At 22 a friend's son announced he was going vegan. There was a general rolling of eyes as
a. Jason had always been an enthusiastic meat lover.
b. Jason wasn't known for sticking to anything for more than about ten minutes and had already dropped out of two universities.
c. Both Jason and his dad Paul were wind-up merchants and it was their greatest hobby to devise new ways to annoy one another, so it was a natural assumption that this was just Jason's latest thing to annoy his dad.
Merciless teasing inevitably followed along with various mealtime battles, some jovial, some deadly serious resulting in full scale morality arguments and fall-outs and Jason leaving home and disowning his family for several months at a time. Eventually his family got the message and always kept a pack of Linda McCartney sausages in the freezer, just in case.
Much to everyone's amazement, having lost a whole Facebook network through his relentless vegan proselytising (and doubtless gained a new one through joining various vegan FB groups), Jason is still a strict vegan five years down the line.
He is not alone. Like a new religion, veganism is sweeping the country and our youth with a fervency seldom seen, seemingly fuelled by a succession of young and glamorous 'Deliciously Ellas' with their clean eating revolution combined with the easy availability of horrific animal abuse exposes and films online. Vegan Facebook groups frequently descend into rabid arguments over the tiniest ignorances or points of difference and have to keep urging each other to 'Be nice to newbies' or close down particularly contentious threads altogether.
My late vegan father and campaigner would have been astonished. When he was hawking veganism in the 1970s and 80s, few people gave him the time of day. It was embarrassing to be around him as a child as all he ever seemed to do was lecture everyone about what they should (and shouldn't) eat. Going to a cafe was mortifying as he lectured every waiter and waitress on the merits of the vegan diet and the dire health consequences of not converting, rather than simply telling them what he DID want to eat or drink! If anyone he knew died of cancer or heart trouble, it was 'their own fault for eating rubbish' or 'smoking' because 'I warned them!'.
Not that I wanted to eat meat. I just wanted us to be normal apart from not eating meat. Instead we were known as local freaks in the small town in which we lived, bullied at school and never invited to other childrens' birthday parties or sleepovers. I learned being messianic about things won neither converts or friends.
My late friend Jill Phipps (killed by a lorry exporting calves at the anti-live export protest at Coventry airport in 1995) would have been similarly astonished by the vegan revolution and I wish she could have lived to see it.
Despite all, it fills my heart with joy going to events like VegFest and seeing queues around the block in their hundreds. I am glad to be a strict veggie (if not quite a vegan anymore - I just can't do that level of raw food!). I am glad my parents never got me vaccinated with animal tested products using animal ingredients, not to mention hazardous heavy metals). I am really glad we have so many great new foods and products nowadays, though I miss some of the old like the amazing Granogen soy milk powder. I am also glad I feel balanced and sane (sadly many vegan men were a little tooo eccentric for me and it wasn't the diet!). I will happily advise people on going veggie or vegan and share tips, but I will never shove what I believe down anyone's throat. Apart from anything else, I learned from my father's example that it doesn't work as a tactic to change the world.
My partner is veggie-friendly, careful to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, and has reduced the amount of meat he eats, but it is not my business to convert him and I have seen a good friend lose her husband by trying to convert him and him pretending to embrace veganism and then sneaking off to burger bars to 'cheat' on her! This to my friend was even worse than him cheating on her with another woman! But I do see how converting to please a partner can lead to hidden resentments, which then build up over time, whether it is a religion or a diet.
Therefore I just encourage my other half to eat as organically and humanely as possible. The rest has got to come from him as and if he is ready.
Ultimately life has to be about each of us trying to do our personal best to live a good life with as little harm to our fellow humans and animals as we can manage. If each of us did this, how much better the world would be, immediately. Not perfect, but then nor are we.