I was thinking about not writing this post at all.
I was thinking about calling this “Transitioning to a Vegan lifestyle” but I didn’t, because I kind of didn’t want to label myself as Vegan.
And then I thought about writing it but not posting it. Just leaving it sat, a potential, for a braver day. When fear of both vegans and non-vegans alike condemning me didn’t hold my wish to share something in a vice of anxiety.
But damn if that little blue publish button didn’t taunt me. What’s that ridiculous saying? Feel the fear, do it anyway?
So, a few caveats before you continue:
- This is not a post aimed to convert you to a cruelty-free lifestyle.
- This is not a post demonising your lifestyle and choices if you choose to eat meat and dairy.
- The aim of this post is not to purposefully upset anybody, Vegan or non-Vegan alike.
What is this post then? This is just a girl who likes to write and talk, having a chat about her choices: nothing more, nothing less. My choices, why I’ve made them, and a little of the thoughts before, during and now.
I don’t use a ‘Vegan’ label in my head
Although day-to-day, if asked, I’d describe myself as a Vegan, and it’s my hashtag/descriptive of choice on Instagram, Twitter and other social medias… I actually don’t class myself as one. I use it because that’s the ‘label’ that people associate with not eating meat, dairy or eggs and how I can find like-minded people across the world and closer to home.
But I think the use of such a label, a label with such history, culture, and stereotype, implies perfection – which I don’t even strive for (in any part of my life). Aiming for perfection is a sure-fire way to shortcircuit mental health, in my opinion and personal experience. I also think it would be wrong for me to use a label I don’t fully understand: whilst I have been researching into it for some months now, the history and science alone of the different facets is far greater than a few videos and books. So, just like I wouldn’t think reading “On the Origin of Species” would make me an evolutionary biologist, I also don’t think reading “The China Study” makes me a ‘certified’ Vegan.
So, not Vegan but…
I sort of think of myself as an egg and dairy free Vegetarian, who is also choosing to make more cruelty-free choices in other areas as well. For example, I bought not one, but four Superdrug toothpastes the other day because it hasn’t been tested on animals. I don’t have easy access to Superdrug (compared to how quick it is for me to nip in to Tesco or Aldi anyway) so I stocked up. The cashier was bemused.
But essentially, yes. – that’s the option I ask for at restaurants. It’s easier than saying “Vegetarian, no dairy, no eggs”, and also pretty much the same thing when it comes to eating out.
In case you’re wondering exactly what I mean, here’s where I’m at with the “main offenders”:
- Meat and fish: 100% gone. I woke up as a 28 year old and Vegetarian. I had a fantastic final farewell to meat at a absolutely wonderful dinner with my fiancé the night before. I ate it, appreciated it and savoured it. And I was done.
- Eggs: 100% gone. I admit these were probably what I missed most and what I would probably “indulge” in if given eggs from a local, cruelty-free farm… however having the label ‘chicken period’ attached to them pretty much did the trick. Yuck.
- Dairy: I avoid 99% of the time. I refuse to buy it now in restaurants. If I do eat it, I usually feel sick about 3 hours after eating anything more than a small chocolate bar. I’m in the process of giving away/eating through my non-Vegan stash of junk food and no longer replacing anything (my inability to waste food won out over that one).
- Honey: Not something I actively ‘eat’ but also not something I avoid either. I know this can be a contentious one. In terms of looking after our only planet, I only want to buy good quality honey on occasion, and maple syrup or agave the majority of the time.
- Makeup/personal care products: Using up what I have and no longer purchasing brands that aren’t cruelty free
- Household products: Trying to actively look for cruelty-free alternatives when things run out
But… cheese! And bacon!
Yes, I know. They’re great and, initially, cheese and bacon were two things I thought I might indulge in on occasion.
Cheese, especially. But, did you know that some studies have found cheese to actually be an addiction? Here’s a couple of articles about it:
- “Cheese is addictive as drugs” [Article, The Telegraph]
- “Cheese triggers same part of the brain as hard drugs” [Article, The Independent]
Now of course – take these with a pinch of salt. As I often say to Adam, for every argument and study in one direction, there will be others for an opposing viewpoint. But I did have a point, so I’ll continue. I used to love cheese. Like, seriously. As children, my mum would pack our lunchboxes for school: my brother got ham sandwiches and I got cheese sandwiches. My favourite meal as a kid was a jacket potato slathered with butter, drenched in melted cheese and then topped with baked beans. Or cheese on toast. As a student, my go-to hangover food was chips and cheese! As an adult (because describing myself as a ‘grown up’ smacks of wrong) I also loved broccoli & stilton soup, or cheese and crackers (hello Wensleydale and Cranberries!), Goats cheese anything… the list goes one. But after I resolved to stop eating it, I noticed I stopped craving it. I still like the “cheesy taste” so make up dairy-free alternatives, but I don’t need cheese. And I haven’t died.
But, I remember loving cheese. And steaks. And bacon. I totally understand why people can’t wrap their heads around this concept for themselves and their own lifestyles. Up until just six months ago I thought it (being a “vegan”) was bonkers – I ate meat, eggs and fish as much as I could under the pretence that it was ‘good’ for me. I thought carbs were bad, fat was the devil and protein was the answer to all things. I ate 0% fat Greek yogurt like it was going out of fashion. I ate 12 eggs a week quite often. I’d budget out up to about £10 a week for meat and didn’t think too hard about how it got to the supermarket.
But… I also gained a stomach ulcer that left me only able to eat a little at a time and in agony just an hour later. I dropped to a scarily low weight. I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour or two at a time and was suffering from severe anxiety and a moderate-severe level of depression.
So… if I was eating such an “ideal” diet of high protein, why the heck was I so sick all the time? Nobody could answer that one, and neither could I. At my worst, I had to have some time of work. I was so tired I could barely move so found myself in bed with my books and my laptop, bored.
It started with Netflix
A friend of mine had mentioned watching documentaries on Netflix… and that idea had sort of sat in my brain and stayed there, waiting for me to be ready. I’d already been researching ways to help myself heal quicker, which had already led me to beginning to think perhaps this whole carbs-are-bad thinking was a load of tripe.
So, one day, I watched Cowspiracy. I didn’t cry or anything, but I was shocked. Having little else to do, I watched Vegucated and found that one could ‘have a go’ at being a Vegan and a) the world wouldn’t end and b) I wouldn’t die. Then I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and saw that diet could heal your body (although I don’t think a juice cleanse is an ideal method for the majority of people).
Over the course of the next few weeks I consumed information with a bordering obsession. I read The China Study. I watched Forks over Knives. I watched Earthlings (yes, I cried. It was the dog and the dumpster scene). I Googled, I Podcasted… and I absorbed. And as I absorbed it all and learnt more, my attitude shifted and morphed into something new… but not overnight. It was like a slow… understanding. I wouldn’t kill my pet rabbits, nor would I eat them. I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to kill and butcher a cow so… why was it ok to eat it? I disagree with animal cruelty, so why was I passively supporting it with my purchases?
When my excuse of ignorance was gone, I found I didn’t like what I knew (to be honest). What it would mean for my life. I am very fortunate to have found that, when sharing my views with my fiancé and asking him to watch the things I’d watched, he had the same end reaction (although instead of crying, he got really angry. At humans).
But it was still baby steps. I knew if this was to be a lifestyle change and not some ‘fad’ then it couldn’t be an overnight change for us – for one, we have a lot of things in the house that contain chocolate so I thought, well I’ll only eat locally grown meat from a responsible farmer from our local butcher, who own their own abattoir; I’ll only get local eggs from hens that haven’t had their wings clipped and beaks trimmed… which morphed into only eating meat on special occasions. Cutting cheese down to a rare occasion and no yogurt.. which changed to… what it is now. No meat. No eggs.
The occasional dairy indulgence but, to be honest, I’ve noticed that I actually feel sick a few hours later! It’s happened consistently every time I’ve had more than like, a Kinder Egg. Soon I’ll be dairy free, and I look forward to it.
But what do you eat?
I get that question a lot. Everything else is my usual cheeky (and unhelpful) answer. But then I remember – for a lot of people, meals usually consist primarily of a meat, cheese or egg-based concoction, with some vegetables on the side (maybe) and so to them, I suppose it must be really intimidating! When I first introduced ‘Meatless Monday’ to our house a few years ago, it took Adam some time to get used to it – and he had to put up with getting ridiculed by his friends too.
Rather than list the numerous foods available to this way of living, I thought it would be better to show a sample meal plan that’s pretty typical for me:
|Monday||Peanut Butter + Banana Oatmeal, Apple||Thai Butternut Squash Soup, Popcorn, Satsuma||Sausage + Bean Casserole with Mashed Potatoes||Ricecakes with Vegemite|
|Tuesday||Frozen Berry Oatmeal, Apple||Thai Butternut Squash Soup, Popcorn, Satsuma||Brinner (Grilled mushrooms + tomato, beans, sausages, toast, scrambled tofu)||Ricecakes with Vegemite|
|Wednesday||Toast with Vegemite, Banana “Milkshake”, Apple||“Cuppa” Soup, Avocado + Tomato Sandwich, Satsuma||“Nourish Bowl” – Rice, Beans, Sweet Potato, Peppers, Salad||Popcorn|
|Thursday||Peanut Butter + Banna Oatmeal, Apple||Carrot + Coriander Soup, Satsuma||Bean Chilli with Rice + Salad||Popcorn, Celery + Salsa|
|Friday||Toast with Vegemite, Apple + Kiwi Smoothie||Carrot + Coriander Soup, Satsuma||Vegetable Curry with Rice and Roti||Popcorn, Celery + Salsa|
|Saturday||Chocolate smoothie bowl + endless toppings||Shop-bought soup and Oatcakes||Homemade pizzas||Apple, Pear, Chocolate|
|Sunday||Chocolate-orange Oatmeal||Leftover pizza||Homemade lasagna + salad||Satsuma, Pear, Chocolate|
Redefining the ‘good’ stuff’
I think I had it slightly easier than others because I’ve been redefining what I class as ‘good’ food for a couple of years.
To put just how far I’ve come… Back when I was about 12, and couldn’t cook, I classed one of my favourite snacks as a slice or two of white bread with butter and cheese, which I then melted in the microwave. I thought it was the most delicious thing ever. Up until about 24, I could eat a whole Terry’s Chocolate Orange. In one sitting.
But I made a decision a few years ago to be a healthier person and I’ve stuck to it. I’ve discovered a love of fruit and vegetables my mother probably wishes I’d found at 5, instead of 25. There’s something about the sweetness of mangoes and strawberries, the tartness of raspberries, that appeals more to me than the sugar-stuffed flavours of caramel and milk chocolate. And doesn’t hurt my teeth.
I love the satisfying snap as you eat a carrot, or the delicious thickness of hummus smeared on celery. The cool bite of cucumber and the sweet taste of a red bell pepper… oh my. I can eat plates of the stuff, seriously. I mean, just put me in front of a fresh fruit or vegetable platter and watch for yourself!
These days, I really appreciate a proper meal with good flavours and textures, rather than melted cheese on white bread. I like to know that there was no suffering involved and no unnecessary damage to our planet required for us to fill our bellies. If I’m having friends and family over, I will cook them a vegan meal because it’s my home, but if I’m eating out at a restaurant I don’t expect others to refrain from eating cheese or steak or whatever they fancy. Of course I’d rather they didn’t, but what is judgement and soapbox preaching going to change, other than a downward spiral of temper?
I (try to) lead with love and kindness, and figure as long as I try to do that, only good can come of it. I’m sort of doing the whole ‘fingers in my proverbial ears’ thing about that saying about good intentions leading to a certain mythical fire-land…
Yes, chocolate is still amazing
And yes, dairy free chocolate! I love me a bit of dairy free chocolate. And dairy free ice cream. Those things are still “the good stuff” – just stripped of all bad things that affect our planet, the animals, and even our health. Well, my health anyway. I can’t speak for anyone’s health but my own, obviously. I will admit that it is a bit hit and miss with dairy free and/or raw chocolates. Most are I-can’t-finish-this-fast-enough kind of good. A few have been a disappointing bite of yuck and involved a bin for the remainder. I have a massive box of Vegan chocolates, some that I’ve picked up myself, though most are from a thoughtful Christmas gift from Adam that he bought from Vegan Town, that I’ve not really explored yet. I’ve only had a couple of Coconut & Raspberry truffles from that so far. The excitement I feel for diving into that is probably a little crazy!
Also, you may have noticed… I like to cook and bake things. I’m currently working my way through existing vegan recipe books (my brother bought me this one for Christmas!) to try out their sweet treats, and also “Vegan-ising” my old go-to’s like chocolate chip or oatmeal and raisin cookies, below) So far I’ve managed a few cookie recipes successfully and even some protein bars similar to Quest Bars, so watch this space!
So, what now? Is this Forever?
I don’t know – to be honest. I’m not psychic, I can’t see the future and, as J.M.Barrie wrote: “forever is a very long time”. I don’t have any cravings or desire to change right now, but as with my anti-label viewpoint, I never say anything is permanent with this kind of thing, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Right now, this is what works for me, my body and my beliefs. I think, as long as I stay true to those elements of my life, then I’ll be okay.
So… I hope this helps see inside the brain of a completely average person and a self-confessed food lover, transitioning to a cruelty-free lifestyle. I might do a follow up, if you’re interested, on my tips for what I’ve found helps and common replacements/easy meal ideas – I’m currently teaching Adam that cooking “Vegan” food doesn’t have to be difficult!
*Hits Publish and fearfully waits for backlash*