There are Vegan Restaurants. There will be Teetotal Bars

There are Vegan Restaurants. There will be Teetotal Bars

James Sandrini 10th September 2018

2014 – 3,300

2016 – 23,000

2018 – 168,000

Veganuary, in just 4 short years, has gone from ‘wha?’ to ‘whoa.’ And these stats only represent the folks that were keen enough to sign up online.

Are 3.5m Brits Vegan? Maybe not on a hangover – Dominoes. Is. Life – but whatever the figure, there’s no hiding that veganism has moved beyond a niche concern and into mainstream consciousness.

Most of us define ourselves on a few narrow or socially-prescribed axes:

– Age

– Gender

– Occupation

– Nationality

Unconscionable it may be, but there’s a very good reason that people incessantly ask ‘what do you do’ when you first meet them. They’re trying to categorise you based on the identity that they themselves maintain. Cute.

"And yes, there are podcasts about veganism. The horror"

Behavioural categories, let’s call them hobbies and interests, often follow.

‘I’m 25; an accountant; my mom is from Wichita and my pop from ‘Zona, and I just love guns and Trump…’ aaaaand scene. Jesus. That one just got away from me.

And as people, we’re more inclined to cement our identity on a foundation of niche, own-able concepts that make us feel peculiar and different, rather than generic. We want to feel that we’re in charge of our destinies and that our time on this earth means something. Neat.

So, in most cases, the greater the density of categorisation, the less value the category. And yet, remarkably considering its broad appeal, veganism has maintained a real sense of identity.

A quick ranking of mainstream hobbies that people can’t seem to keep to themselves for all of 10 seconds:

1. Podcast listener

2. Vegan

And yes, there are podcasts about veganism. The horror.

We’re living in a deeply divided society. We’re divided by opportunity and wealth, by background and politics. We’re divided by Trump and austerity and Brexit and a whole lot more.

With polarisation comes oversimplification. If you perceive a proportion of society as your nemesis, so removed from you as to not warrant conversation or even investigation, then your only recourse is to label them by the demographics and behaviours that most stand out, however niche or unconnected to their opinions.

Not all Brexiteers look like this. Not all millennials love neon and succulents (probably). And not all vegans are, well anything, obviously.

Belonging is a by-product of division. Those that sit on either side of the fence are connected by their opposition, perhaps even more than their similarity. Brands might want to tell you that we’re more alike than we are different and in many respects they’re right. Just, nobody told human history that.

I mean, you’re not still hanging out with all the people you hugged after Dele scored against Sweden now, are you. But the fact that you had a common ‘enemy’ ensured that your differences were more potent and unifying than your parallels.

If you don’t eat meat, fish and dairy – and enjoy eating out – you probably spend far more time than you’d like trying to find restaurants that offer a wide, dynamic series of dishes that don’t contain meat, fish and dairy. So, when you are introduced to another vegan (because friends love setting up dietary-requirement playdates), chances are you might slip into a quick convo about where to eat.

This struggle connects vegans with other vegans. For years, restaurants popped a £13 mushroom risotto on the mains and a £4 plate of mixed veg on the sides and were done with it, ignoring that the vegetarian or vegan diner was far more likely to determine where everyone else ate than any other member of the group.

It’s changing, of course. Restaurants have begun to imagine what treasure may lie at the bottom of the well (they kinda needed to do something) and have reacted by excessively shouting about how they once made a salad without bacon. Bravo.

Vegans, not being total idiots, meet their efforts with a wry smile and, when not starved or intoxicated with convenience, head elsewhere; they venture to a restaurant that preaches their values, shares their identity and welcomes other members of the tribe.

"Belonging is a by-product of division. Those that sit on either side of the fence are connected by their opposition, perhaps even more than their similarity"

2008 – 41%

2012 – 50%

2016 – 53%

In less than a decade, the number of 16 – 24 year-olds that identify as non-drinkers has increased by over 10%. Stats for the age group from 25 – 44 are in similar descendance.

Dominoes seems to be doing fine so chances are that there are younger people still drinking, but there’s no doubt that drinking culture is changing. And, just like those that bow at the alter of veganism, teetotallers maintain a strong sense of identity with their fellow non-drinkers.

They have to; they’re subjugated by a drinks-first monoculture. You don’t have to drink in a bar, restaurant, pub or club. I mean, you don’t have to order meat or fish in a restaurant either, but your options are historically limited if you don’t.

The pressure is so severe that declining a drink regularly prompts sympathy from your server, at best. And have you tried being sober in a boozy bar late at night? No joy there.

But things are changing. Tasteless non-alcoholic beer, uber-fizzy and over-sugared 0% ABV sparkling wine are moving aside in favour of an armada of contemporary, cared-for products that reward non-drinkers rather than punish them.

– Growing audience that identify with other members of their tribe? Tick.

– Reasons to not want to associate with members of the other tribe? Tick.

– Broad product range to satisfy the demand? Not quite yet, but give it a year or two.

Vegan restaurants are opening en masse.

Teetotal bars won’t be far behind.