The story of the immediate vegetarian and the gradual vegan: how to move to a plant based diet
Is becoming vegan hard?
Yes, really hard! And no, not at all.
One of my aunties was organising a party for her teenage son this week and it surprised me to hear that more that 60% of the class were vegan!
More and more people are turning vegan, for a mix of reasons. For me, it’s about the animals. I can’t bear the thought of animals being locked up, abused and slaughtered for my meal. For others, it’s about health. Eating meat creates an acidic environment in our bodies and whilst an acidic environment doesn’t cause diseases, diseases sure do thrive there! Others do it because of the impact meat and dairy farming has on the environment – going vegan cuts your carbon footprint in half! Can you believe it?
(Fab blog on the PETA web site showing some of the key trends around veganism.)
I became vegan in January 2017. I am very much a new vegan, although I’ve been a vegetarian since January 2016, and so the title of my newly bought cook book – The New Vegan – suits me perfectly (thanks Alice!). I’ve only had it a week and already I’ve cooked and baked more than a quarter of the recipes in there. I recommend the breakfast muffins, the scones and the walnut ‘meat’ tacos. Yum yum!
How did I become vegan?
Becoming vegetarian happened instantly. One day I ate meat and the next day I didn’t. What caused the flip to switch was this video of a bull being freed from a lifetime of being tied up. I mean can you image being confined to one house or one room your entire life! Some might think ‘they’re only animals’ but all animals have a natural desire to roam, to play, to grow, to mate, to communicate. They’re social creatures and incredibly intelligent.
When I watched this video, my values shifted immediately and in an instant I could no longer bring myself to eat meat. The best kind of change comes from a value shift like this because when you change what you link pleasure and pain to – when you change what you value – you never really go back!
Nothing humane ever happens in a slaughter house
When I was at university studying English, I remember a professor of mine telling me a story. He needed to make some extra money whilst he was a student himself and so he decided to take part in an experiment. As part of the experiment, he was locked in room by himself. It was dark, there was nothing in the room and he had no concept of time. He described the first day as being perfectly fine. He thought about his girlfriend, he wrote an essay in his head and he slept. By day three however – not that he really knew what day it was – he recalled feeling very lonely and somewhat void. By day four, he reported losing parts of himself. He said: “it was like forgetting who I was”. He said we build our personalities up based on our surroundings, our encounters, our friends.
I remember thinking that must have been torture and I couldn’t shake the idea that this is what we do to animals every single day. We lock them up, deprive them of social interactions and then butcher them in the most inhumane of ways – I wouldn’t’ like to be electrocuted and have my throat slit whilst hanging upside down on a conveyor belt that’s for sure! As the saying goes ‘nothing humane ever happened in a slaughter house’.
Too much? This truth was an important part of my going vegan. This was different to becoming a vegetarian. Lots of people are veggies and it’s quite acceptable. Going vegan however is a step too far for most people.
You see, what we spend our money on creates the future.
“You’re vegan??!!!”, I remember a friend shouting at me. “Why? What about bacon? Your health?”.
Some people still reply with that sense of utter shock and disbelief like I’ve just converted to some odd cult where we walk around the high street naked sprinkling glitter in the air shouting ‘free the unicorns’.
I’m not odd and I’m not in a cult. I just don’t eat animal bi-products.
I just don’t want to feed that industry. I know I’ve never killed an animal myself and I’ve always bought free-range eggs etc. but I can see how eating meat feeds the supply and demand. When we buy meat, we create demand for it and the market always creates the premium product range and the economy product range. I wouldn’t like to be an animal at either end of that range.
You see, what we spend our money on creates the future. Just because we don’t physically lock up the animals ourselves to kill and package them up, if we buy it we played a part. In my mind, if someone can’t watch an animal being slaughtered in a slaughter house, they shouldn’t really be eating meat because, well, they know something isn’t right about that? Literally, if we can’t bring ourselves to watch the footage, what does that tell us?
Small changes led to a huge transformation
When people ask me how I did it, I tell them the truth. I replaced one thing at a time, I educated myself on the alternatives, I learnt about nutrition and I started following lots of animal activist groups on social media to learn the truth.
I’d always had an inclination to give up meat but I’ll admit it was harder to become vegan. No-one around was vegan and in my family we ate meat and drank milk! If you’ve recently given up meat or have tried it before you’ll no doubt have had comments like this from family and friends:
- I could never give up bacon
- What? What do you eat?
- But where do you get your protein from?
- It’s just a phase
- It’s not healthy for you!
Being vegan isn’t about ‘rules’. It’s about values. I value mercy for animals: treating animals humanely and with care and respect. It’s not that I ‘can’t’ eat meat, it’s that I ‘don’t’ eat meat.
That said, it did take me a year to go vegan! Why? Because my support system wasn’t set up for it. I didn’t know any vegan recipes, I didn’t know any vegan people and I didn’t know the impact it would have on my health.
And so, late last year I began to change a few simple habits and learn a few new things.
Cutting out milk was easy – there are so many fab alternatives now such as almond milk, cashew milk (mmm) and soya milk. Cutting out cheese and eggs was harder because I eat out a lot and there are a lot of cheese and eggs in vegetarian dishes.
And so I started going to vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan options. Wagamamas will customise nearly all of their dishes for you if you’re vegan as they’re all made fresh in the kitchen.
La Tasca, Las Iguanas and Zizzi also have vegan (and gluten free) menus and more and more vegan restaurants are popping up in Manchester and London in particular. Even Harvester are rolling out a vegan menu soon.
More recently I’ve started to prep a lot more. Just today I’ve made a batch of vegan scones and vegan breakfast muffins. Alice always makes us vegan soup (great for ‘on the go’ lunches) and we have a growing pile of vegan cookbooks with so many great food dishes in them. Plus have you noticed all the vegan magazines popping up on the shops?
A few tips from me
It’s becoming easier and easier to go vegan. If the desire strikes you, here’s what I have to say:
You’re not alone! The number of vegans in Britain has risen by more than 360 per cent over the past decade! Some 542,000 people aged 15 or over – more than one per cent of the population – have adopted a plant-based diet, up from 150,000 in 2006. According to the Vegan Society, the survey proves that veganism is now one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements”.
Education is key. It is important to read up on nutrition when moving to a vegan diet. I did have days of feeling faint and dizzy in the beginning because I just wasn’t getting enough iron. When I realised, I just Googled ‘high iron’ food and started to eat more of it! Plus I learnt that it’s easier to digest more iron when you consume Vitamin C at the same time – just Google ‘iron absorption and vitamin C’ to learn more. I’d also recommend buying a few vegan only cookbooks. Imagine turning every page of a packed book or magazine knowing you could make all of the recipes!!
Don’t wait for approval. The chances are your family and friends won’t approve. They’ll worry about your health, they’ll wonder what you’ll eat and most of all they’ll just find it inconvenient. Go on the journey for yourself and focus your energy on learning about nutrition and trying new recipes rather than on trying to explain yourself! In my experience, the best way to explain it to people is to cook vegan food for them. Often they’re wonderfully surprised and ask for the recipe haha. Plus, I have to laugh because the people who worry most about my health have the worst diets ever – chocolate bars, fried meat, daily alcohol intake. I mean please!
Don’t beat yourself up and give yourself time! My journey to being fully vegan took a year. Funny enough, I started using vegan skin products and make-up before changing my eating habits. I used to say to people that I was 80% vegan because I opted for vegan food as much as I could but not on all occasions. People laughed and said “that’s like saying you’re 80% vegetarian but you still eat beef”. I guess it does sound funny haha but that’s how I did it. Let it be your journey and don’t worry if it takes time. It’s all about trajectory and not about perfection. Give yourself the time to learn new recipes, read up on nutrition and find lovely new restaurants.
Find great alternatives…especially for your favourite foods. I love chocolate, biscuits and Japanese food. I found a great little chocolate shop in my hometown and they sell a range of vegan chocolate. Winner! I make it part of ritual when I go home to walk to the shop and fill up on lots of different flavours – mint, coffee, orange, dark…the works! I’ve also found a great blog full of ‘accidentally vegan’ treats. For the Japanese food, I’ve found that rice noodles are a great replacement for egg noodles. Tofu, when cooked well, is a great alternative for chicken. When you pack your dish with leaks, spring onions, bamboo shoots and plenty of flavour you’re covered! Think of your favourite food and search for ‘vegan alternative to XXX’ or ‘vegan recipe for XXX’ and see what comes up. Try it all! Going vegan isn’t about depriving yourself it’s just about choosing alternatives. Yum.
This is my first blog about going vegan but content will follow. If you’re on a journey to becoming vegan, I’d love to know. Ping me a little email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll write back to you 🙂