Are you man enough to go vegan?

As we enter World Vegan Month it's time to reconsider the vegan stereotype

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What do Bill Clinton and cupcakes have in common? Answer: they're both vegan. Clinton used to be the most powerful politician in the world and vegan cupcakes won Food Network’s 2012 Cupcake Wars  - neither exactly fit the stereotypical images that vegans are wimps and vegan baking is dry and dense do they?

Admittedly, veganism has been given a bad name over the years, it’s very mention conjuring up images of pale hirsute hippies who zip about on their bikes to spread the love. I remember the only vegan on my course (and quite probably in the whole university) turned up at our graduation ball dressed in sackcloth and sandals. He munched the night away on trail mix while everyone else got legless on lager.

And at dinner, we used to wait patiently for him to deliberate over every item on the menu, until eventually he ordered some unappetizing item like cashew nut puff (oven baked rather than deep fried) without the honey glazing and no sauce. Doesn’t exactly do the vegan label any favours does it?

That was then and I wasn’t to know that years later, having gone from omnivore to vegetarian, and finally to fully-fledged vegan, I was to experience things from the other side for myself.

I’m not so bound up with my vegan identity that I go around introducing myself with the words “Hi, my name’s Victoria and I’m vegan,” so I suppose I can’t really blame the guy who I was on a date with. It wasn’t until we’d been out a few times together and after he’d chewed half way through his medium rare slab of flesh that the penny dropped and he quietly asked: “You don’t mind me, umm, eating meat in front of you do you?”: I hoped I wouldn’t mind, but as I looked a scrap of grizzle caught between his teeth dropped down to a plate already stained in pink juice, and the penny dropped for me too. Needless to say, that romance ended before it had begun.

Today, however, being a vegan couldn’t be easier. It shouldn’t come as any revelation that a meat-free diet is one of the healthiest around. We are reminded of its planet nurturing virtues on a daily basis and who can deny that skinning an animal for its fur isn’t just sickeningly cruel but the most extreme form of vanity. Furthermore, the appalling conditions of animals reared for meat and dairy produce cannot have escaped you.

But you may have missed the fact that vegan food has undergone something of a culinary revolution of late. That dreary pot of hummus with a few raw carrot batons that used to be synonymous with vegan food has been transformed into rich, gooey diet as tempting and satisfying as any other. And there are enough vegan bodybuilders around to prove you can be get guns of steel while eating animal-free.

If, however, it’s the texture, smell and bite of dead animal carcass that you find hard to resist, there are now vegan versions of just about everything from roast ‘tofurkey’ and streaky ‘fakon’ rashers, to hot dog style ‘not dogs’ and chik’n nuggets.

Macho celebrities who have eschewed cruelty and adopted a vegan lifestyle include Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis, Mike Tyson and Bryan Adams - legends that shatter the myth that veganism is for wimps.

Vegans don’t have to look puny and sickly any more than meat eaters are unanimously obese, ruddy faced and have sky high cholesterol levels.

And one more thing, it takes strength to live as vegan and eat that way in a world that propels people in the opposite direction. I’ve even come to appreciate the strength of my university colleague. It certainly takes guts to turn up at the biggest pulling event of one’s life dressed as a sack of potatoes…sober!

As we enter World Vegan Month it’s time to move over, carnivores, and let the real machos stand up.

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