Vegan, it’s the latest buzz word isn’t it? A fad diet for those who followed Atkins and/or declared themselves gluten-free a few months ago. Those who like to starve themselves for 2 days a week and consume only green smoothies, or for hippies of course.
Not so. Well, not completely so anyway.
I’m guilty of trying most new diets and fitness trends and then failing miserably when I get tired, hungry, depressed or demotivated.
But veganism is different. It’s a movement. It’s about so much more than health and image. I am here to explain why I decided to move towards this way of life and the difficulties I have encountered along the way. One thing’s for sure – there is no turning back!
Let’s start at the beginning. I am certainly no stranger to tofu….back in the 80’s my strict vegetarian, activist mother was piling carrot sticks and raisins in my lunch box, while my mates were treated to um-bongo and wagon wheels. I felt so deprived……(not really, Mum……just a little).
In those days I was unusual. In fact, I have always been a little bit different. Mainly due to my Mum, who has always stayed ahead of the trend when it comes to consuming ethically – be it food, washing up liquid or packaging. Ahead of the trend = not trendy by the way…..perhaps a better way to describe it is ‘against the grain’.
And, that was part of the problem. Unlike these kids that grow up in super alternative families: live off the land, wear hemp, sing round the campfire, get immersed in a community and grow up the same, I was part of a much more conventional setup.
My mum was a teacher, my Dad worked in sales. We bought stuff from Marks and Spencer and we went to the Berni Inn (a steak house) for a treat. We appeared an ordinary, 2.4 kids type family – aspiring working class to outsiders. My Dad ate meat, so did my brother and I. Meanwhile, my mum’s publications came through the door covered in pictures of mutilated animals; charities asking for donations. Letters were drafted and posted to local MPs and governments further afield about all sorts of cruelty afflicted on animals and humans.
It was all there, but she didn’t shout about it. It was all done quietly, with little fuss. It was only when challenged that her face would go bright red and her chest blotchy as she prepared to defend herself and all that she stood for. Inevitably it would end with her being ridiculed and accused of being extreme.
So, for me, although I always admired her for her conviction to her beliefs and values, I saw a great deal of pressure, accusation and grief and that came with it. I became desensitised to the pictures – to the reality. I didn’t want to be like that. I thought it was okay to eat meat and stuff. I didn’t join in with the others giving my mum a hard time, but I self-identified with my Dad. He was more rebellious in the traditional sense – smoking and drinking etc. – which was far more seductive a role model – especially as a teen!
It’s only with age and experience that I am able to look back and see things more clearly. I have grown up!
My first bout of vegetarianism came a few years back after reading a book called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (2004, Cannongate Books) which has a fierce vegan sub narrative. Her description had a visceral effect. I heard and saw cows crying for their babies as they were separated just after birth. I ditched the dairy immediately….and all poultry and meat. I didn’t understand the environmental aspect back then; but the suffering was enough. And it was easy! My then family (ex-husband, couple of kids) were living with my parents, so mum and I ate the same meals together. She was virtually vegan by then anyway (eating only ethically sourced, local, free range eggs – and she’s never stopped the honey).
Only later, when pregnant and living independently again, did I reach for a burger one day (it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick) and it all went downhill from there. I did the same as I had always done before – buried the truth deep within my psyche and returned to cooking spag bol and chicken salads – after all, this was now easier. I was a full-time working mum and it was what the family demanded.
Jump forward 5 years, I find myself divorced and in a new relationship with an open-minded, environmentally-aware and super likeminded fellow. We had talked about vegetarianism quite a bit, but it wasn’t until a do in October 2015 that the fantastic documentary by Leo Dicaprio – Cowspiracy was recommended to us. We went home and watched it open-mouthed. How could we have been so ignorant and so naïve? Animal consumption has grown to record levels worldwide and we are literally killing the planet!
I’m not going to go into the detail here, when so many fantastic documentaries explain it better than I ever could, but there are so many things wrong with the way we consume food. The way we treat animals for our own pleasure is barbarically cruel and unnecessary, and the impact on world hunger, rainforest depletion, global warming and contamination of our seas is off-the-scale devastatingly bad.
So, I do my best these days. I haven’t eaten meat for ages. I decided to have a go at veganuary in Jan this year and haven’t stopped trying since!
The secret to success is support, availability and ease. Unlike my Mum, I am not ahead of the trend! According to The Telegraph (18 May 2016) ‘the number of vegans in the Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade’ and there are many signs that veganism is set to continue to rise – especially among the more ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious younger generation.
Even in Woking there are many vegan options in various restaurants and cafes; a Woking vegan Facebook group; vegan runners and even a festival took place earlier in the year.
It’s so encouraging. And I hope not a fad. Meanwhile, I will continue with my own battles at home. My 19 year old (brought up with the spag bol) demanding his daily animal protein fix (what’s wrong with mung beans for goodness sake?) and my 6 year old struggling to give up her ham sandwiches. Not to mention my step-daughter. She is not happy at all about the vegan switch….although she loved her ‘chicken’ nuggets the other day (“are they real?”, “yes, of course they are real, Ams!”)
Perhaps, they will just be late to the party? After all, mums are not cool. Not when you’re young. It’s only later when you realise they were right all along! Especially when you have a super switched on trail-blazer mum like me. Even my Dad has joined in. He switched to a largely plant-based diet not long ago. So there is less discrimination in the family home now…..and certainly a lot more hummus!
Thanks for listening. I promise you vegan food is amazing. And it is so important we all consume less meat – for the sake of the planet and the other humans and animals we share it with.
To find out more please visit:
Cowspiracy (2014, Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, available on Netflix)
Carnage (2017, produced by Simon Amstell, currently available on BBC iPlayer)
That will get you started….and there is plenty more where that came from. Join the revolution!
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