Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hold the beef - ‘Vegans face everything from gentle mockery to outright hostility’

To mark World Vegan Day, devoted carnivore Eoin Butler eschewed all animal products for three days over the bank holiday weekend. Would going meat-free be murder?

Healthy option: Eoin Butler tucks into his four-salad combo at Cornucopia
Healthy option: Eoin Butler tucks into his four-salad combo at Cornucopia

Eoin Butler

On Friday, around lunchtime, I take to Twitter announcing my intention shortly, and temporarily, to embrace the vegan lifestyle. The reaction is not unanimously positive. "Congratulations," one person writes. "You have passed Vegan Level One: Telling people that you're a vegan."

Today is World Vegan Day, when thousands of people around the globe celebrate what has become one of the hottest food trends of recent years. A vegan doesn't just abstain from eating meat (as vegetarians do), but also avoids eggs, dairy and any product derived in any way from animals for ethical or health reasons - many studies have extolled the benefits of a plant-based diet.

I am usually a voracious carnivore, but this experiment is scheduled only to last three days, so I don't anticipate experiencing any significant difficulties.

My first vegan meal is at Cornucopia on Dublin's Suffolk Street. The clientele are about 80pc female. "Enjoy our no-WiFi restaurant," says a sign on the wall. Hmm. No meat and no internet. I'm not sure about this. Anyway, I order the four-salad combo for €9.95. There is coleslaw with chives in vegan mayonnaise. Red cabbage, carrot and scallion with peanut and chilli. Garlic potatoes with roast hazlenuts, as well as leaves. It's very nice, and the portions are huge. But it feels like one big side dish. There is no main event.

Breakfast on Saturday morning is hummus and grated carrot in a vegan bread wrap. A bacon-free breakfast would usually be anathema to me but I acquired a fondness for hummus in Israel several years ago. It doesn't exactly put a pep in my step, but it's alright. It does the job.

A friend recommends I visit the Vegan Butcher, just off Camden Street, which I do before lunchtime. I take the name literally, assuming it is a shop where I can purchase food items to cook at home later that evening. In fact, it's a restaurant. I'm not very hungry, but it closes at 3pm, and I can't pass up the chance to eat in a place so named. I ask for a menu.

The Vegan Butcher, just off Camden Street.
The Vegan Butcher, just off Camden Street.

The brunch dishes are meat-themed. There is an "Irish Breakfast", consisting of vegan sausages, vegan bacon and vegan black pudding, which costs a hefty €14.90. It's like wandering into a shop that sells knock-off merchandise and finding out it costs more than the genuine brands.

I order a "Pulled Porc Bap" for €9.90. It's a sandwich on vegan bread. The "porc" consists of sauerkraut and apple salad, oyster mushrooms and red cabbage slaw. Again, the portions are enormous. Again, it isn't bad. But, again, it's no substitute for the real thing.

In the afternoon, I visit my friends Adrian and Therese, whose daughter is celebrating her fourth birthday. The children are fed sweets, chocolate and birthday cake, all of which I am forbidden for various reasons. The adults nibble from a platter of soda bread, sourdough, chicken, pesto and cocktail sausages. Again, all verboten to vegans. (The pesto is made with cheese.)

Exasperated, Therese offers me some Sour Cream and Onion Pringles. For the umpteenth time, I have to consult my phone. Funnily enough, I tell her, if she were offering me Smoky Bacon Pringles, I'd be able to accept. But the Sour Cream and Onion flavoured chips contain animal fat.

Vish burger
Vish burger

Adrian offers me a drink. Wine is out as it contains gelatin. I could take tea, but it would have to be black. There are multiple children crying at this point. Finally, Therese thrusts a bottle into my hand. "You're in luck," she says. "We have vegan beer." I crack it open and take a swig.

Her friend Shelly's mood darkens at mention of the word "vegan". She and her husband recently had a vegan houseguest. "It was a nightmare," she fumes. All the meals Shelly served had to be meticulously researched in advance. In the morning, the guest required almond milk with her cereal, which Shelly's husband had some trouble sourcing. "In the end," she admits, "we just had to give her regular food and pretend it was vegan."

Therese nods, sympathetically. "Like I just did to Eoin with that beer," she says, matter-of-factly.

"You mean...?" I splutter, in disbelief.

Therese has a busy life, a high-pressure job and two small children. "For God's sake," she scoffs. "Do you really think I keep vegan beer in the house?"

That night I go out with friends. I stop at the O Falafel takeaway on Richmond Street. I order a wrap containing falafel, hummus, lettuce, tomato, pickles, parsley and tahini sauce. It costs €5.50. My friends eat elsewhere.

By Sunday morning, I'm ready to establish a tribunal of enquiry into how, exactly, I ever agreed to become vegan over a bank holiday weekend. I mean, on the average weekday, I could probably do this standing on my head. But there are several familiar euphemisms in Ireland for my condition this morning. My stomach is a little tender. I'm feeling under the weather. It would seem I may have been served a bad vegan pint the night before.

You get my meaning. In the circumstances, hummus ain't going to cut it. I wander in and out of quite a few shops and cafes before I finally settle on a croissant and black coffee. ('But Eoin,' I hear you ask, 'aren't croissants made from butter?' No, this was a magic croissant from the Magic Croissant Company on Rainbow Lane, next to the unicorn factory.)

My American ex brother-in-law is in town to visit his daughter, my niece. The three of us go for a walk on Dun Laoghaire pier. They eat ice creams from Teddy's. I just enjoy the view. This whole vegan experiment is getting very old, very fast.

That evening we visit the Eatyard, behind the Bernard Shaw pub in Dublin 8. There are multiple food vendors. Dave and Lola eat regular burgers and chips. I have something called a vish burger from the Veginity stand. It's like a fish burger, minus the fish. This weekend cannot end soon enough for me.

For breakfast the next day, I have hummus and carrot. At 3pm, I finally crack. I find a cafe serving all day breakfasts and I order a fry. I don't want to sound glib about this. If I have learned anything from this experience, it's vegans face everything from inconvenience to gentle mockery to outright hostility for their beliefs. And I wonder if, on some level, this is because the rest of us fear they might have a point. Eating animal products may be difficult to justify ethically. I've read Peter Singer. I know that, 100 years from now, this newspaper article, in which I cease to consume meat products for one weekend, may seem as outrageous as a slave owner agreeing, temporarily, to dispense with using slave labour for a wheeze. That day may come. But for now, I'll stick with my full Irish breakfast...

Irish Independent

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