Eating Compassionately: Giving up cheese and going vegan
But I could never go vegan
I’d bet all of my worldly goods (apart from the snuggly blanket I’m sitting under writing this, I’m sure you’re a lovely person and would leave me that?) that you’ve heard this before. I bet you’ve either heard this, most likely said it or almost definitely thought it
You may be sitting there reading this as a vegan, finding it hard to imagine life where this thought was common. If you are, please try harder. It’s so important to remember this to be able to relate to people who still feel like they could never make the transition.
But, hopefully, some of you are sitting there, currently able to relate to that statement. I really hope you are as that means this blog is reaching a wider audience as I hoped it would. If you’re not currently vegan or even close, thank you for even starting to read this, that’s huge. Even if you’re only reading this to confirm you couldn’t follow the same path as me, that’s okay. I only ask that you hear me out.
Part 1: Meat’s good for you; Vegetarianism.
Growing up, I was probably told the same things about food as you were. I needed to eat meat to be healthy, to make me strong, to get iron and enough protein. Otherwise, I’d be feeble and weak and I’d have to try my best to make up for it with cheese in every meal.
Not only would I be a sickly child if I didn’t eat meat (which, by the way, I wasn’t), I’d be a freak. No child wants to stand out, that’s how you get bullied. Growing up in the nineties/noughties wasn’t easy a veggie kid, all I did was stand out.
It’s a luxury. Eat up and be grateful.
Only a couple of years ago, my mum nonchalantly dropped in that we could never afford meat growing up. We ate sweet and sour sauce and rice, bolognese sauce with pasta and endless beans on toast. Never, until this conversation, did I think about the omission of meat. I assumed it was because I didn’t like it. Now I know that it was a money thing, it makes a lot of sense. When people lost it at me for leaving meat on my plate, I get it now. It’s bloody expensive.
Eat it or else.
There was often no veggie option for me when I was growing up. I often ended up with nothing. I’d be given an ultimatum to eat the meat dish or go without. Pretty often I’d end up with a crisp butty. Yes, I’ve always been a classy bird. Spoiler alert: I’ll always love a good ol’ crisp butty.
So no, I didn’t like most meat growing up – I guess I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t like the taste or the texture. I’d eat mince beef in spaghetti bolognese or lasagne – as it was disguised and didn’t feel like eating meat – but put a chicken breast or a steak in front of me and all I saw was chewy animal muscle. I know. It didn’t make sense to anyone around me either.
The solution to my aversion to meat was obviously to come up with a Green Giant-like story that it would make me healthy and strong. When that failed, plan B was to try it and try it until I got used to it. And I tried. I really tried. I didn’t want to be an inconvenience.
Part 2: Non-vegetarianism. At last, I’m not such a pain in the arse. Or at least, my eating isn’t.
Being veggie, I had always felt like an inconvenience. Don’t get me wrong, I was. When every family meal was organised around meat, I felt constant guilt. This continued until a few years ago.
You see, I’d always wanted to eat meat. And somewhere in my second year of uni, my tastes finally changed. Chicken tasted okay, then good. Sausages and bacon became appetising too, especially on a hangover. I started to eat meat and seafood when I went out. It was a huge relief and everyone around me praised me. I enjoyed chicken the most. It didn’t taste of an awful lot on its own but spices and big flavours have always been my thing so with added flavour, I understood some of the hype.
Although eating became slightly more convenient, I gained weight and started to feel more bloated and anxious. I thought this was my body adjusting but this continued for as long as I ate meat. I still ate a lot of veggie food at home and noticed that I only felt really out of sync with my body when I ate meat or cheese.
Part 3: Back to veggies. Bye bye burgers… and boyfriend?
In my final year of uni, I studied abroad in Canada. By the time I went over there, Brexit had killed the exchange rate so I was on a tight budget. This meant going back to veggies. Just as I had as a kid, I distanced myself from meat and it lost its appeal completely. I felt more energetic, less bloaty and had better skin. I lost weight, not through crazy dieting, simply by packing my plate full of veggies.
With a bit of a knot in my stomach, I told my boyfriend at the time that I would be staying veggie when I got back. He threatened to break up with me. This may seem extreme but it genuinely isn’t the first instance I’ve heard of this. Hell, some people even put on their Tinder ‘no vegans’. I mean, it saves us a date with someone totally closed minded but really?! So yes, over Facetime, he told me I couldn’t go veggie. How would I attend his family meals? I’d be such a pain in the arse. I think it was at this point that I became okay with being a slight inconvenience.
Anyone who loves you will still love you as a vegan.
I realised anyone who actually cared about me wouldn’t want me to be uncomfortable eating what they were just to please them. So we broke up. Not then and there unfortunately – I’d love to tell you I’m that strong but it took a lot more grief to finally shut that one down but I came home from Canada, survived one family meal as a veggie and we went our separate ways. Less than a month later, I went vegan.
Part 4: Vegan 4 Lyfe.
How did you give everything up?! Well, I didn’t. If you’d have asked me a few years ago what my favourite savoury foods were, they would ALL have involved cheese. Gooey, melted camembert, 4 cheese pizza, cheese omelette, the humble beans on toast – topped with cheese, obviously.
My favourite sweet things? Milk chocolate anything, ice cream, clotted cream teas – can you tell I’m a Devon girl? Am I making you hungry?
My eyes are open and I just can’t shut them.
For me, the trigger was watching a documentary on Netflix. I’ve always loved documentaries and learning. My flatmates used to laugh at me as I’d spend my evenings watching a new one every day. To be honest, I didn’t realise I’d picked a ‘vegan’ documentary this particular evening. I can’t do it justice by explaining it to you.
I could write and write all day but until you really sit down and watch what goes into sustaining our unsustainable, exploitative ecosystem, it’s hard to comprehend. Feeling like the food system was a huge conspiracy, costing us our health, the environment and the lives of countless animals, I started to research feverishly.
If you’ve ever wanted to understand someone vegan better, even just to argue that they’re wrong, I’d urge you to sit down and open your eyes to the reality that you, yes you, can do something about it.
You can open yours.
I often hear people say “But I could never go vegan” somewhere around the same time as “I can’t watch those documentaries because I know I’d have to change”. Somewhere in there, we acknowledge that it’s very possible for us to cut out animal cruelty. If you watched them and “had to”, you could. Maybe you’d have to eat the odd crisp butty (probably not in 2018, it’s getting easier and easier – hell, there’s even vegan Ben & Jerry’s).
For that, you could save the lives of 365 animals, 7.3 tonnes of CO2, 10,950 sq.ft. of forest, 14,600lbs of grain and 401,500 gallons of water a year*. Yes, these figures are the impact had by just one person going vegan.
So what’s it all about?
Veganism for me isn’t about a trend or losing weight. It is such a profound shift in perspective that I can only imagine it feels like realising that keeping other humans as slaves is wrong. It’s about acknowledging that it is not okay to exploit other beings.
It cannot be justified by saying we’ve being doing it for a long time, it suits my tastes or it’s convenient. Animal products are not necessary for a healthy diet. So is taste and convenience more important than their suffering? Slavery was convenient, formed the very foundation of the economic system and had always been a part of society. Slavery was abolished because individuals opened their eyes.
When I talk about having my eyes open, what I mean is that I honestly had no idea about the environmental and health implications of plant based eating until that day I watched that documentary. I purposefully avoided seeing any footage of animals. It was easy to avoid. But I am so so glad I’ve seen it now.
I eat plants and I LOVE IT!
You don’t have to go vegan and you don’t have to watch these documentaries but if you care about animals, the environment or living a long and healthy life, grab a friend and spend an hour watching a documentary.
This is my personal journey to veganism which I feel it is important for me to share. Everyone has a different story and we’re pretty much all open to telling you ours. Just ask!