I’ve already failed at Veganuary – but it’s inspired me to feed my kids less meat

Old habits die hard – but if we can instil the right habits in our young, the future looks bright

Konnie Huq
Friday 10 January 2020 18:38 GMT
Burger King's vegetarian 'Impossible Whopper' burger cooked on same grill as meat

So we’re nearly halfway through January (I know! Already! Where is the time going?). The decorations have come down; the council has at long last relieved us of our overflowing wheelie bins and black bags, and sad, wanton pine trees lie abandoned on pavements up and down the land, evicted from the warm, cosy houses in which they were once the centre of attention.

Christmas festivities and new year’s revelry are, alas, but a warm memory; it’s time to tighten our belt buckles, eat less and revert to restraint.

It gets worse. We’re now just two weeks away from Brexit and to add insult to injury, I have already miserably failed at Veganuary. To be honest, it wasn’t hard: all I had to do was eat Burger King’s new plant-based Rebel Whopper. “Let’s rebel against those meaty meat eaters and their meat-filled burgers,” I thought, “Let’s embrace Veganuary and have a burger that is fully vegan – yay!” Fully vegan... until it touches the meat serving cooking grill, that is. Rather than preparing the Whopper separately, as they do their children’s meat-free meals, Burger King has decided to wipe the Whopper’s rebel credentials in one fell swoop by cooking it on their main burger grill with their meaty burgers – which, as many vegans will tell you, makes it not vegan. In other words, Burger King went to all that effort, only to fall at the final hurdle.

Oversight? Apparently not. Burger King insists that the Whopper is aimed not at vegans but rather at “flexitarians”: people that would like to eat less meat, but aren’t bothered about some meat fat on their vegan burger. So now I’m doing Flexitanuary instead.

You can’t help thinking Burger King has missed a trick by sidestepping actual veganism, though – especially given that Greggs announced just this week that, following the spectacular success of their vegan sausage rolls (the company’s total sales rose 13.5 per cent this year), they’re dishing out a £7m bonus to 25,000 employees, who will each receive up to £300.

Oh, how everyone scoffed – or, if you’re Piers Morgan, nearly vomited – when the Greggs’ sausage roll was announced; they will be eating their words now. Unsurprisingly, a lot of that scoffing (not of the vegan-sausage-roll-eating kind) came from people Generation X and up.

When we oldies were kids, there was little on offer, food wise, particularly for people with restricted diets.

Being vegan was pretty much impossible unless all you ate were nuts. No vegan ranges in supermarkets; no KFC vegan “clean-eating” burger (or, as two customers in a Liverpool branch were mistakenly served, actual chicken burgers); no Wagamama “vegatsu”; no Greggs’ vegan steak bakes. Perhaps that’s why my generation and older are finding it hard to wrap our heads around this brave new world of ethical veganism.

Even vegetarians were almost as much of a rarity back then. I knew the odd veggie, but most of them were Hindu, and vegetarian because of their religion. This I could totally relate to. Growing up in a Muslim family, I didn’t eat pork and was tactically vegetarian at school in a bid to avoid accidentally dining on swine, a galling prospect. I was, in other words, a part-time vegetarian – a flexitarian, if you will.

My first encounter with a bona fide vegan (I always knew they existed, but hadn’t met any in the flesh) wasn’t until I was 22. A producer at Blue Peter who was way ahead of her time and an all-round amazing lady was a vegan (incidentally, she was also disabled and gay before inclusivity were even a thing, but I digress).

KFC admits it keeps accidentally serving chicken burgers to vegans

She and I did a lot of filming in far-flung places together, and much to my surprise, her being vegan never seemed to be an issue (then again, nor did going up mountains without the use of her legs – maybe she’s just invincible). Part of the reason for this may have been that the places we were filming weren’t places where processed foods – which often contain lots of complicated (and non-vegan) ingredients – weren’t readily available. When filming in a small village in sub-Saharan Africa, cooked vegetables, rice and bread were pretty much all we lived on; meat was mostly reserved for special occasions, and nobody was slipping gelatine into our sweets.

Back in humanity’s hunter-gatherer days, you only ate meat if you’d recently made a kill, which required a huge amount of effort, and was therefore relatively rare. There’s a reason humans only have one set of incisors to rip our meat apart: we’re not supposed to eat the stuff at every meal. It’s exactly why my children are accidental flexitarians: their little teeth can find meat heavy going.

Perhaps parents like me would do well not to force the stuff on their kids, then. Because if our kids become accustomed to not eating meat at every meal, even to not eating meat at all, the future could be bright. Having never eaten pork during my childhood, I now couldn’t contemplate it; similarly, friends who became vegetarian during childhood – having realised those friendly faces in their farmyard book belonged to the same animals that were on their plate – would never go back to eating meat. Trying to switch later in life is a lot harder; we should give our kids good habits while we can.

I remember when I spent two months in China I became vegetarian after being put off meat by finding a chicken’s head staring up at me from my soup. Other foodstuffs I encountered there – including fallopian tube, oesophagus and pig stomach – all helped motivate me to make the switch. Yet there’s an honesty to the Chinese fondness for offal: rather than feasting on the meat you’ve convinced yourself arrives on your plate shrink-wrapped from a factory, Chinese culture forces you to quite literally confront the living being you are about to consume. My husband, on the other hand, is in flat out denial: he doesn’t even like meat with the bones in, let alone its face.

If, as statistics suggest, millennials’ diets are more plant-based than ever, and we continue to bring up our kids to eat less or no meat, the future could be bright – the future could be vegan. Happy Veganuary.

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