This ‘Fat Gay Vegan’ Took Me on a Meat-Free Food Crawl
I joined Sean O’Callaghan, the man behind the popular Fat Gay Vegan blog, for a tour of London’s best vegan food spots. “If you live vegan, it is not a joyless existence where you’re never gonna have fun,” he says. “You can eat hamburgers.”
It's Fat Gay Vegan's idea to do a vegan food crawl around London's Camden Market.
To start, we order beer-battered "to-fish" tacos with chimichurri, pickled chilies, and sour "cream" at meat-free Mexican joint Club Mexicana.
Sean O'Callaghan, as he is also known, is an Australian ex-schoolteacher who first moved to London in 1998. Since 2010, he has blogged as Fat Gay Vegan. When he's not sampling the tofu delights of London's street food vendors, he's writing reviews and commentary on living the meat- and dairy-free lifestyle. His Instagram has nearly 20,000 followers and the Fat Gay Vegan events he runs, including a Vegan Day of the Dead dinner and vegan beer festival, almost always sell out.
Being Fat Gay Vegan is a full-time job.
"I like that it challenges stereotypes about people," O'Callaghan says of his moniker. "I'm fat, and I don't march around proud of it, but I march around saying, 'You don't have the right to make me feel shit because I feel fat.'"
He tells me he blogs from "an inflated sense of self-importance" to raise awareness of the animal suffering involved in producing meat, dairy, and eggs, and to support the vegan community. Fat Gay Vegan events are open to everyone, whether straight or gay, vegan, vegetarian, or meat-lover.
"You don't have to be vegan to come to any of my events, but you're vegan while you're there," O'Callaghan adds.
Unlike many food bloggers, he rarely features recipes (his partner Josh does most of the cooking), preferring the personality-led approach of fellow vegan internet stars Quarrygirl, Supervegan, and Vegansaurus. At a recent photo shoot for a Guardian article profiling vegans, O'Callaghan tells me he even refused to pose with a vegetable.
"It perpetuates tired old stereotypes, like you can only eat vegetables if you go vegan," he says. "That's why people don't do it. I'm not about that."
The Guardian photographer ended up sending someone to a nearby vegan shop and O'Callaghan was pictured holding a chocolate bar instead.
"I think that was an important message to send—that if you access veganism or if you decide to live vegan, it is not a joyless existence where you're never gonna have fun with food or anything ever again," he says. "If you want to, you can eat hamburgers. If you want to, you can eat raw food. If you want to, you can eat vegetables. But none of it is the product of animal suffering."
For O'Callaghan, the most important message of Fat Gay Vegan is compassion towards other animals, not health.
"This might be a bit controversial, but you can be well or you can be healthy or operational or get through life not as a vegan," he tells me. "You can eat meat and probably be a lot healthier than a lot of vegans are."
Proving the point, we stop at Cookies and Scream, another vegan bakery, for a tahini doughnut (me) and cookie dough milkshake with salted caramel (him).
A downside of labelling himself "fat," O'Callaghan admits, is having people critique his body size, suggesting an overweight person isn't the best vegan representative.
"Sometimes I tell people to fuck off," he says.
Other times, he responds with an explanatory blog post.
"I'm overweight because of trauma in my life. I'm overweight because of the privilege I have to buy enough food, more food than I need. I'm overweight because of childhood abuse," he says. "I'm overweight because of ingredients in modern food. I'm overweight because I eat too many carbs and I don't exercise enough. I'm overweight because I'm happy and I love food. The message is: you don't know why someone's overweight, so back off."
Of course, there are also people who tell O'Callaghan he's less fat than they expected.
"People feel they're doing me a favour," he says. "I don't know of anything more personal in someone's life than their own weight—maybe sexual identity or gender identity or non-gender identity. But how someone relates to their own body size and shape is not up for general discussion with anybody, ever."
"I'm fat, and I don't march around proud of it, but I march around saying, 'You don't have the right to make me feel shit because I feel fat.'"
Likewise, Fat Gay Vegan events are about inclusion rather than judgement. Success for O'Callaghan includes a non-vegan coming to the odd event, and someone going 100-percent vegan.
"I'm not about shaming people into becoming vegan," he says. "I'm about them doing it in their own way and feeling like a good, happy, healthy person in the process."
Leaving Camden Market, O'Callaghan tells me his favourite food is potatoes—"in any way." His dinner the previous day was crispy smashed potatoes with olive oil and vegetable salt, a warm tomato-spinach salad, cauliflower rice with tamari, and vegan sausage chunks. I start to wish there was a Fat Gay Vegan supper club.
Our final stop is for a beer, with O'Callaghan ordering a pint of IPA (fish bladder-free, of course). Though he thinks it's become easier to be vegan—from the array of plant milks in supermarkets to taking vegan cruises—he tells me making the choice to eschew all animal products is tough.
"People are socialised in so many different ways to think that veganism is the wrong way to live, and that consuming and wearing animals is the right way to live," he says. "That's a tough thing to undo."
Before I leave, O'Callaghan posts a photo of our vegan beers on the Fat Gay Vegan Instagram. It gets 100 likes.