November may be world vegan month, but there’s never been a trickier time to be a card-carrying vegan. Last week’s row over the editor of Waitrose Food magazine’s comments about vegans — he jokingly suggested writing a series on ‘killing vegans, one by one’ and making them ‘eat a steak’ — has reignited the war between those who eat meat and those who don’t.
Social media is full of outraged carnivores insisting that meat-eating is the only valid diet and that vegans are a pallid, weepy minority of preachy extremists, determined to stop the rest of the world having fun. A breakfast TV show even held a phone-in that discussed why people hate vegans.
I have been a vegetarian for 15 years (after seeing an unhappy lobster at a Cornish seafood restaurant) and turned vegan about two years ago, when I read more about the dairy industry.
Flic Everett (pictured left) who has been vegan for around two years revealed the challenges of living with her meat-eating partner Andy, 47 (pictured right)
The number of vegans in the UK has more than quadrupled in the past ten years to 3.5 million. Middle-class stalwarts Marks & Spencer and Pret have vegan ranges; Pizza Express has a full vegan menu; and this summer, Waitrose became the first British supermarket to add a dedicated vegan section to its stores. Even the Great British Bake Off had a vegan week.
Veganism, it seems, is on an unstoppable rise.
Admittedly, most vegans are twentysomethings, while I’m a 48-year-old mother of a grown-up son. I edit Vegan Living magazine, create new recipes for it and cook from scratch every night.
Which would all have been fine, had I stayed in my native Manchester and shacked up with a fellow eco-shopping, arty type. Instead, I fell in love with a carnivore who lives in the Highlands, home to 125,000 cattle, most of which seem to end up on his dinner plate.
The first time I met Andy, 47, a holiday-let landlord, I had come to stay at his rural cottage with a mutual friend. The second day of our stay, as we were driving past fields of shaggy Highland cattle, I expressed sadness that anyone could eat such adorable animals. This led to a heated debate — well, heated on my part, calm and factual on Andy’s.
I explained why I could never do it. If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why would you eat a cow or a pig? I hoped he would absorb my passionate views and see the light. But he countered my every argument with economic statistics about farming, and concluded that he would never give up meat.
I’m used to being a vegan in a world of meat-eaters, which includes my son, my parents and many friends. I am constantly aware that not everyone views animals and the ethics of eating them as I do. I have had to cut my loved ones some slack. But having a partner who is a full-on carnivore is something else.
Flic revealed Andy spent most of his youth as a vegan until his doctors actively advised him to eat meat for a chronic health condition
The irony is that Andy used to be vegan in his youth, when he was living in South London and making enormous lentil curries for his musician mates. Then he moved back to the West Highlands and discovered he had a chronic condition, ulcerative colitis, for which doctors actively advised him to eat meat.
Now, his dinners are a parade of farm animals, with a carbohydrate and a green vegetable thrown in for good measure. He eats like a Fifties patriarch, and seems to do very well on it.
For our first dates, we went to restaurants in Bath, where I was living at the time, or we would attempt to cook for each other — he makes an excellent tomato, olive and red pepper tagliatelle.
At restaurants, I’d have the vegetarian or vegan choice and try not to look at his plate as he worked his way through a large steak.
It was only when we moved in together in rural Scotland (local population, none, sheep and cows, many) that the chasm between our habits became a problem.
How common is veganism in Britain?
40% of Brits have cut down on eating animal products
It’s not only our opposing moral codes; it’s the practical reality of two keen cooks making two entirely separate dinners every night.
To make matters worse, I gave up alcohol in January (I was starting to wake up with crippling hangovers after one glass of wine), while Andy feels an evening hasn’t got going until he hears the tinkle of gin.
The day-to-day difficulties of being a vegan and a meat-lover in a kitchen not much bigger than a microwave are the most challenging aspects of our relationship.
At times I feel as though we’re living in some naff Seventies sitcom. We have a cupboard filled with what Andy calls ‘weird nonsense’, and I call ‘healthy essentials’, such as cacao nibs, tofu, chia seeds and liquid smoke seasoning.
In the fridge, my section is a collection of odd-looking vegetable leftovers in Tupperware, homemade nut cheeses and beetroot juice. His bit of fridge mostly contains expensive cheese, Gressingham duck legs or fish that smells like a Norwegian trawler.
While I can weep tears of sorrow over a tin of John West salmon, Andy loves to catch his own fish. On several occasions I’ve opened the fridge to be greeted by a whole trout, its yellow eye gazing mournfully at me as I shriek in horror.
Flic claims being unable to eat dinners simultaneously can cause she and Andy to go days without having proper conversation
But food prep and timing is when things really go awry. We have about 2 ft of worktop, so I’ll be chopping onions shouting: ‘Don’t get your chicken fat on my veg!’ Or he’ll be tutting as I whizz beans in the food processor when he needs the space to fillet his hake.
I am revolted by the bloody meat trays he leaves lying around, while he complains about the tiny bits of dried-up chopped vegetables that find their way on to the floor.
Both of us intend to do something about it, but the MasterChef-like pressure of trying to make our dinners synchronise is too distracting.
Most couples, I imagine, take turns cooking dinner, then enjoy it with a shared bottle of wine. Our hopeful aim is to cook two separate dinners with the same oven and three-ring hob (one is broken) and sit down to eat at the same time. We probably manage it about four times out of ten — so the one whose meal is ready first will glumly eat in front of the TV, to distant sizzling and swearing from the kitchen.
I truly love food and believe one of the best things about being in a relationship is sitting down to eat and chat together. It’s when we offload what’s on our minds, talk about life, politics and everything, and re-connect after a separate day of editing and landlord-ing.
Being unable to eat our dinners simultaneously means the evening drifts away . . . and suddenly we haven’t had a proper conversation for days.
We could eat the same food apart from the protein and make it simpler, but we simply don’t like the same things. I’m a fan of brown rice and wholegrain pasta, which Andy can’t eat. I could live without broccoli for ever, and he thinks it’s the best vegetable ever invented. I also like to eat whatever I fancy at the end of a long day, so planning ahead is rare. I’ll just look at what I’ve got and put something together. But Andy prefers to plan his week’s food and cook an oxtail stew for 24 hours, while I make childish gagging noises every time I pass the pan.
Flic says Andy usually cooks the main when they have visitors meanwhile she makes a vegan version for herself
Then there’s the extra cost of having separate meals. A few weeks ago, reeling at our latest food-shopping bill of £150 for a week, I tried to work out who had spent more, certain it would be him once I’d factored in his red wine, posh cheese and the organic, free-range meat, compared with my church-mouse diet of vegetables and chickpeas.
It was a horrible shock to discover I had forked out at least £35 more on smoked tofu, vegan chocolate and cashews, Seedlip alcohol-free spirits and pricey vegetables, such as oyster mushrooms and baby courgettes.
Seedlip costs the same as Andy’s bottles of gin. I found it surprisingly easy to give up alcohol, but my hints that he might do the same didn’t go down well.
On one occasion, shortly after I stopped drinking, we were at a friend’s house for dinner when I mouthed: ‘Haven’t you had enough?’ across the table as our host cheerily sloshed more into Andy’s glass. He mouthed back a firm ‘no’, and that was the end of my self-righteous intervention.
Now, I will pour my elderflower fizz and he’ll have his favourite, beefy, 14 per cent red wine, and if I sense he’s getting drunk enough to rant about politics, I go for a bath and he rants online instead.
If we have people round for dinner, he’ll cook the main, and I’ll make a vegan version for me — though I did make our Highland guests try a selection of nut cheeses recently, which they were surprisingly polite about.
Many vegans I know have ‘must also be vegan’ at the top of their partner criteria, and would rather die than face dead pig in the fridge or a steak spitting from its pan on to their stir-fry.
Andy (pictured right) says he was worried that Flic wouldn’t get the right nutrition when she became vegan
I still sign petitions and support animal rights till the, er, cows come home, but I’m not a believer in haranguing my loved ones about their moral decisions. Andy grew up in the countryside, he doesn’t hunt or shoot and he tries to buy good-quality meat.
Though I’d love to wake up and discover he had become a vegan overnight, it isn’t going to happen. After almost three years, we have just about managed to make it work, thanks to the basis of all good relationships — respecting each other’s choices.
I love him the way he is, and what he chooses to eat is his responsibility — as long as I don’t have to cook it. Plus, he’s very patient about the bits of chopped vegetable all over the floor.
When I first met Flic and she was talking about vegetarianism, I thought she was caring, but I wasn’t persuaded because they were her ethics, not mine. When she went vegan, I worried she wasn’t getting the right nutrition, so I kept reminding her to take vitamin B and omega 3 and 5.
The main frustration for me is the lack of space. Cooking vegan food requires a lot of chopping, whirring and liquidising. My food is meat, carb, one veg; her dinners have lots of ingredients and processes. The washing up mountain is huge and we don’t have a dishwasher.
Andy revealed eating differently to Flic has caused high shopping bills and they also have a lot of waste
The fridge space is not so much a function of her being vegan, it’s because she can never decide what she wants to eat until half an hour beforehand, so we end up with a fridge packed full of stuff that gets reshuffled every night.
The really difficult thing is the stress we go through trying to eat together every night. Plus the shopping bills are high and there’s a lot of waste. Sometimes my meat and wine costs more, but I don’t throw away much, whereas Flic will throw out veg or open tofu packs she didn’t finish.
When she quit alcohol, I thought it was sensible because it was making her feel ill. Like veganism, it was her choice and she’s just as good company sober.
When we met, I didn’t know she would go vegan, and it has separated us at meal times. But it’s amazing what you’ll put up with when you love someone.
ANDY AND FLIC ’S DIET CLASH
Breakfast: Sourdough toast with hummus, or a vegan spread and Marmite.
Lunch: Tempeh (soya meat substitute) in a wrap with salad and an apple.
Dinner: Cassoulet (see below).
Drinks: Fizzy elderflower, tea with almond milk.
Breakfast: Bagel with cheese and salami.
Lunch: Leftover beef stew from the night before.
Dinner: Baked duck legs with Chinese spices, noodles and fried broccoli. Ice-cream for pudding.
Drinks: Bottle of merlot, tea.
YES, BEING VEGAN CAN BE DELICIOUS
Flic shared this classic peasant vegan dish which can also be made with non-alcoholic wine
This classic peasant dish is tasty and cheap.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, grated
- 200ml passata
- 1 large bay leaf
- 200ml vegetable stock
- 200ml red wine
- 400g tin borlotti beans
- 400g tin cannellini beans
- 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
TIP: If you don’t want to buy pricey red wine just for this, use Eisberg non-alcoholic wine — it’s £3.50 for a full bottle and you can’t tell the difference in cooking.
1. Heat oil in a casserole pot over a low heat. Cook onions until soft, then add the garlic and cook for two minutes.
2. Add thyme, celery and carrot and season. Cook for ten minutes.
3. Pour in the passata and add the bay leaf, stock and wine (you can double the stock instead of using wine). Bring to the boil then simmer.
4. Add beans, then cook for one hour over a low heat until thickened.
5. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with a baguette.
For more recipes, see facebook.com/veganlivingmagazine