‘You are vegan?’ The hairdresser’s comb froze in mid-air as she met my gaze in the mirror with a look of baffled disbelief on her face.
This was not the first time stating my lifestyle had been met with this response.
If you’re vegan you’re automatically sporty, slender and consider kale a primary food group. Increasingly veganism is being seen not as an ideology, but as a cure for being overweight and frankly, it’s getting on my rather sizeable tits.
The fact is, veganism is not a diet, as my size 20 trousers can firmly attest to. It’s a lifestyle which aims to boycott all animal agriculture.
If we’re gonna get technical, it was defined as ‘to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses’ by Vegan Society co-founder Leslie Cross in 1949.
At no point has having rock hard abs and optimum triglyceride levels ever been a requirement.
As I recently explained to a guy who couldn’t fathom a vegan ordering chips, veganism isn’t really about food. It’s just that the most obvious place we see animal products is on our dinner plates.
Provided something doesn’t contain any animal products, it’s vegan. Of course, this includes all the fruit, veggies, pulses and healthful stuff that boosts your energy and lowers your cholesterol. But it also includes Morrison’s jam doughnuts and Frazzles.
There really is no need for me to be sneaking Big Macs on the sly as seems to be a common suspicion.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s brilliant that the benefits of plant-protein are being heralded during the ad-break. Championing the health and weight-management aspects of a vegan diet is a great selling point, so have at it.
I consider each beetroot burger a step closer to a future without battery farming and bovine emissions. But by conflating veganism so inseparably with slimness, two negative things are achieved.
Firstly, it reduces veganism to a diet, indistinguishable from Keto or Paleo, meaning the vital issues of animal welfare and environment are overlooked. People may enjoy a cashew cheese risotto, but are completely unaware that their woollen skirt, lanolin-enriched moisturiser and leather belt are all still connected to the meat industry.
This is fine if like Venus Williams, you’re just shunning animal products for health and is also where the distinction between ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ comes in. But if you’re going vegan for ethical reasons, you may be lumbered with a complete misunderstanding and underestimation of what it involves and why it matters.
Secondly, it creates a stereotype of veganism, a standard by which all other soy munchers will be judged. It holds the body up to even greater scrutiny than usual, effectively creating a ‘veganer than thou’ hierarchy where being fat seems not only as a failing but as un-vegan.
Should having a muffin top really mean my ethics are called into question? Essentially, a new vegan stereotype has been created, and with it an enforced beauty standard.
In just the same way that not all omnivores live on greasy fry ups, not all vegans cram in the cauliflower rice.
Gone are the latter-day tree-snugglers in tie-dye, and in their place, tanned athletes swigging organic kombucha while updating their YouTube.
According to some of these new-wave vegans, it is every vegans’ duty to set an example. At last year’s London VegFest I was actually asked if I thought I was a good role-model for future vegans at my size. Of course, the person asking was a militant, mostly raw vegan with their own blog.
I don’t consider myself a role model to anyone, I am simply living according to my own ideology which happens to be veganism. But such is the focus upon veganism as a health-trend, that people often assume I’m a recent covert as part of a weight-loss plan.
Thankfully the rather patronising clucks of ‘well done’ or ‘that’s a great start’ quieten down pretty quickly when I say I went to the plant side almost four years ago.
Aside from the wrongful supposition that plant-based food is automatically healthy, (have a glance at the fat content in most coconut cheeses) this shows how negatively fatness is viewed in our society.
The assumption being that I must want to lose weight and veganism is simply a means to achieving it. For all the people patting me on the back know, I may feel confident, energetic and downright sexy in my Rubenesque form.
Admittedly, I usually feel about as seductive as a dropped blancmange, but they don’t know that.
To be clear, of course, some people feel better and lose weight when they go vegan, especially if switching from meat-laden takeaways to a whole food diet, packed with freshly dug vegetables.
However, in just the same way that not all omnivores live on greasy fry ups, not all vegans cram in the cauliflower rice. The supposition that as a vegan my skin should be clearer, my eyes brighter and my buttocks firm enough to bounce a coin off are simply not true and place additional pressure on those following this lifestyle.
My body may be wobbly and squishy in places that I wish it wasn’t but it is nonetheless 100 % vegan and that’s good enough for me.