It’s difficult to predict what TikTok trend will be next to go viral – and for an Irish college student who prefers to go by the pseudonym Futurelettuce, it was a surprise when one of his vegan cooking videos joined sea shanties and maid costumes as one of the app’s unexpected crazes.
“I first became vegan after writing a paper on veganism for a college philosophy class,” Futurelettuce tells me, “I couldn’t argue against it and that stuck with me after the assignment was done.”
While it was initially a struggle to adjust to a plant-based diet, Futurelettuce began to enjoy researching nutrition and experimenting with vegan dishes – a particular favourite was the “two-ingredient vegan chicken” that he decided to share to TikTok on 20 February.
The video features a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a meat substitute based on the Chinese dish seitan, and became an instant hit on the app – it has since been viewed over 10 million times and gained the Futurelettuce account nearly 70,000 new followers over the course of three weeks.
“I first saw it done in a Facebook group and thought I’d give it a try,” Futurelettuce says about the process of his seitan recipe.
“You make a ball of flour and water, keep kneading it and rest it for a few hours ideally. Then you wash it underwater, and you’ll be left with a lot of starch water. Finally, you can add your seasoning, cook it up and it will resemble something like meat.
“I think it got popular because people like to be shocked and the unexpected outcome of what began as flour looking like chicken got people to share it around.
“It was very strange when it began to get popular, especially watching people make reaction videos to it. Watching people watch me is the weirdest feeling for sure,” he continues.
The success of the video has since extended its reach beyond the confines of TikTok – Google Trends shows a notable uptick in searches related to seitan starting from the video’s February release.
Off the back of his newfound virality, Futurelettuce was asked to make a video on Buzzfeed’s massively popular Tasty Facebook page – where he made sure to acknowledge the East Asian cultural origins of seitan.
“When there’s a TikTok trend going around people aren’t going to want to explore the history of the trend, so I felt a bit uncomfortable that I didn’t mention its origins in the original video,” Futurelettuce states.
“I do think there is a problem with people taking these ideas and not crediting them, so I felt it was necessary,” he adds.
“I’ve seen a lot of comments saying I was virtue signaling, but anything right-wingers disagree with they’re going to be outraged, they’re just an attempt to distract from the conversation.”
An avowed leftist and union organiser when not in the kitchen, Futurelettuce is committed to the idea that veganism must go hand and hand with a wider commitment to social justice and the human rights of marginalised groups.
“I didn’t want to use the usual talking points, I wanted to let it be known that veganism shouldn’t be restricted to just saving animals,” he says.
“It’s hypocritical if you’re a vegan and you’re also racist. Intersectional veganism is the way forward.”
“Both veganism and socialism are grounded in the idea of liberation. One is for the working class, one is for animals. It’s about decommodifying animals and treating them as living things,” he says.
With EU Green Week just around the corner, our conversation then turns to the environmentalist element of veganism.
“There was a UN report a couple of years ago that said eating a plant-based diet is the most effective thing an individual can do to prevent climate change and one of the biggest contributors to Irish CO2 emissions is animal agriculture,” he tells me.
So, if you’re looking for a greener meal this week, head over to TikTok and take inspiration from one of Futurelettuce’s creations.