God, I really am the world’s worst Vegan.
(Apart from people that aren’t Vegans at all.)
They’re really awful.
I first became interested in Veganism when I went travelling around Europe. I met an Australian girl called Hannah, and from the moment I met her, I fell in love with her. Actually, now I think of it, she was being an awful Vegan at the time we met. Her argument was that the best way to experience Europe was by the food – which we discovered mostly involved cheese. But although her eating habits were questionable, her morals were absolute. She introduced me to Cowspiracy and educated me on the effects of the dairy industry, largely whilst we drank beer and ate cheesy chips. Maybe this is where it all stems from – I started my Vegan journey over a portion of bloody cheesy chips!
People say that you’ll know when someone is Vegan – because they’ll tell you. So when I met Fab, (yes that’s her name, and yes she is fab) on a two-week acting course, I quickly learnt that she was a 100% ‘would pass all tests’ Vegan. Admittedly, until I met Fab, I hadn’t got around to watching Cowspiracy. I was also working for a milkshake company at the time, so my hypocrite alarm was raging. But I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those people that talks about things, says that they care about things, but does nothing to change those things.
So, I sat down and I watched Cowspiracy: and I was shook.
There was so much information that I didn’t know, that I felt should be common knowledge. A light has been shed on the impacts of the meat and dairy industry recently, but when I started to educate myself on it, it was a case of ‘if you know, you know’. Like so many others, I just didn’t know, I didn’t know that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, whereas transport is responsible for 13. I didn’t know that extra hormones had to be given to animals in order for them to meet demand for the human population. And I definitely didn’t know how something as simple as what you bought from the shop and cooked in the kitchen, could have such an enormous affect on the planet.
I grew up in a countryside village, where a lot of our family friends make their livelihood through farming. The thought of even saying the word ‘Vegan’ in front of them makes me so anxious, that I would rather just shut up and eat the roast beef. When I first decided that I would start a plant based diet, the main problem I had was other people. For some reason, people get defensive when you mention that you’re Vegan. They take the piss out of you, or they tell you all of the things that you’re missing out on by not putting meat into your body. I quickly learnt to not mention it, unless I absolutely had to, which is where my first problem with being Vegan began. I hate the idea of pushing my views on to someone, and I hate even more the idea of being ‘fussy’. If I was eating at someone else’s house for example, I felt awful that they would have to cook especially for me. Especially when Vegan food takes a lot of practice and exploration. (Curry, always make a curry, or a Dahl, or a curry.)
I also wasn’t really doing it properly. By that I mean, I wasn’t taking the time to learn what my body was missing, and what I needed to use to replace it. I swapped meat for pasta or potato, and cheese for hummous. I didn’t increase my B12 or iron by eating legumes or twice the amount of spinach, I just had a bourbon (insert whiskey or biscuit) when I felt hungry instead. As you can imagine, I got run down, spotty and had next to no energy. It got so bad that one day after work I rang my friend Chloe, (the queen of steak and pulled pork) and made her take me to the best place for rib-eye that Cheltenham had to offer. I felt like a Vampire after it’s first taste of blood; I had never been a big meat eater, but in this moment, I was a cave man after a kill. For the first time in my life I understood the primal need for meat.
This however, did not stunt my moral guilt or new-found enlightenment. I had to find a way to be a healthy Vegan, and for me, this is by being an awful Vegan.
Really, I should drop the title ‘Vegan’ all together, but for me it acts as a kind of secret police. The SS of my life, the watch dog of my food choices and the guard of honour over my moral standing. In my everyday life, I am an honorary Vegan. I don’t buy or eat dairy or meat products, and I ensure that I am getting all of the goodness that I need, from a solely plant based diet.
BUT, when I am with people that encourage me to throw caution to the wind, (Faye and my Cousins are VERY good at this) then I let my security have the night off, and I enjoy the food that I have always loved. Last week, I went to a restaurant that had one Vegan option, and, as is all too common, it was bland and boring. My cousin’s and I had been offered a free meal from a restaurant that we had previously had awful service in. So, as you can imagine, we had intended to go big. They ordered two steaks and a burger and then it came to me – ‘Fish and Chip’s please’. (Just fell out of my mouth like Martine McCutchine’s character in Love actually, spewing all over Hugh Grant.)
My cousins looked at me with pride as I’d taken a small step to the dark side. But it’s not the dark side, it’s just what my body wanted in that moment. Yes, of course you can argue that the whole reason that the dairy and meat industry is so out of control, is because of the consumer’s greed and desire. In my thinking, if I make a conscious effort to be sustainable for the majority of my life, then when I’m out with friends who want to eat at restaurants that serve predominantly meat, I’m not going to miss out because I’m shackled by a strict set of rules.
(I know that there are many people that maintain a strict Vegan diet and never feel as though they are ‘missing out’, and in saying that, I’m contradicting the movement that suggests Veganism requires no compromise, but in my experience, occasionally it does.)
The best thing that we can do to evoke change, is start changing. For many, going cold turkey would be incomprehensible, it’s generations of tradition and daily mundanity that needs to be altered. You can’t do that overnight. So, my argument is, that Veganism shouldn’t be something pious and martyr like. Instead, it should be an inclusive ideal that we strive to implement as much as we can. It’s not always financially realistic, it’s definitely not always easy and sometimes you can’t beat a piece of bacon on a hangover or a Quality Street at Christmas.
Let’s take the pressure off. Do one meal a week that’s plant based, then move to one day of Vegan meals a week, then before you know it, you’re including plant based meals into your diet because they are delicious, not because you feel guilty or obliged. Swap your milk for an oat or an almond, and if you’re going to eat eggs ensure that they’re always free range.
Ali is an ex-vegetarian that loves sausage. But last night she made the most delicious vegan dish, that I spent the majority of my evening hovering over, just ‘checking the spice level’. (Follow this link and make sure it’s the first dish that you try).
I will continue to be an awful Vegan, so long as I am always conscious of what I am eating, and the affect that it is having on our planet. There is so much that we can do to reverse the damage that we have done. It doesn’t all have to happen in the kitchen, but then again, it’s a great place to start.