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"A whistle-stop tour of common objections to veganism": I Could Never Go Vegan

When you're covering this much ground, is it possible for a documentary to avoid being disjointed and incomplete?

The words "I could never go vegan" over flames.

I Could Never Go Vegan

Vegans are asked a lot of questions, and they're often very repetitive. Sick of answering the same queries again and again about their veganism, Yorkshire filmmakers Thomas and James Pickering wanted to create a definitive answer to people's most common objections. So they made I Could Never Go Vegan, a documentary released across the UK and Ireland on 19 April with a preview in Sheffield next week.

I Could Never Go Vegan is a whistle-stop tour of common objections to veganism, covering questions including whether vegans get enough protein and vitamin B12, whether it's unaffordable to go vegan, and whether animals are there for us to eat.

Seeing myth after myth about veganism being dispelled is satisfying as a viewer. On ethical and environmental grounds, veganism is better than eating meat in many ways, and I Could Never Go Vegan talks to experts, as well as other vegans, as a response to many of the common myths and misconceptions about a vegan diet.

Some points made in the film felt a little glossed over, especially those around how affordable a vegan diet is. I Could Never Go Vegan concludes that a vegan diet is not prohibitively expensive if you don't eat processed foods, but fails to look at why people may need – or indeed want – to eat plant-based burgers or ready meals. Tying it into farm subsidies was interesting but the coverage of this issue felt incomplete.

Disappointingly, when affordability and accessibility of a vegan diet are key concerns for many, this discussion warranted less than four minutes of screen time – but this is part of the problem with a whistle-stop tour. On the one hand, it covers a lot of ground. On the other, because the Pickerings try to cover so many arguments, it can feel disjointed and incomplete.

There were other points I would have loved I Could Never Go Vegan to expand on. To what degree are the health improvements, associated in the film with eating more legumes, correlated with other factors, for instance? This might include the relevance of the demographics of people who eat more legumes, such as living near shops that sell legumes, having the knowledge of how to cook them, and having the equipment to cook them with, rather than the diet alone. Failing to look more widely at data in this way does take something away from the arguments being made.

Throughout the film are threads covering various sporty vegans achieving incredible things. It is clearly trying to demonstrate that vegans aren't all weedy and weak and incapable of running ultra-marathons, but it risks accidentally reinforcing the idea that being vegan is something only achievable by exceptional people. Not you, the person watching the film. This inevitably felt a little incongruous with the broader message the film is trying to convey.

I really enjoyed the section on advertising, especially with regard to ads connecting meat-eating to masculinity. This was a fascinating series of connections I hadn't seen before, and it is certainly true that devouring a big, juicy steak is seen as something manly men do, while eating broccoli just isn't. The focus on strong, sporty people in this film may even help to reach a group of people who fear they would lose strength or masculinity if they became vegan or just cut down on their meat intake.

As a disabled person watching the film, though, the focus on being healthy as a seemingly universal goal was not always a comfortable one; there are plenty of disabled and chronically ill vegans. Though the film does acknowledge that it contains anecdotal claims, it could be seen to be ignoring vegans who do take medication, who can't run, who have a short life expectancy, or who are not fit and healthy, which can feel alienating. Related: the captions in the preview I watched were auto-generated, leading to some frustration as a viewer, and certainly confusion for anybody relying on them exclusively (unless the film really did intend to recommend fortified lamb to its viewers to ensure healthy nutrition).

Overall, it's difficult to argue with a lot of the perspectives in I Could Never Go Vegan. Animal welfare and climate change are key factors for many who become vegan, and the emphasis on those factors may change minds among vegetarians and meat eaters alike who watch this film. Films narrated by people with Yorkshire accents are definitely something I want to hear more of, too. But one of the difficulties of answering lots of questions in one go is that few of them can be satisfactorily answered, and most could have warranted an entire documentary each.

Learn more

I Could Never Go Vegan comes out UK-wide 19 April. On 11 April, there will be a Q&A and screening at the Curzon cinema in Sheffield with the filmmakers and contributors including local vegan baker Steph.

The Curzon website says: The venue has a wheelchair-accessible entrance, with an automatic door fitted with a doorbell, and each screen has two wheelchair spaces. There is a wheelchair-accessible toilet. Audio Description and hearing-assist headsets are available on request.

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