I’ll be honest, I never thought in a million years that I’d ever be vegan! As a trained chef and avid foodie, I'm ashamed to say that I used to pity vegans (and even vegetarians!) for not being able to eat all the delicious foods that I ate. 🙈 I used to think that all vegans were angry and self-righteous and I would avoid talking to them at all costs!
So how is that I made this huge about-turn and became vegan?
Some people are born as natural vegans. They are compassionate towards animals from the very beginning and make an early choice not to eat meat. Others, like me, follow the usual societal conditioning of thinking it is perfectly reasonable to mass produce animal products for our own enjoyment and only later in life do we start to question the system and think more compassionately towards these farmed animals and the practices used to get that milk on the table.
I thought I'd let you know my vegan journey so that you can see that even the most unlikely vegan person has the capacity to change and, even if it seems that almost everyone you know is against your decision, you can still work through it and come out the other side with all your friends and family still in tact!
For as long as I can remember, I have always been keen on doing the right thing for the environment. But I thought that meant recycling, not using plastic bags, driving less, turning the thermostat down a little, not wasting food, turning lights off when you leave the room, etc. Gradually over the years, I began to realise that these actions, although helpful, were just a drop in the ocean and the way to really make a big difference was to cut out meat.
Here are some facts that really shocked me when I watched the documentary, Cowspiracy:
"Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation." (transportation is 13%)
"2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs."
"A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people."
"As many as 40% (63 billion pounds) of fish caught globally every year are discarded."
"82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries."
"1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food [...or] 375 pounds of beef."
"Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year: Vegan: ⅙th acre, Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan, Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan"(all facts from the cowspiracy.com facts page with full citations available there. I highly recommend watching the Cowspiracy documentary!)
Of course, once I delved further into that concept and watched more documentaries about the impact meat farming has on the environment, it was not long before I decided that I needed to take the plunge and cut out all animal products.
(For more information on the documentaries I watched, please see the documentaries section in my 12 Top Tips for New Vegans page)
My only concern with cutting out all animal products was my health. I knew it was the right thing to do environmentally but I was worried it would not be healthy for me and I would be lacking in vital nutrients.
So, I started watching documentaries about the plant-based diet (see What The Health?, Forks over Knives, and The Game Changers) and realised that, contrary to my fears, it could be hugely beneficial to my health instead. This made sense to me and resolved any nagging fears I had about the vegan diet having adverse effects on my health.
If going vegan was both better for the planet and better for my health, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer to go ahead with it. So, I decided to do Veganuary so that I would have group support and guidance.
I had been mulling all of this over in my head for a while before I decided to go ahead and do it and so although I was fully committed when I announced it to my family, they were in absolute shock because it was the first they had heard of it! (Note to others... that's not the best way to go about it! Probably better to talk about it while you're thinking about it instead!)
Needless to say, it did not go down well with my husband and children! A lot of our family routines were based around the food that we ate together (Sunday roasts, family barbecues, sharing meals in restaurants) and since I was the cook and provider of all food to the family, they had significant (and reasonable) concerns!
They did not join me in my vegan journey and they didn't want any changes forced on them just because I had unilaterally moved the goalpost. I had to remind myself that I too had been living in blissful ignorance, blindly eating whatever I liked up until that point, just as they were so I couldn't insist that they become vegan with me just because I had now seen the light. However, as the person that cooked all the meals, this posed some problems for us!
At first, I promised that nothing would change for them and I would still cook them their meat dishes and just make something separate for myself. However, within a matter of weeks my mindset had shifted so much that I couldn’t face handling raw meat and so we came to an agreement that my husband would have to cook, whenever they wanted to eat meat or fish.
Although this was a huge adjustment for our whole family and, in all honesty, quite a stressful few months, it actually had a windfall benefit of my husband learning to cook and us spending more time in the kitchen together! (and it has now become normal for them to eat a lot of vegan food throughout the week!)
Since I didn’t have any vegan friends to talk to, I began to search for support online during this quite stressful adjustment period at home. I joined vegan facebook groups to share any doubts or struggles I was encountering and read about others having similar problems, and this was a huge help for me. It also opened my eyes to the wider discussion of animal welfare.
Up until that point, as someone who is not a particular animal-lover, I hadn’t really considered it as my reason for going vegan. However, hearing these passionate people talking about what they had seen on documentaries, I decided to search for them online and watch the documentaries myself. I watched Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, Land Of Hope And Glory, and finally the two known to be distressing documentaries, Earthlings, and Dominion.
It was like opening Pandora’s box for me. I sat in tears watching these poor animals in squalid living conditions with eyes full of fear, and I realised that I had never considered their feelings at all. That was when something switched inside me and I knew I couldn’t fail at being vegan.
This is the thing that brings me back to veganism whenever my resolve wavers a little. It's certainly true that it's much easier to live in blissful ignorance. I look around me and see my friends and family not having this burden of responsibility weighing down on them and choosing whatever they like off the menu in restaurants and serving whatever food they like at home. Sometimes I wish that I hadn't watched those documentaries or that I could stop caring about it. But it's true what they say: you can't un-see it once you've seen it and I just can't go back now.
Each year veganism is becoming more and more popular and normalised and it is easier to find vegan options out and about. I really take my hat off to those forerunners who have been vegan for decades when it must have been so hard. Thankfully, with all the new focus on veganism, it is only going to get easier and easier to follow this way of life.
Managing Food At Home Nowadays
Even though my family are not vegan with me, because I’m the main cook in the household, they eat predominantly vegan food at home. Sometimes, I might make a vegan meal but add a bit of cheese on top of their portions to make it more acceptable to them. My husband also sometimes cooks meat for them (he'll do a Sunday roast sometimes and he cooks a turkey at Christmas, but I do everything else so that everything in the meal is vegan except the turkey).
I’m ok with this because it means they are eating far less animal products than they did before and they have shifted their mindsets very slowly towards vegan food. In fact, nowadays, when we go back to the UK for the summer and stay with family, my husband actually starts to crave my vegan food!
Change Elsewhere In The Home
Of course, being vegan isn't just a diet. It's so much more than that. Luckily, at home, I didn't have much to change because I was already using natural products and they mostly happened to be vegan. (I use Tropic Skincare for my make-up and beauty products, and I use Ecover cleaning products which are described as “vegan-friendly“.)
For me, the most difficult challenge (and one that I’m still grappling with) was my wardrobe. I had cashmere jumpers, silk tops and dresses, pearl earrings and leather shoes and handbags, that I really loved and didn't want to get rid of. It felt wrong to give away perfectly useable items and buy new vegan replacements just because I had changed my beliefs.
Part of my reason for going vegan was for the environment and this unnecessary commercialism seemed counter-intuitive to me, especially when a lot of the vegan alternative materials were plastic based. So, two years on, I still wear my old non-vegan things but I don't buy new ones.
The Pursuit of Perfection...
Am I a perfect vegan? No.
But am I trying my best? Yes.
Naturally, since becoming vegan, I have totally changed my attitude to vegans! However, there are still that small group of judgmental, shouty vegans who will pick holes in your veganism and tell you that you're not a vegan at all unless you're a 100% perfect vegan.
At first, I was afraid to call myself vegan in case I put a foot wrong and got caught out by these people. But now, I just don't buy that argument. I believe the greater good is served by having a large number of imperfect vegans all trying their best and instigating really change in societal norms, than to have a small number of perfect vegans being judgey towards others and scaring people off wanting to try to help.
Two Years On...
I still passionately believe in being vegan but it takes up less of my thought time now as I'm just used to it and don't have to spend so long thinking about what to buy in the shops, what to cook, etc. Being vegan continues to pose challenges to me in some areas of my life (hello wardrobe!) but is second-nature to me in others (eating at home). I would say the highs and lows are:
- Changing my diet at home has been easy for me. I have enjoyed discovering new ways of cooking and love the challenge of creating delicious recipes that are so tasty that I have no reason to miss anything I'm not eating. I also love feeding non-vegans and showing them just how good vegan food can be and how easy it could be to incorporate more vegan food into their own diets too.
- Holidays and eating out remain a challenge for me. Although some restaurants offer delicious vegan options, there are of course others that really haven't got up to speed and don't cater well to vegans, especially when you have the added challenge that I have of being gluten-free as well! So sometimes I do slip up when we're away. I don't beat myself up about it though because I know I'm doing the best I can and that's surely better than giving up completely!
So, the point of telling this story is to say that everyone has a different journey and you don’t necessarily need to do it with everyone in the household at the same time. It’s certainly easier to go vegan with the rest of your family on board but, if they don’t want to join you, you can make it work for you all. It’s ok for you to still provide non-vegan things for them because you are still positively influencing them and probably massively reducing their non-vegan intake at the same time!
Don't worry if you're not a perfect vegan. Keep the big picture in mind - whatever small changes you make are helping the wider goal of bringing about significant change.
If you want to talk to me about being vegan, feel free to reach out to me on email or by sending me a direct message on Instagram. I'd be happy to chat about any issues or questions you might have about it. Or see my 12 Top Tips for New Vegans for a whole load of information to help you in your first few months of transitioning to being vegan.