Right, lads, it’s ‘Veganuary’. This is of course a completely ridiculous, not-even-easy-to-say, reach of a blended word, but nonetheless provides me with the opportunity to talk about being vegan, something which I have never done in depth on this blog before. I’ve been vegan for a year and half, which I feel is a substantial enough amount of time for me to provide a well rounded enough insight, but also short enough that I can remember how I got here.
By way of a small disclaimer, I know that a decision like going vegan *isn’t* necessarily as simple for anyone who has or has had a difficult relationship with food. If this applies to you, please bear in mind that the wording of this piece does not take this into account throughout.
Why I Went Vegan
The question I am asked most frequently if veganism comes up in conversation: ‘so, how come?’ For me the reason is quite simply animals. I don’t think it is right to kill animals for food, I don’t think it is right to treat animals in the gruesome way that the dairy industry treats animals. I just don’t think that animals are for us, and especially not at the cost of their suffering.
What a decision to go vegan really comes down to is to what extent you are prepared to curb your selfishness. Most people’s attitude towards eating animal products, in my experience, is ‘I know it’s bad but I like it’, closely followed by ‘but what about CHEESE’. This makes perfect sense: if we like something, we don’t want to stop doing it, and the way that the meat and dairy industries operate means that we never have to directly consider how the product we’re consuming came to be. Out of sight, out of mind. If you take the conscious decision to think, each time you consume an animal product, about where it came from and how it came to be, it becomes more and more difficult to ignore and therefore easier to be vegan. Plus there’s loads of great fake cheese out there, honest.
So give vegan a go this month, or at least start thinking about it. Stop buying meat, switch out your milk, find out which of your favourite beauty brands are and aren’t cruelty free, find an alternative.
How I Went Vegan
I was raised in a strictly meat-and-two-veg household, loved a rare steak, and in fact I ate meat right up until Christmas of 2014. I didn’t wake up one day and throw out every animal product in my kitchen. I had been thinking about vegetarianism for a while, and decided that my Christmas dinner was to be my last meaty meal, and that was that. Not eating meat is really easy, you can have pretty much anything you ate before (curry, lasagne, burgers, stir fry, sandwiches, whatever!) if you swap out the meat for a vegetable, tofu or some fake meat.
Some months later I swapped out dairy milk for almond (you could also try soy, oat, rice or coconut), stopped buying animal products in my grocery shop, stocked my cupboards with vegan versions of butter and mayo, all quite gradually. The grocery shop is a bit of a nightmare at first, but you will quickly get the hang of checking labels for animal products (dairy and eggs are both allergens so are always in bold on ingredients lists, but do look out for honey). Even my dad, who at one point didn’t know what a butternut squash was, can do it now.
I don’t even remember the last time I (knowingly) ate an animal product, but I think the ‘transition’ from vegetarian to vegan probably took me a few weeks. Going cold turkey, so to speak, is perfectly possible and is in fact what many people are doing for ‘Veganuary’, but don’t put pressure on yourself to cut out everything at once because you’re more likely to fail. If you slip up, just keep going.
The Cost of Veganism
There is a rhetoric surrounding veganism, a valid one at that, that it is associated with a class divide. In order to eat vegan, it is suggested that you must be knowledgeable and educated about nutrition, you must have the time to cook, and you must be able to afford to buy vegan food. There are many reasons that some would never consider veganism as a viable option, in spite of their feelings pro- or anti- meat.
I cannot comment on what it would be like to try to go vegan while having a family to feed, or indeed from the perspective of anyone living with extremely limited funds, but I do know that my weekly food shop is cheaper since going vegan (albeit depending on whether or not I visit Holland and Barrett to stock up on fake cheese and chicken nuggets and whatnot). I buy things like pasta, chopped tomatoes, assorted veg, sweet potatoes, beans (baked, black, red kidney), bread, houmous, stuff to dip in houmous, frozen veggie burgers (Morrison’s own vegan burgers are £1.50 for 6), Linda McCartney sausages (£2 for 6, but often on offer for £1) on a regular basis, and treat myself to things like vegan cheese (Violife is becoming more and more readily available), vegan Pesto, and other replacement meat products from Holland & Barrett. One of the more unavoidable hurdles is that non-dairy milk is more expensive than dairy milk, but check the long-life section as those versions tend to be a little cheaper than fresh soy, almond, rice or oat milk. Living vegan cheaply is possible and is becoming more accessible with the introduction of more and more vegan products in supermarkets, you just have to plan a little.
Your Vegan Social Life
As a vegan, you will have to tolerate some absolutely terrible banter about how much vegans love talking about being vegan. That’s just the way it is, these people are just annoyed that you are morally superior to them in this aspect of your life, and they will grow out of it eventually. You’ll also probably have to fend off various nutrition related questions that nobody even thinks to ask anyone who isn’t either vegan or overweight (or both), no matter how many times a week they have a Pot Noodle for dinner. You might also have to endure being lumped in with vegans who wear t-shirts that say ‘keep calm and go vegan’, and heaven forbid a family member buys you a t-shirt like that as a ‘joke’, but that’s about as bad as it gets.
Eating can be a very social activity, so eating out with meat eating mates or family members can be a bit of a pain. However, a lot of chains, including Zizzi (which even does vegan cheese), Yo Sushi, Carluccio’s, Pizza Express, Las Iguanas, Handmade Burger Co and Wetherspoons all have decent vegan options, and Pret and Leon are good for a quick bite. Most curry houses usually have a good selection of vegan options by default, too. If you call in advance, pretty much any restaurant in the country will be able to accommodate a vegan option – I do this when eating out at home in a small town, or if I’ve been invited to a dinner event somewhere I haven’t been before. It’s a bit of a faff, but really not that difficult.
Drinking as a vegan also comes with its limitations: a lot of beer and wine is not vegan (or vegetarian) as it can contain gelatine (boiled pig bits), isinglass (which comes from fish bladders) or other animal products. Nice. To get around the issue use google (‘is Red Stripe vegan’) (it is, don’t worry) or search on Barnivore, you’ll quickly get to grips with what you can and can’t drink.
The best advice of all is to get some vegan mates who will get excited about good vegan food with you, or at least some mates who don’t refuse point blank to eat anything that doesn’t have a dead animal in it. If you live in a big city there will most likely be great vegan restaurants of all kinds, whether you want raw kale (or whatever?) or a massive fake chicken burger, and Happy Cow is the best resource for locating them.
For me, the difficult thing about being vegan is not the dietary restrictions, but the other stuff. Obviously leather is off the cards, but buying make-up and other beauty products is a real minefield. I did not make the switch to cruelty-free until a few months after I went vegan, which some would argue means I did not ‘go vegan’ at all. Because of the job I do, going cruelty-free was a really massive decision and one which means I have had to sacrifice a lot of work and a lot of money. As a consumer you still have loads of options if you choose to go cruelty free, you just have to be vigilant with checking, and it is a freaking nightmare. Logical Harmony has a great list of cruelty free and vegan brands, but if you google the name of a brand followed by ‘cruelty free’ you can usually find reliable info, or contact the brand directly for a statement. As with everything else, you will get the hang of it over time.
That’s a bloody lot to take in. Going vegan is a pretty big lifestyle change: you’ll probably slip up, you’ll probably accidentally buy something that isn’t vegan in your weekly shop, and you’ll probably crave the things you’ve stopped eating for a little while. Chill out, don’t worry about it, and just keep trying because, as with anything, it gets easier.
I would like to do more vegan related ~content~, so if you have any questions or ideas or things that you would like to see, please leave a comment!