Monday 21 January 2019

Millennial Diary: Ciara O'Connor

Vegan: Actress Evanna Lynch. Photo: Getty
Vegan: Actress Evanna Lynch. Photo: Getty

Ciara O'Connor

As self-loathing reaches fever pitch after the excesses of the festive period, the cold, hard light of January traditionally sees us ripe for reinvention. In previous years, you might have partaken in 'Dry January' and pledged to go cold turkey on booze for the month.

This year, a new self-improvement project has taken the internet by storm: Veganuary. This month, over 120,000 people across the UK and Ireland have pledged to give up meat, dairy and eggs for the month of January - double the number of participants last year.

It's true that veganism has been gathering momentum of late - 'vegan' was one of the top 10 most used words in the fashion industry last year, and it's got a sexy celebrity following, from Brad Pitt and Liam Hemsworth to Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande.

In Ireland, we're so married to our meat and dairy industries that we've pretended not to know what veganism is for a long time. We've elaborately denied having any notion of it whenever someone has outed themselves as a vegan, 'Is that like a vegetarian, is it?' we've innocently enquired, knowing the answer full well, 'Ah Jesus, not even milk in your tea? That's mad altogether. Or an egg for your breakfast?'.

This position is becoming increasingly untenable as vegan-curiosity sweeps the nation, with oat 'milks' sitting pleased as punch next to the Avonmore in honest, god-fearing local shops. Even if we're not all turning vegan, it seems we're increasingly buying vegan.

The Christmas just gone, you may well have accidentally indulged in the new dairy-free plant-based Baileys.

You may have become an unwitting social justice warrior by drinking Guinness - now newly vegan. Your favourite bacon fries might even contain no animal products at all. Creeping veganism is real and it's come to Ireland.

Once upon a time, it was easy to spot a vegan by their Birkenstocks - but now that both vegans and Birkenstocks have been welcomed into the mainstream, it's difficult to guess who's a cheese-refuser anymore.

Vegans nowadays may be anaemic-looking art students, but they're just as likely to be muscle-bound cross-fit devotees. Irish ambassadors for Veganuary include Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch, as well as rugby player Anthony Mullally. Of course, these neo-vegans tend to have one thing in common - obviously, they're millennials.

A dedicated follower of cheesecake and categorically Not A Vegan, I nevertheless have a passion for plant-based dairy alternatives. Like all self-respecting millennials, I have an imaginary intolerance to good, Catholic milk.

The first thing I do when I get to Dublin is go to The Good Food Store in Sandymount and luxuriate in the decision between oat and almond milk for my flat white. As any 20-something knows, a barista that knows how to handle their alternative milks is a precious thing that must be protected and supported, as is the coffee shop that offers only one (correct) size for the flat white.

In for a penny, I might opt for a vegan brownie to have with it and walk out with a virtuous spring in my step, already imagining my hair is shinier and eyes brighter.

But I don't like thinking about veganism. Everything I've ever read, watched or heard about the environmental impact of meat and dairy has been irrefutable. I've deliberately avoided watching the Netflix documentaries that spawned a generation of veggies because I know my fate would be sealed.

For someone with a bit of disposable income and time, it is basically morally indefensible to not be a vegan. I know this. I also know that every time I hear someone say they're a vegan, it gets my back up. Why? Because I'm an insecure, complacent trash person.

I fell for The Happy Pear hard and fast back in the heady days of 2014. I made the dahl, I took to beetroot and I even bought alfalfa sprouts at embarrassing expense: they were disgusting. I bought them twice again after that. I gazed hungrily upon Dave and Steve's chiselled matching visages, a mango in one hand, a small child in the other. I bought the book for all my friends that Christmas. I took the liberty of folding down the pages with my favourite pictures for easy reference.

Within a year, two other gold-star millennial pals took me on a pilgrimage to Greystones, to break gluten-free bread at the spiritual home of The Happy Pear: their cafe. I had a stew. It was... grand. The place was rammed.

It was as I looked around at the frantic faces of my unwittingly vegan peers, determinedly consuming lentils for the first time in their lives, all with half an eye on the restaurant floor to see would either of The Pears materialise, that I realised I was in a cult. Perhaps that was when the rot started to set in.

Maybe it's because I'm a mere human, or maybe it's the Irish condition, but their blissfully happy and healthy social media output began to turn me, the old 'don't they think they're great?'. No one can be THAT upbeat all the time. What's wrong with them? Did they fall on their heads during one of their daily acrobatic topless yoga sessions?

I'm not proud of myself, but I began to crave a crack in their plant-based armour. I wanted them to tearfully admit to using a rasher as a spoon to eat Philadelphia out of the tub, crouched in front of the fridge at 4am. I wanted them to be pictured eating a hot chicken roll parked up in front of Centra.

The way I now feel about The Happy Pear sheds some light on how I think baby-boomers feel about all millennials.

Like, I presume the 50-somethings, who call us pathetic snowflakes, know in their heart of hearts that racism is actually a bad thing, and that dealing with it hasn't gone 'too far'. But we're just such an incredibly irritating reminder of their own moral failings that they can't help but want to crush us.

Fair enough. I understand it. Because, Dave, Steve - I know you're right. I know you're just trying to do the right thing, and that you're helping a lot of people, and the world generally. But I can't help it, I resent you. All I want to do is make fun of you.

Sometimes, as I lie in bed in a fug of gin, smoke and kebab on a Saturday morning and I see your dawn swims which you never fail to put on your Instagram story, I even hate you a little bit.

I suppose public ridicule has always been an occupational hazard for proponents of social progress.

As far as vegans are concerned, I think it's fair to say the rest of us are all only jealous. Not of their bean burgers, obviously, but of their determination to contribute a bit less to the destruction of our planet.

We could all do with a bit more of that. This Veganuary, I'm going to start small: I won't pledge to give up the ill-gotten milk in my tea, but I will do my best to give vegans a break. They deserve it.

Sunday Independent

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