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.