George Monbiot and the ‘New Vegan Beetnik Burger’ 3

I’m so angry tonight. I don’t even know what I‘m going to write. I’ve been trying to write a blog post for days but I don’t know where to start. It’s like I have this uprising inside of me: like somebody has uncorked me; everything I’ve been keeping down for the last three years is bubbling up.

So this is what they call a stream of consciousness. It’s what they teach writers who have writers block: just start writing. Write rubbish. Write all the mess that is inside your head. Write la la la this evening I went past Waterstones and saw this:

And then I went past a burger joint and saw this:


And I just thought suddenly vegan is everywhere. How did this happen, while I was looking the other way? I can’t claim any credit for it, but then again, is it all good?

Vegan is being sold. Someone caught onto the fact that vegan can sell. That wasn’t me because I am quite clearly rubbish at business. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting at home on a Friday night writing this for free: giving it to you for free.

George Monbiot was right – and wrong – in his article in the Guardian on Wednesday. Old news already, but anyway, he said, on the subject of obesity, that no mechanism has yet been proposed to explain how 61% of the human population could have simply lost its willpower over the last 42 years. He also said that control needs to be exerted “over those who have discovered our weaknesses and ruthlessly exploit them”.

I am 42 years old. I was born in the same year as the photograph he mentioned that was taken on Brighton beach. I still remember the first time I had Findus boil-in-the bag Chinese: the red box; the rice and the sweet and sour sauce in separate plastic sachets. It was a big deal back then.

At the bottom of the article was a link to another article: I followed it, but now I can’t find it again. This one pointed out the explosion in vegan everything that has happened since 2014. I was trying to find the link again and I couldn’t but I found this one instead which is also good.

2014 is only four years ago. When I was blogging in 2014 I thought I was talking to the air. I was writing all this stuff and I got hardly any responses. But then again, maybe that was just because I talk too much…?!?

I started KidsEatPlants in August 2013 and I stopped writing it in September 2015. Something happened to me and I stopped writing it and I’m going to tell you about that another day but I am going to tell you about it.

Yesterday I watched the three YouTube videos I made in September 2015 and I felt very sad because I was so passionate then – and I am still so passionate – but I allowed myself to be silenced. That’s not okay. I’m not going to be silenced again. I have a lot to say…

Anyway this weekend I could go to the Chester Vegan Festival or Vegan Camp-Out in Nottinghamshire. Or both, and eat my body weight in vegan cupcakes, vegan chocolate, and vegan hot dogs. So I’m probably not going to make myself hugely popular by saying this, but some people somewhere have worked out that vegan sells: especially the you-can–be-vegan-and-not-miss-out-on-all-the-things-you-love kind of hard sell. It works. So we can all feel good about ourselves and have a clear conscience and still eat pizza. Right?

What has happened since 2014 is the one big thing in the vegan world: the food tech guys have cracked vegan cheese. Oh yes they really have, and it’s good. It’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. And you can now buy vegan pizza in Pizza Express, and Pizza Hut, and even the small independent pizza place round the corner from my house.

This is arguably nothing short of a vegan health catastrophe. One of the things I wanted to do when I became vegan was to take myself out of the food system completely. I wanted to get to a place where I could look at a doughnut and not see food.

And there at the last vegan festival I went to were some of the seriously best jam doughnuts I have ever tasted in my life (yes, they were!).

But how do I feel about that? My sincere apologies to the makers of the best jam doughnut I have ever had in my life (perhaps this was just because I hadn’t had one for at least six years) for singling you out as an example: because this applies to everyone who sells unhealthy food, wherever and to whomever you are selling it.

Human beings are biological creatures. We are hard wired to find food and especially food high in calories, and to eat lots and lots of it, because we evolved in times of scarcity with an inbuilt mechanism to survive famine.

That simply isn’t something we can just override. Some of us can to some extent, but most of us can’t completely. And this is “new food”, so we simply have no data to tell us whether it is good or bad for our bodies. We can make some inferences, which I think is a subject for another day, but the fact is that the people who have been shown to have lived the longest are people who in the past ate fairly basic plant-based diets interrupted by periods of starvation: for the most part the kind of brown rice and lentils diets that vegans have been laughed at, ridiculed and ostracised for eating forever – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Nothing fancy, nothing fried. Low in fat, salt and sugar. High in fibre and phytonutrients. This isn’t rocket science: we know this, and we don’t need any more studies to tell us it either.

What we do need now is people shouting from the rooftops about food oppression. What we do need is grassroots activism on behalf of our children’s arteries. Ordinary people need to start to understand the myriad ways that we are being controlled and taken advantage of, because we are surrounded – literally surrounded all the time by food that is killing us. Food that hijacks our delicate physiological systems – and we simply can’t be expected to have to smell this stuff all day and not eat it.

We have to ask ourselves what love is? What does love look like? Why do we think love is feeding our children food that breaks them down? Why do our hospitals serve food that is pro-inflammatory to patients with chronic inflammatory conditions? Why do our schools teach cooking in terms of pancakes and cupcakes?

We live in a capitalist society. No amount of sugar taxation is going to make this go away for us any time soon (which is not to say that sugar tax is a bad thing by the way). But we can’t leave it up to governments and woefully underfunded departments of public health to solve this crisis. We have to start taking responsibility for ourselves

But by that I don’t mean we have to – each in our own individual bubble – fight a day-in, day-out, losing battle against temptation, and than give ourselves a really hard time when we fail. I mean that we have to come together to call out the many, many ways in which we are being exploited – and the most vulnerable among us are being exploited the most.

We have to start saying, not only am I going to feed myself better but I am also going to feed the people I love – all the people I love in ever expanding circles – better too. We have to start feeding each other: preparing and sharing food and eating together and telling each other what a good idea that is, and not surrounding the people we love with junk and rubbish they can’t resist. We have to do this from the bottom up: create a cultural uprising, and start saying, really loudly and really clearly: NO.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 thoughts on “George Monbiot and the ‘New Vegan Beetnik Burger’

  • Amy Phillips

    Excellent article. Also on a wider environmental basis, we all know meat & dairy production is catastrophic, but processing any food to create less nutrient rich but more calorie dense foods is a bad thing. We should grow food & eat it ina whole foods unprocessed state, for our health and so we can all continue to enjoy the planet we live on.

  • Ian

    Hi Ellen, great post, and thank you for your time and dedication to improving our health. It is really appreciated. I totally agree with you in the idea of ‘What is the absolute best I could give my family and friends’. And more often than not we make very poor choices with the delusion that our families are content as long as they ‘Like the look’ of what they are eating and they are left ‘Full’. Why is it that an hour later they are hungry again?!!!!