Prof. Clive Phillips| 29/12/2020
Ondine Sherman is surely rapidly becoming for vegan living what Jamie Oliver is for no nonsense, down-to-earth cooking. Not only does she present practical recipes for living a better, vegan, life, she has all the arguments under the sun to support her in this quest.
Most people know instinctively that her cause is one they should be taking seriously. I’m reminded of the quip my former Dean of Agriculture gave when I finally told people I was vegetarian about ten years ago. “I know we’ve all got to go down this path, I just hope it doesn’t happen in my lifetime”.
But Vegan Living would have much to tell the Dean about how exciting a journey this path can be. Compared with ten years ago, people are now able to discover new foods and new ways of living that satisfy the soul and the body in ways that were quite unthinkable then. Plant based food is available that replicates our meat staples – the beef burger, minced meat – if you want that. But vegan cooking is much more exciting than that – there’s a whole world of tasty foodstuffs most of us are only just discovering, and the supermarket are making sure they are available to a mass market.
The vegan movement is growing with amazing pace; we only have to look at our supermarket shelves to know that. In the 1960’s the British supermarkets discovered they could sell pizzas and yoghurt to the conservative public. Now it seems they’ve at last woken up to a whole range of the worlds’ superfoods that can be used to create tasty meals. One of Sherman’s favourite responses to vegan sceptics is to woo them with fantastic vegan food.
Driven by public concern over climate change, atrocities on farms and a desire for a healthier living, one can foresee that in the not-too-distant future people will be social outcasts if they still eat meat. Sherman summarises this simply as ‘you can’t save the planet and eat meat’.
How the world has changed in such a short time! Forty years ago my first day at work, as an agricultural college lecturer in the UK, I was taken ‘hare coursing’ by my head of department, who then boasted of his attempts to navigate the Gloucestershire lanes after massive drinking sessions. Neither are acceptable today, and nor will meat eating be in the very near future. However, many of the world’s poorest farmers tend livestock, and a major challenge for governments of these countries is to find a route into more sustainable forms of agriculture.
This is achievable, as veganism is an ancient practice in some of our biggest societies, Vegan Living reminds us. Livestock farming is relatively new, at least the intensive systems the world has come to rely on for mass meat production. The worlds’ two most populous countries, India and China, both have veganism in their roots. They may have recently departed from this path as they temporarily embrace Western fast food. The modern vegan movement is still largely confined to the Western World, but this is so often at the vanguard of worldwide change. Plant-based burgers will find their way into Asian cuisine, but Sherman sensibly warns against vegan fastfood. Even a vegan diet can be unhealthy if it contains too many processed ingredients.
Regrettably, although most in the West are embracing veganism avidly, those who look after the animals are understandably reluctant. The worlds’ veterinary leaders are not yet on board with this, explains one of Sherman’s spokespeople. Veterinary students have to be desensitised to the horrors of livestock farming during their training, so that as veterinarians they can make money from livestock farmers. Perhaps agronomy would be a wiser choice for today’s teenagers. Livestock industry leaders are no better - paying scientists for pro-industry research. But some farmers have experienced the sudden conversion, and Vegan Living offers a selection of those recanting the horrific treatment of their livestock that they had to follow to make a living from animals.
Sherman sidesteps these problems by providing a route for young people, in particular, to follow. Answers to the usual questions of ‘where do you get your protein from’ and ‘surely this is a dangerous path to follow’ are provided. Sherman has all the statistics and arguments to support her cause, including the fact that many leading sports men and women are vegans.
Sherman presents veganism as a lifelong quest, not a sudden conversion. Her brand is all embracing, but increasingly easy to follow. As well as delicious sounding recipes for vegan food, readers are told how to avoid animal products in medicines, clothes and footwear, how to be a good vegan tourist and how to find fellow vegans in the community they live in.
If all this sounds too ‘holier than thou’, it isn’t. It’s a societal movement that the world sorely needs with the demise of the major religions in the Western world.
Where else does one turn for advice on how to live your life nowadays? Sherman shows us how we can make a difference to the sustainability of the planet and feel good about it at the same time. I am reminded of the early Christian church, its vitality, youth and virtuous values, but also its persecution. Fortunately, we’re not burning vegans at the stake, but some derision of the movement is out there. There’s no doubt in my mind, or Sherman’s, who will be proved right, and this book may well become the bible teenagers are looking for.
Clive Phillips PhD is an academic and author whose research interests include the welfare of farmed, companion and captive wild animals. He is the Former Director of the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics (School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland), and has been a member of the Voiceless Scientific Expert Advisory Council since 2009.