Country Notes

Open season

Vegans are turning to meat — and free love

This article is taken from the March 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Over the past few years, I’ve written about cooking rabbit pie, frying up squirrel goujons, and making pigeon Wellington. There have been plenty of other carnivorous episodes, so many in fact that I’ve forgotten lots of them. But what I haven’t shared is that for all the joy those culinary adventures have brought me, there’s been pain too.

There were all those vegans who didn’t eat my rabbit arancini, I had to order a no-ham Hawaiian pizza one Saturday afternoon when half my guests didn’t want slow-cooked Hebridean goose and Constance, my now fiancée, convinced me about a year ago that the muntjac tartare was a bad idea.

Vegan restaurants are also feeling the bite

“We’ll make it when it’s just us,” she reasoned, “or when it’s only people we know well. We don’t want to poison new friends with raw venison. And half the people I’ve invited don’t eat meat anyway.”

It sort of seems, though, that things are changing. It should have been obvious when I turned up at the pub in December and the same friends that used to go on about being vegan were telling everybody about their decision to have open marriages.

Veganism, I guess, was interesting for a while but when everyone’s at it, if you’re to have any hope of still being talked about, you’ve got to start sleeping with your neighbours.

Last month, for a podcast I’m currently working on, I cycled over to Sophie’s Steakhouse in Soho. It’s a sort of midmarket Americana kind of place, but with quality British beef from native breeds. What she wants, Sophie told me, as we stood in front of a large tray of well-aged “axe-handle” ribeyes that were about to be cooked over an open flame, is for people to eat less meat but for that meat to be better quality stuff from farms where conservation is a priority.

She admits there was a time, not that long ago, when it seemed that running a steakhouse was slightly mad. The kitchen had to get creative with the menu in order to cater for all the vegans that turned up (“What do you mean this steakhouse has no plant-based mains?”). But, and I wonder if it’s because post-Covid people just want to enjoy life, those days seem to have passed.

At the same time, vegan restaurants are feeling the bite. Just a couple of weeks ago, Nomas Gastrobar in Manchester announced it would be adding “responsibly-sourced meat” to its menu, including kebabs. They seemingly reckoned they were ahead of the curve when they opened in 2020, but it transpires the wagon may have already been rolling at full tilt.

In short, Nomas Gastrobar is finding it has to give the people what they want. Nomas is not the only place facing the music. On the other side of Manchester, Greens, which used to boast about “terrifying carnivores”, closed its doors in January.

I recently read that Truman Capote was paid up to $4 a word when he wrote for magazines in the 1960s. Rates like that and the advance from In Cold Blood allowed him to splash $16,000 on his “black and white ball” at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1966 — one of the very few parties that ended up with its own Wikipedia page.

I’m planning to shoot two Chinese water deer and slow cook them over coals

Rates for magazine work have changed somewhat and accordingly my looming wedding will, I suppose, be a more modest event. I’m planning to shoot two Chinese water deer and slow cook them over coals. I guess by then I’ll probably still have one or two friends keeping up with the vegan thing, so I suppose I’ll end up walking the hedgerows with a Tupperware to find them some berries.

What does genuinely sadden me, though, is that many of my friends seem to have pivoted from eating no meat at all on ethical and environmental grounds, to eating all of it, from chickens raised in crates to imported pork from China that comes from pigs that have been raised in ways that would make you cry.

Surely they, as formerly environmentally-conscious people, should have gone from eating like rabbits to only eating things like rabbit. After all, it’s perfectly possible to be very eco and very carnivorous.

For my part, I’m trying to stick with wild game, venison and beef from native breeds. Even though it might be rapidly falling out of fashion, I think at this stage in life, I’ll probably stick with monogamy too. Not least because where would a freelance writer possibly find the time?

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