I’m in the basement of a newly-built terrace in Clapham. Part studio, part kitchen, part shared house, this is the engine room of a modern-day food phenomenon, called Bosh! From here, daily vegan cooking videos are posted to a Facebook page which are viewed by over 25 million people a month.
Bosh! are sitting in front of me. Early 30s, lean, clean and bearded, the two school friends from Sheffield are the blokey new philosophers of a meat-free generation – dubbed the ‘vegan Jamie Olivers’.
Until now Henry Firth and his sidekick Ian Theasby have devoted their energies to encouraging people to share in their passion for plant-based eating; the emphasis being on its colourful, light and tasty qualities.
This they have done with quite astonishing success. It started on June 15, 2016, when they posted a video vegan recipe for a ‘healthy sushi cake’ made in their flat in Arsenal. It was quickly shared and within two weeks had gained a staggering 3.5 million views.
Their films were a millennial dream; perfect for a mobile device and bang on trend. The number of vegans in Britain has been growing at a remarkable rate; the Vegan Society claimed in 2016 that some 540,000 people over the age of 15 were vegans, a survey (by comparethemarket.com) in 2018 put the figure at 3.5 million.
In the same year, their first book, Bosh! became the biggest ever selling vegan cookbook with 200,000 sales, they’ve crossed the Atlantic to appear on US TV and their online work has been viewed 1.5 billion times. Their approach, in their own words on their website, is: “Not dull. Not bland…All fun. All tasty.”
Their simple style, they say, “makes cooking a breeze no matter what your level” and deliberately swerves the controversies of the vegan debate – their videos and literature avoids words like ‘cruelty-free’ and they have chosen not to righteously hector meat eaters about their own choices, merely offer plant-based alternatives.
Until now. Because here comes something different. For next week they unveil their third book: Bosh! How to Live Vegan, their veritable manifesto on exactly why we should, indeed must, go vegan. And it is summed up by one quite extraordinary statement, heralded in huge type across a whole page in the book, which states: “We can literally save the world by eating more plants.”
Firth declares near the start of their book that “we aren’t preachy, holier-than-thou people, and this book won’t be filled with propaganda and made-up facts.” And Theasby offers a rejoinder declaring: “You can eat what you like.”
“Our goals are outcomes and effectiveness,” says Firth as we sit down to discuss their mantras and code of living. “I have been looking for something to do to fix climate change.”
One of their heroes is David Attenborough who, according to Firth, has said that “the number one thing we can do is reduce the amount of meat and dairy we eat.” And as the boys write: “There are two main causes of climate change which far outweigh any others: animal agriculture and transport.”
Firth explains further that: “As individuals we don’t have control over corporations. But the thing we do most often is consume food. So in fact it’s easy. We can make change by choosing what we eat.” In other words, by choosing not to eat meat and dairy – that way, the devastation of land ceases and less carbon-creating transport is used to export and import food.
They insist that this country is on the verge of doing that. The UK, writes Theasby, “edges ever closer towards a more vegan way of life”. The switch to plant-based living is “inevitable”. Although the last time I looked, veganism seemed to have peaked at seven per cent of the population, its acolytes are certainly good at generating disproportionately large amounts of attention.
At the launch of yesterday’s Vegan Now campaign at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, barrister Michael Mansfield QC predicted that eating meat could be banned, claimed livestock farming is destroying the planet and called for “a new law on ‘ecocide’ to go alongside genocide and the other crimes against humanity.”
This will all doubtless come as rather devastating news to British farmers. While Theasby, whose grandparents were farmers themselves, writes: “I have nothing but the utmost respect for their tremendous work ethic,” he also sees a world in which their livelihoods are annihilated. “We don’t want to destroy their livelihoods,” he counters, “but we need to educate them so that they can move to grow plants instead.”
I wonder which plants might grow on the steep hills of Cumbria, I ask. The gradient, soil and climate isn’t ideal for those vegan pulses; for lentils, chickpeas, quinoa or perhaps rice. “Good question,” says Theasby, unable to assist me further.
“I think educate is the wrong word,” says Firth quickly, (who later says rather formally: “I retract Ian’s statement about educating farmers.”) Unfortunately he can’t retract the same point Theasby makes in the book, where he says that it’s “absolutely essential we give our farmers the tools, education and incentives they need to adapt and thrive.”
“We are far from being farming experts,” Firth concedes. He then adds that: “Most of the factual parts of this book was written by me.” Theasby looks uncomfortable and spends the rest of our encounter mostly silent and scratching his beard.
I then explore this idea of cultivating British land for plants given that only around 35 per cent of land is suitable for crops, according to Defra. Which would surely mean we would have to transport more food into this country rather than less? “We don’t have the answer,” says Theasby. “We don’t want to come across as false experts.”
I then mention a sentence from the book that states: “A return flight from London to New York costs the Arctic three square metres of ice per person (“My Dad told me that statistic,” chirps Firth).” How did they then feel about flying to the States for a mere appearance on a TV show?
“That’s a tough one,” says Theasby. “I suppose we were off-setting the carbon by spreading our message. Maybe a video link would have been a better way. We’re not perfect.”
I ask if they really think it’s safe for young teenagers to be vegan, given how a lack of vitamin B12 can damage the nervous system. “It’s a question to be answered,” says Theasby.
What about babies? Is it safe for them to be vegan? Is it practical – would you always take additional food, let’s say, to a children’s party? “I believe it’s healthy to a rear a child as a vegan,” he insists. Let’s hope he never gets stuck on a delayed Easyjet and runs out of vegan ‘mylk’.
The book also details vast numbers of things that aren’t vegan which I list, fearful of the reality of a vegan world. They include: real ale, wool, Bloody Marys, silk, cars, tattoos, candles, condoms, money, chlorine (so no swimming pools?), holidays, pets...
“I love cats,” Theasby suddenly pipes up. “But now I wouldn’t keep one.” On account of the food it would need of course. “An obligate carnivore,” as he puts it.
The boys are a little exasperated, now. “We’re not the ‘why’ to go vegan we’re the ‘how’,” says Firth. Which is a surprise given the nature of the book and that there’s a 62-page section of it titled: “WHY”.
“We need systemic change to happen,” Firth pleads. “But it’s your way, it’s your decision. I used to mock Ian before I went vegan. It’s about awareness. We’re not very good at that. We’re better at sharing how tasty vegan food is.”
Ah, veganism. We might lose our jobs and have to give up dogs and swimming and a Bloody Mary before Sunday lunch, but at least we can all “feel amazing”.
Bosh! How To Live Vegan, Save The Planet and Feel Amazing by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby is published on 3 October (HarperCollins).
Pre-order now for £9.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514