What a difference a year (and a bit!) makes...
I have been Vegan for just over 14 months now. Before I made that decision I was one of the biggest meat, dairy and egg eating person going! I would argue with vegans and make jokes and allsorts. I don’t really know why I was so anti-vegan at the time, but I have a couple of theories…
In my normal day I would wake and depending what time I managed to get out of bed I would have either cereal with milk, cup of tea with milk, toast with butter or at weekends, a fry-up. Lunch would probably be cheese and ham sandwiches (or breakfast bap from the local greasy spoon), dinner would be a dish with meat as the main part (so chicken curry, beef lasagne, roast dinner, Lamb shanks, belly pork, gammon etc.) with other animal products thrown in such as egg or cheese. Supper I may have a bowl of cereal. Throughout the day I would eat chocolate and crisps, drink milkshakes or dunk biscuits in my milky tea. So I was pretty full on with my animal product filled diet!
I didn’t like vegetables. I never ate salad, the only time I saw salad was when it was stuffed inside a burger (which would be removed). Roast dinners I would cover my broccoli and cauliflower with cheese sauce so I couldn’t taste it. About the only veg I liked was potato (as chips or mash) and peas or carrots.
So the thought of even thinking about going vegetarian, let alone vegan was beyond me… So why did I go vegan? The animals.
My fiancé – who is vegan and made the switch initially for health reasons, made the ethical connection and asked me to take a look at something… She didn’t badger me or attack me, she didn’t call me names or get aggressive. She knows what I am/was like. I am stubborn, I didn’t eat plants, I would go left if you told me to go right and I thought I was a smart ass with an answer for everything!
Anyway, this amazing woman who puts up with me asked me to watch one thing – a speech by a guy called Gary Yourofsky given at Georgia Tech. I am not here to get into discussion about Gary Yourofsky – he can split opinions, which I think will always be the case when someone is regarded so highly by some people. All I will say is he has created a huge amount of not just vegans, but vegan activists.
Anyway, I watched this speech and although it’s probably less than an hour long, I was blown away. I was annoyed, distraught, angry, doubtful…..the kind of way I am when I have ever found myself with Jeremy Kyle on the TV. I was so doubtful to what was being said that I took to Google to try and disprove the stuff he was saying. Veganism helps the environment? Veganism is healthier? A couple of the questions I researched and couldn’t dispute. I already knew animals had to die for my food, but somehow my mind had put a barrier of sorts between the animal and the food. I could look at a field of cows and be eating a burger and not make the connection. I could probably (and did) joke about the field being full of burgers, shout “mint sauce” at a field of sheep, etc. But I never really made the connection until I watched this speech and spoke to my fiancé after it. It was as if my mind just blatantly shut out the horror, like a repressed memory. But once I saw it, I knew I couldn’t go on eating it.
It was a scary moment because that night I said to my fiancé that I was never eating meat again, I was going to go vegetarian. But I realised that vegetarian wasn’t enough in my eyes. Having seen the footage of the dairy industry and the egg industry – I knew I had to go vegan, or else I would be hypocritical. I would be lying to myself when I said I was an animal lover. I would be lying when I said I wanted a better planet to live on.
So I threw everything out of my cupboards. I went shopping the next day and bought loads of vegan/accidentally vegan food. My main reason for going vegan was/is the animals. So my cupboards and fridge looked pretty much the same as before I went vegan. I substituted everything for the mock/vegan alternative. Burgers, sausages, chicken pieces, sausage rolls, cheese, butter, etc. I was so sceptical about these alternatives too. I was sat pouring soy milk onto my cereal and I was thinking “this is disgusting I can’t believe I am going to eat this” – which is silly, because it comes from a bean! When you compare the difference between a plant-based milk and dairy milk, there is only one that sounds disgusting, really. One is from soaked plants or nuts, strained and the liquid used for milk. The other is breast milk from another species. But even knowing that I was a little weirded out when I was spreading dairy free spread onto my toast.
The amazing thing about being vegan is that the smallest of things can excite you! I would go into the store or read something online – “Oreos are accidentally vegan!” and it would make my day. Reading a label on a product was like the meter going down on “pointless” the closer to the bottom of the list of ingredients you get the more excited/anxious you get! You either find it’s vegan, or you find one silly ingredient such as milk powder or an E-number derived from the anal gland of a beaver. Sigh…
You also get a new appreciation for food. You inevitably start to cook more and experience new flavours and tastes. It took me 14 months until I started eating salads, but now that is my go-to lunch every day at work. Red pepper hummus sandwich with salad leaves, cucumber and tomato. If you had said that I would be eating that for lunch even 6 months ago, I would’ve found it farfetched. If you had said that to me 18 months ago, I would’ve laughed so hard my cholesterol-clogged heart would have packed in. But it’s amazing what a difference time can make…
I went vegan in March 2016.
In July 2016 I had started an animal rights group called Devon Animal Save, part of the Save Movement. A group that attends slaughterhouses to bear witness to the animals as they take their final journey. We do this so we can offer them comfort. We try to soothe them with our voices and, with caution so as not to further stress the animals, with gentle touches to them. We film and photograph them in the vehicles as they are taken into the slaughterhouse. We document their final journey. Although we cannot save those animals, we can use the experience and photos/videos to show others of the consequence of their “choices”. It is sad when you are there, but we feel that it is our duty to bear witness. In the words of Leo Tolstoy, “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her.” This is the ethos of our movement. To bear witness to the suffering, to try to help. As well as vigils, we hold outreach events. Table top stalls where we set up in town, (currently Torquay, Exeter and Plymouth…with plans of spreading to North Devon very shortly) with information, flyers, food samples, virtual reality and lists of vegan/accidentally vegan foods. We hold these stalls, not to be confrontational, but (similar to the spirit of Veganuary) to support people by providing information and advice. We are friendly and welcome discussion from passersby.
The power of outreach is incredible, whether it’s getting feedback from people who are already vegan, helping a vegetarian realise the horrors behind the dairy industry or watching the switch flick in the mind of a meat eater. It is extremely rewarding and something I would recommend anyone to try. Just like joining the Veganuary Facebook group! Whether you are vegan or planning on going vegan, it is so supportive and encouraging. It’s a place where you learn more and can help others.
From a personal point of view, since I have gone Vegan my life has improved. Feelings can be subjective so I can only speak from my own experiences. I feel healthier, my joints no longer ache (previous injuries to knees, shoulders and back have not given me any issues since going vegan), my IBS has all but gone (at one point this was something so limiting to me, so for this reason alone I wish I had gone vegan sooner), I have lost weight, my skin is clearer, I sleep better, I feel fresher, more confident and having been through severe clinical depression I feel the most mentally fit I have ever felt. I guess I never knew how bad I felt, until I felt good.
I don’t feel limited in my food choices. I eat more variety of food now than I ever have. I know more about nutrition now than I ever did. I live a more compassionate lifestyle and I am more aware of how my choices can impact the lives of others. There have been so many positives since going vegan, which in some ways feels wrong. I made the decision for the animals. Not for anything else. I would still be vegan if I gained weight and became unhealthy, but the fact that I have felt so much better (emotionally and physically) and lost weight is all but a happy bonus!
In the space of 14 months I have gone from an anti-vegan to a vegan campaigner! I have stopped ignoring the suffering of animals and now try to educate others through animal rights groups and personal blogs. To anyone who thinks they could never be vegan, you could be and you can be. If meat eater me passed vegan me’s outreach stall, meat eater me would’ve stood there all day arguing and making jokes.
So if I can go vegan, anyone can!