Smoothie bowls. Avocado brownies. Cheesecake with no cheese. Such food combinations probably would have confused people one or two decades ago. But now, these feature on beautifully curated Instagram feeds and Tumblr accounts, managed more often than not by young people globally. Could 2016 be the year of the vegan? An article in The Telegraph earlier this year reported that the number of vegans in Britain has risen by more than 360 per cent over the past decade, with close to half of all vegans being aged 15 to 34. Sasha Gill is one of them. Sasha is a 21-year-old medical student. Over the years, her Instagram account @thesashadiaries has amassed approximately 29 000 followers, with her pictures featured on websites such as Buzzfeed and Vogue Germany.
The choice to switch to veganism is, it’s fair to say, a considerable one. For Sasha, it stemmed from an initial decision approximately three years ago to switch to vegetarianism, but she soon decided that she “disagreed with the ethics of milk and eggs just as much as she did for meat”. Some of the challenges of adjusting to veganism might be unexpected. Sasha described that the real struggle wasn’t so much having to give up the likes of dairy products but more so the ‘convenience’ such products present. It’s far easier, of course, to be able to just take something off a shelf and not have to scrutinise the ingredients list. As an example, Sasha noted finding it initially tricky having to give up her favourite soreen loaf due to it containing a miniscule amount of whey protein.This was compounded by the initial social repercussions of adopting a vegan lifestyle – eating out, either at a restaurant or a friend’s house, could be deemed more of a challenge.
However, this isn’t to say that these things should remain hindrances. Sasha maintains that, particularly more recently, many restaurants can accommodate veganism and are happy for a dish to be “easily modified to be vegan”. Furthermore, making friends aware of your dietary requirements prior to dinner parties and maybe even bringing along a few vegan dishes yourself is something that enables people to observe veganism while not feeling as if they are distancing themselves from the rest of the party. Adopting a vegan lifestyle doesn’t just have to be for ethical reasons, as was the case for Sasha. The lifestyle appeals for many due to reasons such as health and environmental factors, or even just those who believe it is a cheaper way to live. However, veganism undoubtedly provokes some negative connotations that do arguably present potential issues.
Something of note mentioned by Sasha that ties into all of this is the way that the vegan community has recently been criticised by the media for encouraging orthorexic tendencies – an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating – among vegans, in particular via social media.An example of this is a recent investigation by BBC Three; Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets slated the vegan community for pushing this lifestyle on social media and causing orthorexic tendencies among their followers. Lots of Sasha’s young followers, she informed me, also message her for advice on how to lose weight following the switch to veganism – many of these having suffered from eating disorders. Her message to them is incredibly simple and sincere. She believes that they should choose to focus, and address, their relationship with food before considering the transition to a vegan lifestyle. For all the benefits such a lifestyle can provide a person with, it should not be approached in an irresponsible manner. After all, as she sums up: “veganism can wait a while but an eating disorder cannot”.
The success of her Instagram page owes itself in part to the many enticing photos of vegan food that feature there. Much of these are Sasha’s own creations. She says that incorporating the vegan element into her baking, for example, has allowed her to “try all sorts of different foods”. What’s more, she believes her diet is “more varied than it has ever been”. In her view, “the fact that you can’t just throw cheese or bacon into everything to make it taste better makes vegan cooking a whole lot more interesting”. It was the feedback she got on her food-related Instagram posts that actually encouraged her to pursue the development of the page and her blog, Oh Holy Basil and turn it into the community it has become. And people have been incredibly supportive. Rather than coming across as the ‘meat is murder’ almost cult-like group vegans are sometimes thought of as being, Sasha was instead welcomed by a group of people “who really care about the welfare of animals and our planet”. It is this support from both the community and her followers that allows her to continue to update her page with the same resolute fervour she possessed when starting her vegan adventure.
Sasha’s enthusiasm for cooking and baking vegan treats relies upon several different ingredients, but there are five staple ones, which, in her words, she “cannot live without”. These are made up of oats, red lentils, cardamom, dark chocolate and tahini. Oats, she professes, are an incredibly versatile ingredient – yes, they are imperative in traditional things such as porridge and granola but it is the experimentation she undertakes in testing out different recipes that revealed to her their surprising utility in something like burgers. The variety in vegan food is made evident by her page, especially due to the numerous examples and recipes she posts, and her embracing of veganism has given her a loyal following. Though it is true that for some veganism can be viewed with scepticism, it remains clear that for many it exists as a newfound way of living. With the likes of Sasha garnering such impressive support, the vegan revolution is well and truly underway.