Veganism and activism on ITV’s Dinner Date

Thursday, 7 December, 2017

ITV’s popular reality dating show, Dinner Date features one hopeful singleton visiting the homes of potential partners to sample a home-cooked, three-course meal. Lauren Baino was the first contestant to opt to cook a fully vegan menu for the upcoming Christmas special episode. Lauren explains why this decision was more than simply an attempt to woo a prospective partner, for Lauren, this was very much a form of activism.   

I became vegan in 2015 while stuck at home fighting a nasty illness, and I would never have imagined that two years later I’d be cooking an entirely vegan menu for the Christmas special of my not-so-guilty pleasure, Dinner Date.

I’d been vegetarian since I was 7 years old – that decision hinging on the very simple and childlike realisation that meat comes from animals, and I like animals, so I didn’t want to eat them. In my 20s I toyed with the idea of veganism, but I never really had the right motivation, mostly just trying it because I thought it was something I ‘probably should do’. I am extremely sensitive to the brutal images that show the reality of the animal agriculture industry and beyond, so had always avoided them as much as I could, until one day, cosied up in bed, I found a documentary called ‘Vegucated’ on Netflix, which turned out to be the perfect balance of ‘edutainment’ to speak to me profoundly. Things like the smell of halloumi that I’d once adored, now made me gag. It felt like my choice had reset my brain, and I haven’t looked back since.

I know this part will sound like a lie, but I applied for Dinner Date as a joke. Again, under a blanket on the sofa (there seems to be a pattern forming here) I sent the producers an e-mail after seeing the casting call at the end of probably the third episode I’d watched in a row, asking them to set me up with a nice lad who had been on the episode before. Before I knew it, I’d sent them a picture and some basic information, and picked up a call from a private number which turned out to be an impromptu phone interview. The whole thing got away from me pretty quickly, but I decided to go with it, and after another interview over Skype, I was told I’d been shortlisted, and finally matched for the Christmas special of all things!

I have to say I am generally quite a lazy cook with the odd moment of inspiration, so I enlisted the help of my Dinner Date binging partner David to help me come up with a menu, as he is a lot more of a culinary creative than me. As it was the Christmas special it had to be appropriately themed, but that was perfect for me, not only because I love Christmas, but also because my personal brand of activism tends to centre on making delicious baked goods that non-vegans don’t believe are cruelty-free. It’s satisfying, it appeals to people’s baser instincts, and it works. So obviously, my dessert – a sticky toffee pudding with pistachio ‘snow’ – was my piece de resistance.

The first question I had from the director about it being all vegan was on the day of filming, and then they prodded me to ‘reveal’ this to my date as I think they thought they’d get some good TV out of it, but it turned out his sister was vegan and he had vegan food quite a lot, so it was sort of a non-issue. After we’d taped, the director told me I was the first person to ever do a whole vegan menu, and I felt really proud about that. I can’t say much more as I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but this whole experience has reminded me that doing you is always the best approach to anything.

We all have our own personalities, preferences, and skills, and they are all useful in getting the vegan message across. Just because you don’t feel comfortable standing on a picket line, or have the ability to run an animal sanctuary, remember that just by making the food choices you make day in and day out, you are making a difference to lives all over the world. I took part in Dinner Date because my skills are comedy, shamelessness and a childlike excitement for novelty. Now millions who wouldn’t otherwise know will see that vegan food is incredibly fun. What does activism look like for you?

Watch Lauren’s Dinner Date Christmas special on ITVBe, 8pm Wednesday 13th December. 

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