Category Archives: Trends

plant-based eating

The Politicisation of Everything: Food

‘The Politicisation of Everything’ is a phrase that has come to me over the past couple of years in light of the culture wars. It’s a benign way of saying ‘the weaponisation of everything’ – but it often amounts to the same thing. The heat is being dialled up around the most seemingly trivial everyday choices, behaviours and practices. Now everything is politics; sometimes, war.

In this post I’ll look at food. Two huge trends – zero-carb carnivory and plant-based eating – are circling each other like hungry beasts or facing each other down like monster plants (to keep the metaphors equitable).

This is how they polarise. If you’re on the carnivorist side (a form of extreme paleo in which intake consists of 100% meat and water), you’re on the libertarian Right. A suite of correlative preferences will line up behind. Hyper-neo-masculinisation, tick. Suspicion of experts and authorities, tick. Bitcoin entrepreneurship, tick.

If you have plant-based predilections, you’re on the liberal Left, likely to be a feminist granola-muncher and sentimental champion of the downtrodden.

My purpose here is to take a deeper dive into the mechanics of this polarisation. What symbolically connects the Right and meat; what symbolically connects the Left and plants?

One thread that is worth picking out concerns aesthetics. The Right likes to claim connections with the Real – the raw struggle that can’t be aestheticised (Hobbes; ‘nature red in tooth and claw’).

And a key component of contemporary and alt-right thinking is a refusal to make things pretty where they are not. Here, liberal beliefs in equality and justice are framed as aesthetic – they are an attempt to prettify the more uncomfortable natural order, premised on fight, hierarchy, earned power.

Now liberal plant-eating performs its own part in this on-going political drama perfectly. Plant-eating is represented as aesthetic – search Instagram for plant-based eating and you’ll find food represented in the form of dazzling rainbow mandalas – hyperbolically aestheticised and fantastical. In the same way, liberals are seen to want to construct and engineer social reality too, creating pretty fictions of equality and kindness.

Meat, on the other hand, can’t be prettified (at least the real meat beloved of Bitcoin carnivorists). It’s torn, ragged and irregular. Hence its symbolic power within right-wing thinking. It’s where nature refuses to be pretty; refuses fantasy and fiction; and reveals itself as hierarchical and intrinsically asymmetrical (unaesthetic).





It’s got to be gardening


I’ve often wondered what the next big hipster fascination will be after artisan food, coffee and cycling.

Sitting in a hipster coffee shop in Brixton, enjoying two of the above, I realised the next is highly likely to be gardening.

We already see many of these cafes turning into semblances of Victorian conservatories bedecked with ferns, palms, cactis, terrariums and so on.

This particular hipster haunt also had gardening tools on display while books on botanicals were available for customers to dip into.

Meanwhile pop-up market, Brixton Botanicals, sells pot plants to people interested in creating ‘home jungles’ – extreme house-plant cultivation which will see your furniture buried in webs of deep green like some ancient, forgotten civilisation.

According to Guardian journalist Simon Osborne, the house jungle is currently a major trend amongst Millennials right now.

One of his interviewees, Annie Dornan-Smith, speculates that her generation need something to nurture as other life options, especially home-buying and having children, seem increasingly out of reach.

Other cultural forces may also be afoot here.

  • Demographics are breaking down. People are experiencing a new freedom to engage in pursuits previously culturally taboo for age-related reasons. Gardening, like knitting before it, is no longer an ‘older person’s thing’. These demarcations are weakening.
  • Beards and cycling tap into a retro Victoriana that finds a natural continuity in the house jungle. The connection between beards and house plants is particularly strong – it’s about organic growth.
  • Gardening requires kit – and hipster trends thrive on kit. Getting the right tools will be a major precoccupation once this passion becomes fully embedded.
  • City dwellers yearn to breathe. Green plants signify a breathable world.

These factors seem to point to one thing: the triumph of the extreme house plant is just around the corner.