There’s been a scent of Veganism in the air this week. Before I hear the cheap joke about the consequences of a diet high in fibre, let me explain what I mean.
To some people the Irish Times Magazine is an emblem of the degeneration of Irish culture into mindless consumerism. In general the magazine’s articles have a lifeless quality where image is all, a home for ‘content’ rather than ‘writing’, notwithstanding the odd travel piece that is more than a journalistic junket. It’s here the vomit-inducing CGI creation that is celebrity chef Donal Skeehan has found a platform.
It’s rare to find anything worthwhile to read in it, as anything counter-cultural might not sit well with the target Saturday-brunch-demographic. In his Politics of the English Language Orwell wrote: ‘Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.’ So if you find an article boring there is a reason for that, and check too for the hand that is fingering your wallet.
Nonetheless, I commend restaurant critic Catherine Cleary for writing an article discussing the subject of Veganism that went beyond the usual superficiality. It was, however, deficient in many respects, not least in only allowing a small space for an actual Vegan voice, and repeating common shibboleths about Veganism being a ‘fad’ diet, and a claim by one person that animal proteins are essential for hard labour, as if there aren’t enough sportsmen and women proving the contrary.
Most erroneous, however, was her use of avocados, and to a lesser extent plant-based ‘milk’ as a measure of the number of vegans. It is surprising that a restaurant critic should be unaware of the wide popularity of avocados (not least Taoiseach Varadkar’s affection), and the number of people who prefer plant-based milks not for ideological reasons, but because they may be lactose intolerant, or simply because dairy is neither the best nor the only source of dietary calcium. The conflation of Veganism with diet is a convenient way of dismissing a philosophical approach that goes far beyond veggie burgers on a Monday.
I have had my own experience with the Irish Times Magazine in 2012 when I successfully pitched an article on Reforming our Food Culture while I was teaching a course on the History of Food in UCD. It was too good to be true. Before submitting I got this back:
“I know you are not filing your story until tomorrow (early as possible would be great), but I have commissioned the Irish Times Food and farming correspondent [redacted] to do a short panel to run with your story – she will be writing about the current problems of crop failure and lack of grass etc and the follow on effects on Irish consumers. Could you send us a draft copy of your story so she knows how to pitch her panel and doesn’t cover any of the same ground as you? It needn’t be the finished piece just a draft.”
I dully sent in my copy to the Food editor who said it was a good read when she got it. Then I got this message:
“The editor of the Magazine has decided that we should run an image of you with your article, so it has been decided to delay publication to give us time to arrange that with you. She had also, on reading the piece, mentioned that we might look at a couple of revisions, so it’s still a work in progress. Thank you for your patience.”
Then nothing for two months, until this:
“I am afraid the final decision on inclusion of the piece rests with the Magazine editor [redacted]. You might drop her a line if you want to go ahead and place it elsewhere – her email is [redacted]. In the meantime I would be delighted to include mention of your next course in Food File, either this weekend or on Saturday week, depending on availability of space.”
And then from me:
Further to our conversation last week, would you please let me know if you would like to take this article?
Otherwise I will try and get it published it elsewhere.
Then nothing. What happened? Did the Ag. correspondent pull the plug or was it the editor? Was it a badly written piece? I think the arguments I made were pretty sound.
The emergence of a more vocal Vegan constituency was evident in a Dublin march calling on all slaughter houses to be closed down last Saturday afternoon. Up to a thousand people set off from the GPO with a police escort to ventilate their outrage at the annual industrial slaughter of up to fifty-seven billion domesticated animals worldwide.
I followed the progress of the march to see how people reacted to the plaintiff cries for justice. There were lots of phone cameras out which shows how social media easily disseminates what may not necessarily be a very large demonstration. I listened to a few lads attempt a counter chant in favour of steaks, but no opposition was evident apart from that. Mostly people looked puzzled at the plight of these animals being highlighted. The best shot I got was of an anonymous man downing the banality of evil that is a pepperoni pizza.
The furore over the National Dairy Council’s add claiming their product is plant-based emphasises the industry’s sense of vulnerability to alternatives. Whoever decided to run a campaign suggesting Irish cows are capable of photosynthesis should really be considered for some kind of comedic award. But the disinformation could easily have grave consequences for someone who is lactose intolerant.
It’s also a big lie that Irish dairy cows subsist entirely on grass. A reasonable proportion of their diets are made up of imported grains, especially through the winter months, and as the industry consolidates that proportion increases. No doubt a slap on the wrist will dully be delivered, but by then the effect of further distorting a consumer’s understanding of where their food comes from will have been achieved.
One wonders whether the number of Veganism will ever reach the critical mass necessary for real progress to be made. In Ireland the signs are not encouraging, as most of the media allows little meaningful discussion of this subject (articles written by Vegan advocates are almost never printed), and few, if any, politicians have taken up the cause. But this could change quite rapidly because of the challenge to Irish agriculture posed by commitments to reduce our carbon footprint, and the increasing availability of laboratory or analogue meat and dairy.
If a person can find a pepperoni pizza that tastes just as good and doesn’t involve slaughter then why wouldn’t he choose that?