The Veganuary Fad

Vegans. Where do you start with vegans? They get a lot of shtick for being loud, aggressive, a bit obnoxious. By all truth there are vegans that will actively gag as your meat lovers breakfast arrives at the table in Wetherspoons and start to scream ‘murderer’ backwards and in latin whilst their eyes roll back in their heads and they begin to levitate. There are also the vegans who will look longingly at your eggs because, frankly, they miss them. The latter will tend to appreciate your decision and your right to have made it. However, you will receive absolute and utter support from these people if and when you hint towards lessening your meat intake. 

Then we have veganuary. I suppose the purpose of veganuary is pretty straight forward – capitalise on veganism so more people try it. Fuck, it works. My instagram has been littered with veganuary posts of celebrities I don’t know telling me why they gave up eating meat. And the thing is, I really do not care. I, like I assume many people, find myself often looking at a slab of chicken and hearing a distant cluck – this makes me sad. Then I eat the chicken – this makes me go mmhm and rub my belly in satisfaction. 

And so I arrive at a cross roads, I love meat and I hate meat and what am I to do? As I ponder this I am suddenly affronted. Like a slap in the face, ‘NEW KFC VEGAN BURGER’, what is this? KFC? Vegan? No chicken? Then another crack to the cheek, ‘MEATLESS MEAT BALL MARINARA’. Ah, what the fuck, where are these coming from? They come from the capitalisation of what is essentially a very wholesome philosophy. But it be like that sometimes, I guess. 

For about 6 months I have been making the conscious effort to limit my meat consumption the best that I can, which with a father who would rather have a rock for a daughter than a vegetarian, is a big step. I don’t buy raw meat to cook unless it’s 10 minutes before Tesco shuts and there’s beef mince that will inevitably be disposed of and wasted. And this has severely cut down my meat is murder guilt, my carbon footprint and I’m guessing my cholesterol but I’m not a doctor and doctors don’t tell you shit these days.

My downfall however is takeaways. Because the truth is that I am lazy and I lack any sort of will power. I often succumb to the temptation of sitting in bed and waiting for food to be delivered to two meters from where I lay. Ordering a pizza and managing to tear my eyes away from the pepperoni option is one thing but if you think I’m about to order a vegetarian burger with absolutely no inclination as to what that vegetarian burger is actually made of, well you are dead wrong my friend. So it’s pretty fair to assume that I am one of the people that Veganuary may be aimed at. I teeter on the edge of a meat free lifestyle but the lack of taste guarantee from small, independently owned kebab shops at 3 a.m. is one of my last greatest hurdles. 

Before you jump to conclusions, I haven’t given Veganuary a go, in fact I’ve eaten more meat this month than I have in the last three. Whoops. However, I did go on a taste testing spree of some of the meat free fast food options that have been brought out to rinse Veganuary for all it’s worth. My aims being to find out if giving up meat is genuinely feasible and by feasible I mean is anything going to hold a candle to KFC’s Flaming All Star Wrap?

KFC:

KFC + Vegan = Oxymoron

I was pretty excited by the notion of a chick-free-a. Until I saw that it’s a Quorn chicken burger. With some herbs. I can sprinkle pepper on a Quorn burger and deep fry it too, though I would probably lob it in the oven mimicking the same effect but without the fear of imminent heart failure. And thus, I was a little disheartened as I wondered in to KFC and angled myself straight towards the dystopian looking self serve screens so I could avoid making contact with another human being whilst I ordered a vegan burger from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mainly because I was also ordering a Flaming All Stars Wrap. Tehe. 

First thoughts; it’s small. If you’re looking for a big ol’ bad man of a chicken sandwich you might need to just get chicken, because it was pretty pitiful. For £3.99 for a lone burger… I was a bit miffed. I soon set my aching bank card aside and told myself it may go on to surprise me.

And, well, eh. By no means was this burger bad tasting. You can absolutely tell the difference that the 11 herbs and spices make and I was swinging my dick around a little too ferociously when I claimed I could recreate it with a sprinkle of pepper, honestly I don’t even think paprika could cut it. Having said that, the dainty dollop of vegan mayo could have been bog standard mayo and I would never have noticed. The lettuce was… a bit of lettuce and I’m sure you’re familiar enough with leaves without me having to describe them. 

Do I think you’re getting good value for your money? Nah. Do I think I could instantly make the switch and never look back? Nah. Could I see myself craving the vegan burger in the future? Quite possibly. 

But I have some follow up issues. Who the fuck makes a vegan burger but can’t swing for vegan chips? What’s worse is KFC’s response to this question when put forward in their FAQs – “We know this is disappointing, but both beans and corn are vegan-friendly.” Excuse me… but did you just suggest I forego chips for… corn? 

And beyond my corn fuelled outrage is another and far more poignant dispute. KFC is notorious for their absolutely abysmal treatment of the chickens that give their lives for me to enjoy my oh- so tasty flaming wrap. And it seems to me that if you would go so far as to cut out cheese then the treatment of animals is likely very important to you. And just because your burger isn’t the direct product of a chicken boiled alive absolutely does not mean that your meal is guilt free. We have power in who we give our money to and which corporations we support. KFC is a perfect example of a company jumping on the vegan bandwagon for money whilst still spitting in the face of what the vegan philosophy actually stands for. 

 

Subway:

This one’s a little close to the soul for me so I’ll try to manage my emotions. 

I adore subway. It is my favourite fast food restaurant, I think that the amount of genuinely healthy options they offer is wonderful, their service is disgustingly fast, their rewards system is top notch and you’re never short of variety. Subway may very well be the last standing reason I will remain a flexitarian until death. 

But then… They did it too. The meatless meatball marinara. Which, in picture and in person, genuinely appears indistinguishable from the original. You’re getting a six inch sub meat or no meat. At only an extra 50p for what is supposed to be exactly the same just vegan friendly. This sort of boils my piss. It’s also an extra 50p for gluten free bread. So if you’re a vegan celiac you’re essentially getting charge a quid premium for being difficult. 

I’ve never been a huge lover of the meatball marinara, I find the balls somehow manage to roll around inside the bread and it gets on my nerves. This issue exists in vegan land also. My personal prejudices against the meatball sub aside, it’s good. It is pretty much the same. The only difference that I could taste was the cheese, which I suppose is to be expected. There’s a sharpness to the vegan cheese alternative that you simply don’t come to associate with Subway. Whilst it’s certainly not an unpleasant flavour it’s definitely not a carbon, dairy free, copy of the OG. And it is absolutely nothing compared the sweet, spicy,  sexual experience of biting into a sub blessed with pepperjack (#bringbackthespiceycheese). Subway have however managed to find a cheese which melts, which based on my limited knowledge of vegan cheese, is pretty difficult. It melts like the cheese slices you get in the wrappers that almost definitely cause some sort of cancer. Instead of melting into a glorious goo it sort of just… disintegrates into a thick liquid. 

Do I think it’s good value for money? No, but only because I think it’s a bit cheeky to charge extra for a vegan version of something when you have a total of two vegan options anyway. Do I think I could make the switch and never look back? Absolutely not, where my subway melt at? Do I appreciate them trying? Yes. Vegans deserve Subway too. 

 

Greggs:

No one here was able to escape the excitement or in Pierce Morgan’s case the disdain surrounding the arrival of the almighty vegan sausage roll. Which, is nice enough if a bit dry. However, we’re not here for sausage rolls. We’re here for the return of the prodigal son, the Vegan Steak Bake. 

Greggs is a household name, a great treat, to some a religion. To indulge in pastry is a British institution. This one I was particularly excited for because the steak bake is my favourite and also, the meat is absolutely not what makes the pastry. Not to mention the gravy solves the problem that the sausage roll is plagued with, the dryness. 

So, after calling in a favour and having the manager of Greggs clarify that they were in stock so I didn’t have to get out of bed to find the Vegans had stormed Greggs and the steak bake river had run dry, I went to collect one. Upon first inspection you could tell straight away that it was the vegan option simply because the pastry crust wasn’t glistening with butter. Which is fine, less diabetes for me. I do just sort of think it makes it look as though it was made out of clay. As I tore it open however, once I had managed to control the appetite boner that sprung up in response to gravy, I did notice one initial and fairly substantial difference between the vegan option and the original. The texture of the ‘meat’. I understand they’re working with pretty limited meat alternatives but I have for sure encountered and ingested a meat alternative that pulls apart the way the steak in the bake is supposed to but here I was staring at what seemed to be more of a mince. Which, I guess, is fine. Like, it’s not. It’s not fine. But I am willing to not stand here crying about it forever. The other difference, which is both a blessing and a disgrace is that the vegan steak bake doesn’t host the salty goodness that the original does. Which is super disappointing for the first two bites but that’s usually all I can handle of the original before I turn into Spongebob when he walks into Sandy’s house. 

All in all it’s absolutely not bad. 

Is it good value for money? At a measly 5p extra it still really does beg the question as to why these companies insist on not just treating vegans as equal when there are already so few options. But in comparison to Subway it’s a lesser evil. Do I think I could make the switch and never look back? This is the closest I will come to saying yes, but also probably not. Is Greggs the winner of the Veganuary challenge? I do grant them this honour, by the power vested in me by my own belief in my opinion. 

 

I think, if Veganuary has taught me anything, it’s that being vegan is a damn site more expensive than being a vegetarian when you’re eating at home and a damn site more expensive than eating meat when you’re treating yourself to eating food you’ve paid someone to cook for you so you can be lazy. But, as a very smart and cynical man has literally just said to me, ‘what good is being progressive if you can’t then monetise it?

But also, to anyone out there who is already vegan or looking to become one, I urge you to remember why you do it. Some companies are out here for your money and will only be as ‘vegan’ as they specifically have to be in order to legally advertise their food to you. KFC may have a ‘vegan’ burger but as someone with a lot of respect for vegans and their will power and beliefs I remind you that there is a lot more that goes into making that  burger than the ingredients. Similarly, Vegan diets so an incredible amount to reduce the damage done to this earth and supporting companies who don’t respect that are only going to hinder the favours that you personally do for this planet and for all of us. I thank you for your service, I will continue to work on mine. 

To all those considering Veganism this January please remember that it is okay if Veganism doesn’t turn out to be for you. Every change you make to eat less meat is positive and taking it one step at a time still means moving forward.