“Fashion or for keeps?”

19 February 2020, 09:04 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

By and large we Brits are a tolerant bunch, which is a good thing given the lightning speed of change in the food and drink sector.

Fashions ebb and flow as consumers continue to weigh up the relative merits of the various fashionable new products on offer. Enter the vegans. For most of us the term ‘vegan’ refers to the diet you turn to if a vegetarian lifestyle proves too tame. But as is so often the case, the judiciary has put its spoke in the wheels and come up with the judgment that ‘ethical vegans’ should be protected from harassment in the workplace just like the Christians, Jews and Muslims who already enjoy the protection of the law.

Quite suddenly ‘ethical veganism’ is looking mighty like a religion. Albeit this is a movement whose principles throw up some caricature “what ifs” – vegan MPs could refuse to sit on those green leather benches; vegans could refuse to handle banknotes (the new banknotes are 1% tallow); wear no more leather belts or woolly jumpers; and avoid bugs (every windscreen is a fly’s graveyard). And then there is the response of the food industry. Who would have thought that yogurt sales would dive in such spectacular manner? Estimates would have it that a downturn in dairy led to 193 million fewer yogurt pots being sold last year. Meanwhile, the bigger burger folk are hastily hustling up something that they can sell as a ‘plant-based’ menu. One burger chain’s new product initiative is fine for vegetarians, but unfortunately it includes a mayonnaise made using eggs, and cooks the veggie patties on the same grills as the beef burgers. You could ask for your vegan burger without mayo, but that seems to be missing the point.

It’s all a matter of semantics, and doubtless we will soon see a fashionable surge in flexitarianism. Some relief for menu writers everywhere who are seeking the fashionable option that comes with a seat on the vegan and veggie bandwagon. Do you remember the days when every butcher would prepare a special window featuring the prize beast from the local fatstock show? Well marbled, well hung and with a highly prized rosette. Such elaborate window dressing is a thing of the past but the important role of provenance lingers on. Chefs like cooking with the best ingredients and are sanguine about seeing their food cost margins melt away. The silliest prices are found at auctions, whether it is the largest truffle in the Périgord or the perfect round of Evesham asparagus. One man who knows his way around a premium purchase is Kioshi Kimura of the Kiyomura Corporation – a chain of sushi restaurants. He recently paid £1.3 million for a fish. Granted it was a large fish (a magnificent, 608 lb, bluefin yuna the pride of Tokyo Fish Market). You cannot help wondering how thin he would have to slice his 193.2 million yen investment to make a profit. Mr Kioshi Kimura told reporters that the fish was “expensive”.

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