Photo: Greg Bakes
You see some strange and disturbing things as a journalist: conmen, corruption, death, violence. But an invitation to the launch of a book called Vegans Are Cool just about takes the cake for me.
Compiled by Sydney author and blogger Kathy Divine, the book features a collection of writings by the ''global vegan community'', including ''vegan children and parents'', aimed at shattering the myths surrounding veganism.
There are several areas of concern with this publication, starting with the cover, which features a spooky-looking guy in a tight-fitting singlet carrying a chihuahua. Then there is the book title, which manages to be simultaneously bossy and needy (Vegans Are Cool … don't ya reckon?). But perhaps strangest of all is the assumption that anyone cares enough about vegans to bother finding out why they might be cool, uncool or roughly room temperature.
Fetishising food is nothing new: for years, no one has been closer to God than the celebrity chef. But it seems that's not enough. Now everybody with a cardigan and crocheted beanie has to have their own special food-limited diet. Not content with mere veganism, we have freeganism (people who only eat free stuff), flexitarianism (a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat) and pollotarians (those who eat chicken or other poultry but not red meat).
The other day a friend declared that he was a pescetarian (he eats only fish or other seafood). Pollo-pescetarians, meanwhile, eat poultry and fish but not red meat. Fruitarians eat only fruit, which is seen as a dietary subset of veganism. Notable fruitarians have included Steve Jobs, Ben Klassen - the white supremacist and author of The White Man's Bible - and Ugandan megalomaniac Idi Amin. But don't let that put you off.
''In one sense, all these labels could be seen as a reaction to the bewildering array of advice people get with food these days,'' says a professor of sociology from the University of Sydney, Deborah Lupton.
''One day you read that you shouldn't eat this, the next you read that you can. And so people are trying to simplify their lives. If you just say you're a vegan or fruitarian, then it reduces the complexity around foods: you don't have to think much about it.''
Paradoxically, this has only complicated matters, since, like religions, each alimentary lifestyle comes with certain strictures. Vegansexuals, for instance, refuse to take part in mixed relationships (that is, vegan and non-vegan). A report in The Boston Globe identified a small, isolated tribe of grain eaters known as hegans - men who refuse to eat meat and animal products yet somehow manage to hold on to their masculinity.
Needless to say, heganism and the like have not really taken off in the developing world, where most people are desperately trying to include, rather than exclude, things from their diet.
In the West, however, saying ''No!'' to that non-organic corn-fed chop has enabled thousands of inner-west arts students to send a powerful message that they, too, shop at Alfalfa House.
''A diet can function as a kind of self-statement,'' says a professor of social psychology at the University of NSW, Joseph Forgas.
''It's saying, I am the sort of person who … cares for animals or cares about my health or rejects industrially produced food. In other words, the real function of the eating fad is to claim … a social and personal identity that the person perceives as valuable.''
It also enables the person to believe they are making a difference/reversing global warming/saving whales when all they are doing is eating a salad sandwich. Which is fine. Life is short and time is money. And vegans are definitely not cool.