THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS TO GBBO EPISODE 7.
This week saw The Great British Bake Off’s first foray into veganism and the Green18 team are overjoyed at the progressiveness. However, since the news of this development, I’ve been thinking about the motives behind the decision. According to the Evening Standard, Paul Hollywood explained: "We wanted something different and something to represent what was happening in this country. Veganism is something that seems to be growing. That's why it is in."
This is all very well and good, and I’m in love with the amount of chat that has occurred on the show’s Twitter page to give publicity to the episode and therefore the lifestyle. However, doing some very minor research, I discovered that some responses were not so loving, and I began to think more about the attitudes that society still holds towards veganism.
I was motivated by the part of the preview where Noel Fielding told Kim Joy that she looked like she’d set foot in a few vegan restaurants, a comment undoubtedly provoked by her quirky appearance and behaviour. Harmless. As a disclaimer, by no account do I now hate Noel Fielding. He apparently suggested Vegan Week anyway. But his comment led me to think about the prejudices people hold against vegans – prejudices that cause people to claim that Vegan Week is a ‘load of old bollocks’ (please appreciate the sensible people responding to Stuart on this tweet feed).
It is interesting to me that people still consider ‘vegan’ to be synonymous with ‘weirdo hippy’. My own mother (hi, mum) said as much about me when I told her I’d stopped cooking meat...The prejudices that seem to have formed around veganism have done so, in my opinion, because this is the way that the trend has so often been presented. As with all exaggerated caricatures, there is some truth lurking somewhere. There are vegans out there who shove their views down the throats of whoever will politely listen. There are some who take their views to the extreme. There are some who think the lifestyle, for whatever reason, is the be-all-and-end-all. Presenting your views in this way is not okay regardless of what your lifestyle choice is. Here at Green18, we are firm believers in trying to get people to understand your point of view without presenting it as an all or nothing approach.
In this light, mainstream shows like The Great British Bake Off actively welcoming the idea of vegan alternatives is exponentially helpful to dissolving these prejudices, because they show that not every vegan is the type of person you want to avoid a lecture from while you chow down on a cocktail sausage at a party. It’s about making vegan food accessible instead of exclusive. It’s also about showing the potential that vegan food has. I’m still in shock that a meringue can be made without eggs, and I bet it tasted delicious as well. I had a vegan doughnut this weekend and it was just as amazing as all of the (many) doughnuts that came before it; I just ate a vegan curry without even realising; I bought Deliciously Ella’s plant-based cookbook a few weeks ago and I’m genuinely just excited to have new recipes to base my meals around, without even thinking that they won’t contain animal products. (Incidentally, is plant-based different from vegan, or is it a euphemism to stop people getting annoyed about the rise of veganism?)
I’m going to take a second to point out that I’m not vegan and would find it very hard to be. I just resent any criticism the choice receives when it’s being made with the best possible aims. Starting on the Green18 journey this year has been a massive shock to my meat-eating system but it’s also been a pleasant surprise. I’m now almost completely vegetarian, a statement I never ever thought I’d utter, and I often eat vegan meals without realising, as I did tonight. Green18 is all about taking the steps you think you can manage. It’s about not saying flat out ‘I can’t do that’, a la this lady being interviewed by the BBC 3 seconds in to the video on the right. So if you think you can only manage to cut your meat intake down to four days a week instead of seven, that’s wonderful. It’s better than nothing at all. If you think you can go full vegan, that’s even more wonderful. If you want to eat a cocktail sausage at a party, you do you. As long as we have programmes and documentaries and articles showing us what we can do to change, we can make informed choices. And hopefully, by presenting these choices in the best possible light, we’re working towards a point where people won’t judge you for them.