What Vegans Want
Brands, supermarkets, restaurants: here is our list of demands.
An M&S vegan roasted vegetable sandwich, photos by author.
Vegan food used to be bland. In fact, Nice Vegan Food as recently as 2015 was a real rarity. It meant trekking across London to a rare vegan-specific Italian restaurant for tofu ricotta lasagne and something called "tiramasex". Your next best option – when it came to eating out, at least – was an unbuttered roll and boiled potatoes at TGI Friday's. Daily sustenance meant cooking everything at home, regardless of how appalling you were at cooking (self-sufficiency: can you imagine!) and always, always having pockets full of nuts.
Now, lots of the vegan food you can buy tastes more-or-less decent – and the last few Januarys have been especially thrilling for vegans, since it's the time of year that brands drop all their hot new plant-based products to lure in the rising number of people wanting to give veganism a go. See: the Greggs vegan sausage roll, or any one of the roughly 12,000 new jackfruit products promising to taste just like pulled pork. Much to celebrate in Veganuary for long-timers. Many tasty treats to try. But also: produce stinking of desperation.
Not everything works; it's obvious when a supermarket or high street chain has tried to hop on the bandwagon, but given little to zero thought as to how to make their food actually taste of something. Here are some tips, brands, on how to do veganism for Veganuary 2020.
Understand That Vegetables Are Not Fillings
Besides the metropolitan cafes where customers are fiscally abused for a roasted veg and pesto ciabatta, there is no place in a sandwich for oily onions and red peppers. I've even seen brands using carrot as the main filling, claiming – if you can believe it – that it's a ham or turkey substitute. It's not. It's just a carrot in bread, the purchase of which should be viewed as deranged behaviour. See also: veggie burgers that are essentially compressed veggies, but priced almost the same as a meat burger.
Basically, just create straight veganised versions. Of everything. Whack some fake sausage and tofu scramble between slices, call it an All Day Breakfast sandwich and watch time-pressed morons (myself, and friends) hand over £4.50 Every Day at 1PM.
Sort Your Pizzas Out
Somewhere along the line, a vicious rumour was started that vegans like vegetables. This has enabled certain brands – Goodfella's, you sick bastards – to go as far as launching frozen falafel pizzas (a note on falafel: supermarket falafel is too dusty; what are you putting in those crumbly balls?).
Please, just stick to what you'd find at a Papa John's, but veganised. A base (made out of dough, not cauliflower), tomato, a bit of vegan cheese – but not too much because it isn't as nice as the normal stuff – and toppings that aren't broccoli.
There is a gaping hole in the vegan market specifically for Chicago Town Takeaway Stuffed Crust.
Nut Milks That Don't Separate in Your Hot Drink
I don’t know anything about the science of separation of solids in hot liquids. But with vegan "milk", sometimes this happens, other times it does not. Please make sure it never happens.
Finessing the Cheese
Vegan cheese has an image problem. It needs a 360 rebrand. The main problem is that some versions do not melt. You have a go at doing a nice crispy lasagne top and you just get burnt splotchy patches of coconut oil and flavourings, which tastes not like cheese, but like coconut oil and flavourings.
Brands: for reference in your R&D labs, the official ranking of vegan cheese brands (not including gourmet rare artisan ones) is as follows. Tesco smoked cheese > Daiya > Violife > Tesco > Sainsbury's > Follow Your Heart > Follow Your Heart Grated Cheddar > Sheese. Yes, "Sheese". The original and worst of the vegan cheeses.
Supermarket 'Free From' Ranges
STOP PUTTING EGG IN YOUR FREE FROM DAIRY, GLUTEN AND WHEAT RANGES. STOP THE EGGS! MAKE THIS STUFF VEGAN. THERE'S ALREADY NOTHING IN THERE.
No More Witty Variations On Meat-and-Milk Stuffs
Remember when vegans started calling vegan cheese "Gary" because a non-vegan complained on Facebook about Sainsbury’s calling their vegan cheese "cheese"? Insufferable. We’ve all forgotten about Gary now; instead, we now have quirky little variations on the real names of food. As one of those people (99 percent of the population) who hates going to bars where you have no choice but order a drink called something like "Red-Headed Slut", this marketing ploy makes me nervous.
Misters Marks & Spencer: you're pushing it with "Sausoyages".
Less Sugar in the Chocolate
Lots of the best vegan chocolate is dark, because it's exactly like regular dark chocolate (lots of which is vegan anyway). Once you get into milk and white territory, however, supermarkets start thinking that if they make it exclusively out of refined sugar, you'll forget it's missing a key ingredient. Some of the more expensive brands are guilty of this, too. It’s all fun and games until the headache and existential zone-out drops. One exception: the legendary "Vego" bars.
That Weird Aniseed Flavour in Some Fake Meats?
Be More Generous with the Packet Slices
It's a packet of fraudulent cold cuts. Ham, turkey, chicken made of nought but gluten. Please, Quorn, have a heart and throw us enough to add a little flavour and texture to one sad sandwich.
No More 'Veg Bowls'
There is a plastic bowl. In it, there is spinach and edamame and sweet potato in cubes. Every vegetarian / vegan line must have this bowl. But not a single vegetarian or vegan enjoys the bowl.
Don't Make Products Out of Your Remit
Birds Eye have a microwavable "veg bowl". Fuck off and only come back when you've done vegan fish fingers.
Vegan Sausage Roll Mk. II
FAO, Greggs PR: everyone is expecting the veganised Sausage and Bean Bake. Pls deliver.