Neither fish, flesh nor fowl: what's the thinking behind those go vegan posters?

A new pro-vegan campaign aimed at making people think about their “lifestyle choices” is turning heads - but can it change entrenched notions about the plant-based approach?

The first-ever vegan advertising campaign in Europe is currently running across the country, where arrestingly cute images of farmyard animals tilting their heads to one side are adorning bus shelters and billboards.

Meath-based Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary is behind the ad series, which was launched on the first day of November, World Vegan Day, with the aim of correcting common misconceptions about veganism and to encourage potential fence-sitters to convert.

Chief among these unconscious assumptions about veganism is the idea that it is "dieting", an act of self-control to be treated as a reluctant duty and a burden. Vegans are sometimes confused with this shower of austerity-bingers, magnanimously denying themselves “nice things” for a greater good. And especially for Irish people, the deliberate exclusion of meats, eggs and dairy products is an insult to every warm meal mammy ever made.

But veganism in 2015 is an entirely different animal, and has sprouted some of the greatest creations across food genres. Takeaway junkies and self-important foodies are still catered for in restaurants and the omnipresent german supermarkets. Celebrity chefs pepper their blogs with vegan recipes, occasionally introducing the world to something truly fabulous like egg-free meringue made from chickpea brine. This invention is not as repugnant as it sounds, with the majority of blind tasters conceding superiority of flavour and texture over "regular" meringue.

Compassionate living
The emphasis of the ad campaign is to promote compassionate living without sacrifice. "Being vegan is not an act of charity. It is an act of social justice," says campaign organiser Sandra Higgins. Some find this viewpoint extreme, particularly in world where the smiling, tranquil faces of farmyard animals beam out at us from packaging. But the capacity of cows to grin heartily while winking is, of course, an anthropomorphic fantasy beloved of the dairy industry, Worse still, milk and egg production also involve slaughter on a daily basis. These foodstuffs are not merely benign by-products of meat consumption.

Predictably, dismissing veganism has become as cool as veganism. Animal-rights activists are often criticised for championing social justice while being neglectful of the conditions of poorly paid producers. The alternative diet is also vastly more accessible to the privileged classes, which some see as a hip new variety of classism.

But vegans understand that there are no neutral actions, and are keenly receptive to the concept of living wages and fair-trade production, perhaps even more so than the those who criticise their lifestyle.

Meanwhile, despite the rising popularity of, and growing corporate awareness about veganism, many sections of the catering industry in Ireland still respond to vegans with confusion. For clarity: gluten-free foods are not "kind-of the same thing", fish are definitely "valid" animals, and coconut milk is made from coconuts, not milk. These are basic principles, and restaurant owners would do well to embrace them before the new wave of billboard-reading vegans are shown to their tables.

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