread and water. I didn’t mind at all, though I felt a bit bad for the extremely apologetic Korean lady who explained the situation. I told her it was good preparation for any future prison time I might experience.

Several people asked what the matter was, and the pastor looked visibly shaken to see I was eating such plain food. One very interesting young Korean man asked what my religion was. When I told him I was a Christian, he nearly fell out of his seat. “If you are a Christian, how come you don’t eat meat?”

This mirrors my experiences back in Sheffield. I have attended a number of events hosted by charities, and the refreshments have always included vegetarian and vegan options. When I attend the welcome time before my church service, I invariably end up having just water because everything has eggs, milk or butter. There are a couple of exceptions: I brought a vegan cake once, and someone brought some crisps. Since I was serving the food on that occasion, I didn’t eat any of either. This isn’t a problem—I don’t go to church to eat; however, it does reinforce my opinion that Christians don’t expect anyone else in church to be a vegan.

Perhaps this passage has something to do with it.

On the whole, I don’t think it is the Christians who are the exception here, so much as the charities. I think veganism is still quite rare, and most people just can’t fathom it. Today a homeless man asked me for money to buy food. I was munching on a corncob, and he grimaced at it, saying, “I can’t eat sweetcorn—it just doesn’t taste of anything.” And that was before I told him it was raw. Apparently good vegan food is scorned even by the destitute beggar in this country.

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Vegan surprise

I have come to take some things about vegans for granted. For example, wherever two or more of them are gathered will be some sort of New Age mysticism or Oriental religion. It’s hard to find a vegan café or wholefoods shop without adverts for Yoga, Meditation, Spirit Healing, Aura Massage, and other arcane groups or classes . What is it that binds all these things together with veganism? Above all, I feel, it is the decision to move away from the consumer society and the norms of life in a modern Western democracy.

It is ironic then that same market principles should apply. First of all, many of these advertisers have chosen these fora because they are targetting a particular niche—the very people who have come there because of their objections to consumerism. However, this is a minor point. The advertisers are genuinely offering services, some free and mostly ethical in their intentions.

Of much greater concern is the marketing of harmful products as food to vegans. Allow me to illustrate.

If the intent is genuinely to provide food suitable for vegans and thereby make a living, then the products would be made from natural, wholesome ingredients. A fantastic example is Booja Booja’s Stuff in a Tub ice cream alternative. I just tried the vanilla version yesterday and it was delicious. The ingredients: water, agave syrup, cashew nuts, vanilla oil. That’s all! Compare this to the ingredient list on a luxury ice cream from a supermarket. Well done, Booja Booja! Go to the top of the class, you swots.

If the intent is to make money by selling things vegans will eat, then the products will be made from the cheapest non-animal ingredients available, even, it seems, if those things are not real food. An example is Tofutti’s Creamy Smooth cream cheese alternative. The second ingredient is “partially hydrogenated soybean oil”—a trans fat. The process of hydrogenation reduces the melting point of oils, changing the texture and increasing the shelf life. Sadly, it also renders them of little nutritional value, and increases the consumer’s chances of contracting coronary heart disease. Sainsbury, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and even Asda have all made moves to remove trans fats from their shelves. The City of New York has banned trans fats. Why are vegans buying and eating it? Why are supposedly ethical retailers selling it?

I contacted Tofutti to ask about their product range. They said only two of their products use PHO (partially hydrogenated oil). They even produce a PHO-free version of the cream cheese, but this is only available in health food stores (try Holland & Barrett).

So Tofutti know how to make cream cheese without this slow-acting poison, but only as a “health food”? What are all the other products—sickness foods? The very concept of having a special shop for foods that don’t kill you is outrageous.

So, this was my rude awakening. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the general preponderance of good and healthy foods on offer. But I am new to this whole vegan thing. What’s everyone else’s excuse? Come on, you vegans—start living up to my stereotypical expectations of you! Stop buying this thing that isn’t even food, and complain to the people who stock it. And as for you ethical food retailers, you can get your acts together too.

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