Can a vegan ever be sexy?

Date:18-03-2014 08:58:08 read:0

Can a vegan ever be sexy?

As the animal-rights group Peta launches a search for Britain’s most desirable vegan, Hannah Betts – vegetarian for some 30 years – debunks the myths around mushy eating

If there is one way of shedding one’s sex appeal – and fast – it would appear to be going vegan Photo: Alamy

The “we’re so pro animal rights, we’re anti-pets” organisation Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has launched a competition to find the UK’s “sexiest vegan”. A spokesman, Yvonne Taylor, stated friskily: “Compassion to others is not only a sign of strength, but also a big turn-on.”

The group’s press release adds: “People go vegan for a variety of reasons, including the fact that vegans tend to be fitter and trimmer than meat-eaters, which makes them more attractive.”

Let us pass over whether such an organisation can ever be considered the best judge of sex appeal and go straight to the more burning issue: is the notion of a “sexy vegan” itself an oxymoron?

Vegans can be many things: rigorous, dogged, disciplined, obsessive-compulsive label scrutinisers, more than a little joyless and fundamentally hungry; but sexy: no.

Society may have got beyond the stereotype of the vegan as a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger to the point where it can imagine a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger wearing Stella McCartney. However, vegans are still not necessarily the individuals one would most want to make eyes at.

Indeed, if there is one way of shedding one’s sex appeal – and fast – it would appear to be “going plant” . Bill Clinton was notoriously hot stuff as a chipmunk-cheeked burger-guzzler. Rendered a quinoa cultist for “health” reasons, he looks shrivelled, skeletal. Veganism has aged him 20 zombieish years in a way that a cigar habit and two terms at the helm of the Free World did not. So much for veganism’s antioxidant credentials.

Beyoncé , who wrote the song Bootylicious as “a celebration of curves and a celebration of women’s bodies”, has been pictured looking emaciated after a 22-day vegan cleanse, “thrilled” with her new, rather odd-looking US size 2 (UK 6) frame. She and husband Jay-Z are believed to have lost 100lbs between them on a largely mush-based regime, 70lbs of which issued from her own already-toned physique. Not only is she unrecognisably gaunt, her hair and skin lack lustre, and her onstage posture at the Grammy’s was less “Independent Woman”, more Malnourished Waif.

Natalie Portman may be incredibly pulchritudinous, but she doesn’t do sexy. Russell Brand thinks he’s sexy, but that’s not the same thing. While the less said about Heather Mills the better. In a list that encompasses Ellen DeGeneres, Morrissey, Sinéad O’Connor, Moby, Joaquin Phoenix, Emeli Sandé , Tobey Maguire, Leona Lewis, Jessica Chastain and Alicia Silverstone, the phrase “hot, raw sex” does not immediately spring to mind.

Sexy? I think not: out and proud vegans include Jared Leto; Jessica Chastain (pictured); Tobey Maguire (REX)

Virtuous vegan Anne Hathaway summed up the situation when she lamented her distinct lack of “sex appeal”. “For a long time… I was seen as this bizarre-world, good-girl cartoon that I in no way identified with – very vanilla, very sweet, very accessible and not interesting. I had no grit, no sex appeal.” Well, perhaps if she eschewed the mung beans. Meanwhile, Jared Leto, star of Dallas Buyers Club, would appear to be turning into a root vegetable, following Brad Pitt’s ruinous “vegan equals fungally hirsute” principle.

Let me lay my own plant-pulping cards on the table here. I have not eaten meat for 30 years, apart from once – for journalistic purposes – and then I literally came out in hives. Moreover, I became a vegetarian for precisely the macroeconomic/ecological reasons that Peta and its furry friends so admire.

Namely, as sustainability campaigners the Worldwatch Institute explain it: “Meat consumption is an inefficient use of grain – the grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor.”

My adolescent thinking ran: “If I can ditch meat as a First World indulgence impacting upon Third World hunger, then ditch meat I shall.”

I am thus strongly pro-vegetable, routinely knocking back 12 or more portions a day. I have my finger on the pulse pulse, and am a nut nut. The Western world undoubtedly eats too much meat, on too greedy and flagrant a basis. Plants are delicious and we should all consume more of them. However, a diet confined to plants is an asceticism too far: denying the body, as it denies the life – social and otherwise; facilitating animal existence by curtailing human.

If only she eschewed the mung beans... Anne Hathaway (REX)

For vegans give up not only the obvious meat, fish, eggs and dairy. They are obliged to renounce: sugar (coloured with bone char), honey (the toil of bees), red foods (cochineal, made from insects), sweets, mousses, margarines, peanuts and crisps (gelatin, made from animal waste), soy cheeses (the milk protein casein), many breads (butter, whey), beer and wine (tropical fish bladders), even orange juice (often omega-3 enhanced) and the medicinal Bloody Mary (Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies).

The life one subscribes to under such circumstances is not only obsessional, it is profoundly boring – for oneself and others. Strictly speaking, vegans must also boycott leather, suede, fur, wool and silk; something the blingtastic Beyoncé and her beau appear yet to have taken on board. Yet, according to Ruth Semple of the Vegan Society, numbers of people contacting the website have “shot through the roof” – especially since last year’s horsemeat scandal. Semple gives a “cautious” estimate of 150,000 people who are now vegan, but believes the numbers are escalating. “In 2009 we’d get 30 to 40 people asking our advice or taking the Vegan pledge; it’s now 500 a month,” she says.

Given the neurotic cast of mind required, Peta’s phrase about the attractiveness of “compassion to others” becomes rather problematic. Viz: turning up to a dinner party at which one’s host has contrived to provide meatless fare and rejecting it on the grounds that it contains a thimbleful of chicken stock.

Unlike Peta, most of us do not have a problem with the notion of animal needs being subservient to human ones. And, while many avoid the foie gras and veal crate extremes, a jar of honey, or a round of goat’s cheese, do not seem especially savage. Moreover, if you are using veganism as a weight-loss tool, then at least call a spade a spade and refer to what you are doing as a “diet”, rather than implying some sort of holier-and-more-Hollywood-than-thou mechanism.

As for health, while vegetables are undoubtedly a 1066 and All That “good thing”, my own periods of even non-fish consuming vegetarianism have also coincided with anaemia, vitamin B and D deficiency, inability to recover from illness, exhaustion and hair loss. “Trimmer” vegans may be, but the ability to bruise while resting my chin on my hand and the sight of hairballs around my flat did not immediately imply “fitter”.

Nutritional advice is nothing if not contradictory: witness the last couple of weeks in which culture’s ongoing carbophobia was challenged by the notion that first protein (especially animal protein), and then sugar are the Devil’s work.

Nevertheless, in the main, the diets generally judged most healthy – traditional Mediterranean or Japanese eating habits, for example – combine plants with some animal ingredients.

Po-faced extremes of behaviour are fundamentally unsexy, whether in politics, religion, hair-shirtedness – or the combination of all three in veganism. Evangelists are not renowned for being all fun and games, zealots seldom the coolest people in the room. The omnivore Michael Pollan’s dictum from 2009’s Food Rules – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” allows sufficient room for human error. While the food lover Mark Bittman’s 2013 bestseller VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 strikes a similar balance in terms of health, planetary preservation, sanity and the ability to socialise with beings other than one’s cats.

Felines, of course, being notoriously enthusiastic flesh eaters.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013