So I'm a Vegan Now

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

If you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d be vegan one day, I would’ve laughed in your face and probably told you that I’d rather die than give up my chargrilled beef burgers and salty cheesy takeout pizzas.  Fast forward to when I was about 19, and I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and started to react very badly to many foods, red meats in particular.  I cut most meat out of my diet and only had it on the odd occasion, and then by January this year the only meat I was eating once in a blue moon was fish.  Now, another few months and a lot of thought and internal debate later, I’ve essentially been vegan for a few weeks, give or take the odd bump in the road here and there.

My health problems were what triggered the change in diet initially.  Although meat wasn’t the only thing that triggered my symptoms, certain meat dishes were almost guaranteed to make me ill to the point where I would have to plan meals out to make sure that I could immediately go home and lay down afterwards.  Eventually, as much as I had originally loved meat, it wasn’t worth it anymore and after many months of rarely eating it my tastes had changed and it no longer tasted as good as I remembered anyway.  When I started to learn the vague, softcore facts about the environmental impact that the meat industry had on the world, I finally decided that I should just cut it out of my diet completely and only eat fish and seafood, which I then believed to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

The thought of dairy and eggs being problematic at this point wasn’t even on my mind, and as far as I was concerned nothing was harmed in the making of them, especially here in the UK where animal welfare for livestock is apparently rated the best in the world.  My opinion of vegans was also not a particularly high one either, since most of the vegans I’d encountered online and in person came across as aggressive and fitting of the angry vegan stereotype, and from a feminist perspective they were also often extremely privileged and narrow-minded when it came to people who weren’t vegan and the circumstances behind their non-veganism.  That kind of gross denial of the fact that, no, not everyone is you and able to make the same choices as you are, was kind of a turn off.

When I started to read more online and become more involved in the cruelty free community though, that opinion I held started to change.  The overlap between the cruelty free and vegan communities is pretty large, and I started to see plenty of intelligent, thoughtful blog posts, articles and so on by vegans who –shock! – weren’t at all like I’d been told all vegans are or as I had experienced them to be previously.  I started being exposed to more information about veganism and about the livestock industry in general, and after a while I started to wonder if maybe being just pescatarian wasn’t the right choice for me.

The first thing to go when I started doing my own research was the fish, after discovering that no form of fishing on the scale that we need to meet to demand is truly sustainable, and that even fish farms can have a severely negative impact on the ocean environment.  After that, I spent a few months mulling over whether or not cutting out all animal products was the path I wanted to go down.  I read a book, read articles, watched documentaries and eventually came to the conclusion that I wasn’t okay with contributing to any aspect of the livestock industry.  This wasn’t necessarily for the animals either; rather I’m now what you’d probably call an environmental vegan.  I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with killing and eating animals for food as long as they are happy and well cared for throughout their lives, but I do think that the industry is broken and that our world can’t support the ever growing demand for more and more cheaper and cheaper meat, eggs and dairy, and I think that the amount of valuable resources we waste on rearing animals to feed wealthy, privileged nations that could go to poorer, developing ones is illogical and selfish.

The hardest part wasn’t making the decision though; it was actually telling the people that I cared about.  I know that omnivores don’t think much of vegans because I was one of those people who boxed them all up into one nasty little stereotype myself once, and even when I was pescatarian and vegetarian, or even back when I just ate very minimal meat and had to be careful of what I was eating, people were awkward about my diet.  It was easier to say I didn’t eat x, y, z before because at least I could just attribute it to illness and shut everyone up; now I have to worry about confrontation and justifying a choice I’ve made.  Thankfully though, the people whose opinions actually matter to me reacted fine.  My other half was supportive, albeit disappointed that we’d no longer be able to share food and go to some of the same restaurants, and that was something that disappointed me too.  I’m a huge foodie and I get great pleasure out of food and dining out, and trying new things with him has always been one of my favourite things to do.  My mum lamented how difficult it would be to cook for me, but ultimately said she thought it was an admirable decision even if it was something she felt too set her ways to do herself.

It certainly hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be so far, but I think part of that is down to how slowly I transitioned into it.  It was a gradual thing for me, experimenting with vegan cooking while I was a vegetarian, trying to get a feel for it and see if it was going to be a realistic lifestyle choice for me.  I’m lucky though, because I’m not a fussy eater at all.  I like most foods; I love vegetables, beans, pulses, fruit and more so the majority of healthy vegan staples are things that I adore anyway.  I have a feeling it’d be a very different story if I didn’t like any of those things.  I’m still making mistakes – I didn’t check the ingredients on the damn muesli I’ve been eating for the past few weeks because I just assumed it wouldn’t have any non-vegan ingredients because, well, why would it need any?  Lo and behold I glanced at it the other day and it has freaking whey powder in it, god knows why.  I’m also still polishing off the odd non-vegan things I still have hanging about, like Belvita I keep in my desk at work or the non-vegan Quorn and store brand free-from stuff we have in the freezer.  Much like my journey to using only cruelty free cosmetics, I’m not going to just waste something that I’ve already paid for; the damage is already done, I just have to move on and not repurchase it.

I feel better for it so far, both physically and mentally.  I’m happy with the decision I’ve made and it’s nice to know I’m doing my bit for the planet, and I’ve only usually been experiencing my IBS symptoms when they’re hormonal lately, rather than because of what I’m eating.  I’m not sure what the long term effects will be yet; the obvious concerns are iron, protein and other deficiencies, so I’ve been trying to make sure my diet is as balanced as possible without any pills or supplements other than my vitamin B12 pills.  So far so good, but I’m tempted to get myself checked out with my GP just to make sure and I'm looking into daily supplements I can take to give me that extra peace of mind.

In some ways, it’s kind of exciting to be embarking on a new stage of my life.  I’m learning a lot about the food industry, and I’m also getting to grow and challenge myself as a cook which is something I’m especially loving (a love a good excuse to try something new in the kitchen).  I’m sure I’m going to have hiccups along the way, make my own mistakes and encounter plenty of people who might upset or annoy me by questioning my diet.  But, if I’ve learned anything from the past few months of pottering about in cruelty free and vegan cyberspace, it’s that I’m not alone and there are plenty of resources and plenty of kind, lovely people out there to help support me.

If you have any tips for baby vegans like myself or want to share your own story, I'd love to hear them!

4 comments

  1. I went vegan recently and I totally get where you're coming from in not telling people yet! I actually haven't told most of my friends or family yet because I really don't feel like having to justifying what I want to be eating. I did it the opposite way round to you- I went vegan first and I'm slowly working towards going toward being totally cruelty free/vegan with my beauty products etc as well, it's definitely all a journey rather than an overnight change.

    I'm definitely still finding my feet but I feel so, so much better for making the change! I hope you find yourself feeling better too :)

    Brianne xo
    brianneetc.co.uk

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    1. Saaaame, there's still plenty of people I haven't told and I'm just trying to subtly eat vegan without them picking up on it because I know they'll be awkward about it. x__x

      Thank you!

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  2. Great post Steph! It's great to hear that you're feeling the benefits of this change already. I decided in May that I wanted to transition to a fully vegan diet and would say I've been fully committed to it for about two and a half months now. I still slip up sometimes but on the whole I'm finding it to be such a good experience. I was also a bit worried about how people might react but they've mostly been encouraging or at the very least shown interest. I agree that cooking and finding new things to try is a lot of fun - before deciding to go vegan I didn't know chia seeds and Biscoff spread existed...now I can't get enough of them!

    But if a ramble there :D hope it continues to be rewarding for you.

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    1. Thank you! I must say, apart from in one of the Burgen bread loaves I buy, I've never really had chia seeds in anything! But man ever since I heard Biscoff spread existed I've been on the look out for it and am planning on buying tons the second I see it on offer somewhere. xD

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