The issue with -ish.
Vegan, plant-based, flexitarian – like Brexit, all these terms are so lodged within the zeitgeist that you can’t avoid them. Like Brexit, everyone has an opinion on them, whether its confirmed carnivores writing off vegans as lentil eating left-wing hippies to the old-school vegans passing judgment on the new wave vegans taking advantage of the massive increase in plant-based convenience food options. No-one is safe and everyone takes the high ground.
I have tried my best over the years to be as aware and educated with my choices as I can, but there are so many hurdles to fall over. I am self-conscious about stating that I don’t want dairy or meat today (“but you instagrammed Roast chicken yesterday”), while constantly fighting my own desire to try as many foods as I can.. meaty and plant-based. There are weeks when you don’t have time to plan, research and prepare healthy plant-based meals, just as there are weeks when you don’t have the money to. It is a struggle, but admittedly a struggle wrapped in privilege.
My solution is to become …ish.
-ish is a suffix usually associated with indecision and vagueness.
‘It’s healthy-ish’, ‘I’m going to be late-ish’, ‘Oh but it was cheap-ish’.
I am reclaiming and committing to that most non-committal of suffixes. Enter veganish. I define veganish as attempting as much of a plant-based diet as possible. To the confirmed carnivores it is less extreme and more moderate and acceptable and to the militant vegan I hope it is considered as better than not trying at all. The centre-left of the diet debate.
Why veganish and not vegan?
This is such a big question which I’ll explore in more detail in the future, but to summarise…
1. The Environment
There is so much literature on the precarious situation we find our planet in. The meat industry is unsustainable. Devastating mass deforestation to clear land for grazing or to grow grain to feed animals. The enormous amount of water it takes to produce each gram of meat. The methane emitted by farting and burping animals isn’t exactly helping eradicate to climate change either.
There is a growing movement toward regenerative farming. It is a climate friendly way to produce food but it is not being used on an industrial scale at the moment. If you could combine high welfare and impeccable animal husbandry with regenerative farming, there is a place for the occasional bit of meat.
2. Animal Welfare
The question of the unnecessary cruelty of the meat and dairy industry comes up a lot. Cramped, dirty conditions, disease, cruel slaughter, overuse of antibiotics… the list goes on. If you want a wake-up call, lots of people claim that the Earthlings documentary opened their eyes, or there’s Cowspiracy on Netflix. I’m not dull to the realities of the meat and dairy industry and I don’t bury my head in the sand. I’m aware that a roast chicken for Sunday lunch means an animal has been slaughtered to tantalise my tastebuds, does it make me a monster to carry on eating chicken? The reality is, less meat and dairy equates to less cruelty.
3. Food Equality not Snobbery
I’m self-aware enough to know that I am willing to invest more time and cash into in reducing my meat and dairy consumption. I wouldn’t object to driving out of the city to a local farm to pick up a high welfare, organic chicken but that isn’t a choice for everyone. What everyone can do though, is try and eat a more veganish diet. Fresh, in-season produce from your local farmer’s market is one option, but food from tins or the freezer are just as valid and veganish (and not to be sniffed at). Plant-based eating should not be seen as a privileged choice. The 60-something million people in the UK lowering their meat and dairy consumption and becoming veganish is better than 600,000 abstainers. There is no point making a catastrophe about a bit of cheese or fried chicken.
Generally, adopting a more veganish diet means less meat and more plants which can never be a bad thing. Using apps like MyFitnessPal allows you to track your diet means that you can monitor your intake of protein, fat, carbs and all the vitamins that our bodies need to function. People can be quite fascinated and judgemental of the nutritional breakdown plant-based diet. ‘Where do you get your protein?’ ‘Where do you get your iron’ et cetera. I have found it quite surprising how easy is it to reach your recommended daily intake (RDI) of all the nutrients. It is well known that vegans can’t get Vitamin B12 naturally, but by being veganish, the odd egg or bit of meat will help reach your RDI of B12. Thankfully, B12 is added to a lot of products like marmite or nutritional yeast that are used frequently vegan and vegetarian cooking.
You may also find that reducing dairy also comes with some added vanity perks. A lot of people have some level of lactose intolerance and I find that my combination skin becomes less prone to dry patches and spots when I’m not eating dairy.
The intentions of eating a veganish diet force creativity and a focus on flavour to break the standard idea of a meal centered around meat or fish. It can be a challenging habit to break but once broken, meals will never be the same. Plus, it defies the point about health above and I accept the hypocrisy, but lots of tasty food is incidentally vegan, McDonalds Apple Pies and Oreos are a case in point.
This is probably my biggest reason for adding an -ish. The huge rise in the awareness of plant-based diets and veganism is undoubtedly great, but not everyone is a convert. My other half is an open-minded meat eater with no intention of becoming vegan and the majority of my friends and family are meat and dairy eaters. Food and spending time with my favourites are a big part of my life. I don’t want people tip-toeing around my diet, stressing themselves, or worse – not inviting me out. If I have to have a Sunday Roast without a meat substitute, or the odd bit of dairy in birthday cake, so be it.
What does veganish mean in practice?
Veganish is primarily the vegan diet of yore. No meat, no dairy, no eggs… for the most part. I’ll eat high welfare eggs like Clarence Court. They are more expensive than your average supermarket free-range option, but I eat fewer or invest more care in them. Amazing initiatives like Hen Nation mean you can have a more ethical omelette but they aren’t available everywhere… yet.
As I said above, I still believe animal agriculture is important and where it is properly managed, it can be beneficial for the environment and provide jobs and income to people who live in the countryside. At the moment, these farms are the minority but well worth seeking out. I will still occasionally have Roast Chicken, but I will not waste a single scrap of meat and the bones will be boiled for stock before being composted to feed crops.
Even if you don’t have the time, money or effort to seek out higher welfare meat and dairy. Try to reduce the amount you buy and importantly, the amount you waste. Parmesan rinds and other scrag ends of cheese can be added to sauces. Egg whites can make a virtuous omelette or yolks can enrich a simple pasta sauce (carbonara anyone?). Bones can be become stock. Leftover meat can be shredded and used in sandwiches, wraps, currries, pies, soups, fritters.. or just eaten as snacks with a dollop of relish.
So veganish… convinced yet?