The UK has been divided by the Vegan Sausage Roll.
The UK has been divided by the Vegan Sausage Roll.

Why is a vegan sausage roll so controversial?

2019 is shaping up to be the year of the vegan.

Earlier this week, UK bakery chain Greggs released its eagerly awaited vegan sausage roll, much to the delight of its customers. Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside said the company decided to launch the product this month as its "contribution to Veganuary", an annual campaign that challenges participants to take up a vegan diet for the month of January.

But, as is to be predicted in our modern times of outrage, not everyone was thrilled by the addition to the bakery's menu. While the response has been largely positive, some were offended by the mere notion of a meat-free sausage roll, among them British journalist Piers Morgan.

"Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns," Morgan tweeted, racking up tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

As is so often the case with Morgan, he's wrong: in 2018, more than 20,000 people signed a petition calling on Greggs to introduce a vegan alternative to their traditional pork-filled sausage roll. That's to say nothing of the 250,000 who signed up to Veganuary globally in 2019, which the campaign's organisers have said is the most ever. Apparently meeting consumer demand is now PC. Who would have thought?

It's a tad ironic that Morgan, who has repeatedly denounced "hypersensitive" snowflakes, could be driven to spluttering paroxysms of rage by a fungal protein-filled pastry. But he isn't the first to react to the existence of veganism with seemingly disproportionate hostility.

In 2017, the claws came out when a cat rescue group held a fundraising sausage sizzle with vegan snags at a Bunnings in Melbourne. Some attacked the organisers for corrupting a "sacred" tradition and pledged to boycott the event.

Late last year, William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose magazine resigned from his position after making comments about "killing" vegans and joking that they should be "trapped" and "force-fed" animal products after he was pitched a series of articles about meat-free dishes by a freelance journalist.

"How about a series on killing vegans, one by one? Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?" Sitwell wrote.

While Sitwell later apologised, his comments typify the irrational abuse vegans cop as plant-based diets move increasingly into the mainstream. On Friday, one man even uploaded a video of himself buying a Greggs vegan sausage roll only to throw it in the bin.

Freelance food writer Selene Nelson received an email from Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell that ‘joked’ about killing vegans and forcing them to eat meat. Picture: Instagram
Freelance food writer Selene Nelson received an email from Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell that ‘joked’ about killing vegans and forcing them to eat meat. Picture: Instagram

In 2016, a Roy Morgan Research study found that Australia has more than two million vegans and vegetarians. According to market researcher Euromonitor International, Australia is the third fastest growing vegan market in the world. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of vegan food products in Aussie supermarkets shot up by 92 per cent, according to The Food Revolution Network. Our packaged vegan food market is set to reach $215 million next year.

The benefits of ditching animal products are numerous. In May 2018, a comprehensive study from Oxford University involving 40,000 farms in over 100 countries found cutting down on meat and dairy consumption is "the biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth - not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use."

According to another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a well-planned vegan diet is associated with weight loss, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes and even protection from some cancers. While most vegans have at some point been cornered by a meat eater and interrogated about their iron levels, the study also concluded that contrary to popular belief, vegans "do not experience anaemia more frequently than others".

All of this is to say lentil-munchers don't deserve such a bad rap. For all the tired stereotypes depicting vegans as self-righteous scolds, it's the meat-eaters who seem unable to resist the compulsion to shame, mock and belittle them at every turn.

There are echoes of the "traditional values" rhetoric so often used in the same-sex marriage and gender fluidity debates in the argument over vegan pastries. For staunch traditionalists like Piers Morgan, it's as if the vegan sausage roll represents another institution under attack; another confusing and uncomfortable change in a society learning and growing at head-spinning speed.

But the fact that vegans now have more options than ever before doesn't mean the meat-eating majority can't still enjoy a steak. Nor does it make it okay to declare open season on those who choose to abstain from animal products entirely.

Here's a thought: perhaps those seething over a harmless vegan treat could take a leaf (no pun intended) out of the vegan community's book, and live and let live.

Seb Starcevic is a freelance writer.