What do you think of when you see terraces of football fans, going wild as their team scores a goal? Whether you love or loathe the beautiful game, I’m guessing you have never thought, ‘I wonder if they’d like a nice vegan snack at half time’.
But Dale Vince, the vegan chairman of Forest Green Rovers in Gloucestershire, thought exactly that. First he banned his players from eating red meat ‘for health and performance reasons’ according to the club’s communications director. Although how he holds them to that, I have no idea. Perhaps if they dial Pizza Hut and ask for a Meat Feast, sirens go off in his office and he appears suddenly on their doorsteps with some houmous and pitta bread.
But now the ban has been extended to the whole stadium. And while this has prompted predictable howls from those who see the constant availability of a meat pie as a basic human right, it certainly does raise the question of whether it’s reasonable for vegetarians and vegans to impose their ethical choices on others.
I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years, and I won’t cook meat or fish at all, partly because I don’t want to, and partly because I would have no idea where to start, since I went vegetarian before I became interested in cooking. So if you come round to my house, you are going to have to eat vegetarian food and like it. But if I go out, I don’t expect my friends to go vegetarian because I am there: for me, vegetarianism is a personal choice. I do expect them not to eat mushrooms, obviously, but that is because I am afraid of mushrooms, and consider the eating of them in my vicinity to be a minor act of war.
But if you are going to impose your dietary decisions on other people, it would surely make more sense to do it properly. The football ground hasn’t gone vegan, it has simply banned red meat. Chicken and sustainable fish are still on the menu. Which not only isn’t vegan, it isn’t vegetarian, either (in spite of all those unspeakable people who I invariably have to sit next to at weddings, who claim to be vegetarian even though they still eat chicken, fish, and in one case, bacon).
Why not go the whole hog (or its closest soya replacement) and take the club fully vegan? Serve falafal instead of the fish dish, and who’d really mind? Not the fish, that’s for sure. And if the catering staff are having to come up with new ideas anyway, surely now would be the best time to do it.
I think the problem lies with the word ‘vegan’ – it has no romance to it. It just conjures up images of foul-tasting pretend-cheese, and the kind of hair-shirted restaurants that I sometimes used to go to in the 80s, when being vegetarian meant you could hardly eat anywhere, and you didn’t really want to eat in the places that catered to you.
Actually, lots of delicious food happens to be vegan, but we never think of it in those terms. No-one orders a tarka dal because it’s vegan, they order it because it’s delicious. So wouldn’t it be easier to stop telling other people how they should eat? Their inner rebellious teen will only pop up and tell you to stick it, even if they would actually like the food you’re offering, if only you weren’t so po-faced about it. Why not simply offer them vegan food and don’t make a big deal out of it?
Tim Barnard, the chairman of the Forest Green Rovers Supporters’ Trust summarised the issue perfectly, when asked about the fans’ reaction to the new menu: ‘There were a few raised eyebrows in the pub on Saturday when there was no cottage pie. But I’m a traditional chips and curry sauce man myself.’ Chips and curry sauce, I need hardly point out, is a vegan dish.