“Why Don’t People Like Vegans?”

I tried to be vegan for a bit but then I ended up working in a restaurant where I got given leftover food at the end of the day and that included really tasty meat. It was a slippery slope back to a pretty meaty diet. But I shan’t bore you with my personal history instead I want to flag up a documentary of epic proportions called Simon Amstell: Carnage. It’s over on the BBC and Amstell the comedian wrote, directed and narrated it (his name in the title might be slight overkill though) and it is fuming hilarious. The blurb reads: “It’s 2067, the UK is vegan, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past. Simon Amstell asks us to forgive them for the horrors of what they swallowed.” And whilst it’s largely fictitious and the talking heads tend to belong to people who don’t exist I think it’s one of the best arguments I’ve come across in favour of veganism.

The show speaks for itself so I think the simplest thing to do is just watch it. However, for me, what it did was brilliantly re-present the argument by showing it the other way around. Rather than have lots of meat eaters make fun of those silly, vegan hippies it had those highly intelligent, compassionate vegans boggle over our manic, meat and dairy eating habits. It flipped the narrative and revealed our obsession with torturing and forcibly impregnating livestock to be pretty messed up. It made me sympathise more with cows, pigs and chickens. So now, when I go into a supermarket and see that pack of smokey bacon, yes, I’m thinking how blooming tasty it would be in a sandwich but I’m also thinking that those slivers of meat are basically the product of suffering and torture, rashers of pain if you like.

However, there is still one very important question that needs answering: “Why don’t people like vegans?” Kirsty Wark, non-fictitious presenter, asks it during a faux Newsnight interview in Carnage and it’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because their lifestyle appears to be a threat to ours and when they talk about soya milk we start to feel a latent guilt related to animal suffering that we’d rather deny. Maybe it’s because some people think veganism is a cult. Maybe it’s because we work in the dairy industry. Or maybe we should just live and let live, and realise that should include the lives of animals too. Cows, pigs and chickens don’t need to die for our gustatory pleasure when there is just so much other ace food out there. And I’m not saying this to be moralistic or judgemental because one thing I certainly am not is a vegan but I still feel pretty terrible about all that slaughter. And let’s face it, vegans aren’t the threat here, especially as they’re not the ones running an industry that kills millions of animals, pollutes waterways and is a huge contributor to climate change. So, go on, try some nut cheese, it’s much tastier than churned up cow pus.

Would You Like A Side of Locusts With That Deportation?

Britain doesn’t strike me as a very happy place at the moment. For example, you might not have read that burger chain Byron regularly employs staff who do not have the correct documentation with regards their migrant status and then recently ran a fake training event at which the same staff were met by immigration officers and deported. It seems Byron is more than happy to have its burger and eat it when it comes to exploiting a cheap and vulnerable workforce and then getting rid of them should the government decide to ‘crack down’. However, what you may have read is that following the deportations a group of activists protested outside Bryon in London and threw cockroaches, locusts and crickets into the restaurant. They apologised for any “irritation” caused but said “we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment.”

It’s a funny world when deportations only get news coverage once swarms of locusts are involved but then it’s also a world where we prioritise cheap burgers over human rights. Of course, it’s not actually funny, it’s tragic. The political-economic system we live under, namely consumer capitalism, encourages us to be self-interested and self-absorbed and to spend more time consuming stuff rather than building meaningful relationships. Now, I’m not judging anyone for doing this, I do it all the time and, until recently, was a fan of Byron’s burgers. But what also annoys me is when people try to justify this lifestyle. For example, I’m often told that the system is like this because human nature is inherently selfish. Oh! So suddenly everyone is an expert in psychology and knows the fundamental motivations of the human being? Actually no, human nature is not merely one thing but a diversity of drives, motivations, conditions, genes, hormones etc, many of which we know nothing or little about. I’d say if anything were inherently selfish it’s capitalism – I mean, Diet Coke or Coke Zero is presented as a dilemma whilst trampling on someone’s human rights isn’t.

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It doesn’t even look that good.

So, yeah, of course it’s annoying to have a whole bunch of crickets hopping over your chips but what’s worse is how we treat each other so the food can get on the table in the first place (and even if Bryon are being honest, which I doubt, when they say the relevant members of staff used forged documentation, they are still very much part of the exploitative system). Our everyday world of consumerism is completely untenable¬† – it is built on historic and present legacies of exploitation and abuse, and it’s undermining the future. It is unjustifiable however we try to rationalise it. But I’m not writing this to try to make you feel guilty. I regularly consume but one thing I don’t do is pretend I can justify it. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d be a vegan human rights activist and I hope one day I get there but in the meantime I would urge us to reprioritise. I dare you to forego that burger and go join that protest instead. I dare you to step outside of your usual social groups and make some new friends. I dare you to get beyond the repressive and limited conditioning of our society and explore more of your human nature. And you can do that tonight at 6.30pm outside the Byron at Holborn. Facebook event details here!

The Thing About Fat

So I’m producing¬†Universally Speaking – a series of five monologues at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham from 13th – 17th October (next week!). One of the pieces is mine and they were originally going to be produced at the Ideas Tap Festival this year but then Ideas Tap went bust. D’oh. I got in touch with Simon Jay, who was asked to direct the pieces, and he agreed that the show must go on. And it is! The venue is booked, the actors are rehearsing, the tickets are selling and we’ve even got a mistress of ceremonies to guide the audience through the night’s entertainment. On top of that the proceeds will go to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Mind, the mental health charity.

As for my piece – it’s all about fat. A lone woman sits in her car outside Tescos and ponders her relationship with food – she loves it, she loves all kinds of it – crisps, cakes, chocolate, marmite, bread rolls, tomatoes, ham, pork pies – the lot. She even loves mixing food and sex (who wouldn’t?). Although she’s a bit worried about her health because the doctors tell her she’s an ‘over-eater’ and that she weighs too much. She’s also fed up of the looks she gets in the supermarket aisles and the things people say about her behind her back. So the piece is part ode to food, part angry rant, part call for help, and part many other things. But I won’t give anymore away!

One of the inspirations for the piece is my fascination with the tendency we have to hold individual’s responsible for their actions – we can be so quick to blame and vilify people for the things they do, without stopping to contextualise their behaviour. Context is so important in explaining why people do what they do but we often ignore it. An example of context would be the consumerist nature of our culture – it relies on ever-increasing rates of consumption (our economy has to keep growing in order to function) which means more people spending more money on more stuff. One profitable avenue is the snack food industry that has perfected the art of selling unhealthy yet exceptionally tasty stuff to people. There are actually scientists out there tasked with coming up with the perfect ratio of salt:sugar in a crisp as well as its level of crunch and the speed at which it dissolves in the mouth. There’s a reason that once you’ve popped a tube of Pringles you can’t stop – they’re designed to be addictive. So the thing about fat is that it’s not one thing – it takes many forms (in crisps and cakes, in the human body) and forms part of so many different networks be they cultural, biological, political, economic or historical. Fat has a very big context.

So, 13th – 17th October 7.30 – 9pm at the Bread & Roses Theatre – my piece, aptly titled Fat, is one of five monologues that explores the darker dimensions of the 21st century. We got through the noughties and now we’re in the 2010s (teens, teenies, tens?) and one thing’s for sure, the 21st century is an odd place to be – often quite scary, sometimes very funny but occasionally lipsmackingly tasty (get your tickets here).

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