VEGANUARY: Why Did I Go Vegan?
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This Veganuary will mark nine months since I decided to ditch meat, dairy and eggs and switch to a vegan lifestyle. I’d been vegetarian for five years before that, a choice that sprung from my love of animals and the environment. Overwhelmed by evidence about the global damage caused by animal agriculture, including carbon emissions, water waste, pollution, deforestation and the simple cruelty of animal slaughter, going vegetarian was easy. I gave up meat overnight and never looked back, but deep down I knew that all the reasons I had for giving up meat also applied to dairy and eggs, and until last April I considered myself an ‘aspiring vegan’. The one thing holding me back? Cheese, of course! I loved the taste of meat, cheese, milk and eggs. I even made my own cheese from our goat’s milk and aspired to try casu marzu, the Sardinian cheese delicacy containing live maggots, only available on the black market due to EU health regulations. But in order to produce cheese on any kind of commercial scale, animals are routinely slaughtered or allowed to suffer. So how did I go from cheese-fanatic to aubergine queen?
Facts and Compromise
In my experience, facts can only take us so far. Look at society today - every day we are presented with more facts about how we are destroying our ecosystem, literally destroying the air and water we need to survive. We are an intelligent species, so how can be so stupid? Climate-change-deniers are such a tiny, tragic little puddle of people, they don’t even deserve air time, but the majority of people recognise and believe in climate change, so why don’t we do anything about it?
I was one of those people. Before I went vegetarian, I was guilty of uttering the same words that secretly drive me insane today. I was presented with the facts about climate change, pollution, cruelty, mass extinction, the end of the world, human destruction - and all I could think was: ‘But I love bacon…’ I understand this mindset. We’re a species that’s used to instant gratification and very little compromise, having whatever we want at a fraction of the true financial or environmental cost. If I want bacon, why shouldn’t I be able to have bacon? In the end, I was more than happy to give up bacon, but I was still hooked on animal products, waiting for the final swing of the pendulum that would push me into veganism.
Changing the Unchangeable
So how did my own journey play out? It started with a book.
Early last year, I picked up a copy of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, one of a handful of books that have completely changed the way I see the world. It’s a summarised account of how humankind evolved, starting from the very beginnings of our species and following the development of community, currency, government, business and everything else we think of as the cornerstones of human civilisation. In reading this book, I learnt how the things we think of as institutional, unchangeable, eternal - things like capitalism and animal slaughter - are based on absolutely nothing. It was a bleak and morbid book, but it was also incredibly enlightening, because it made me realise that we are capable of revolution, of removing and reconstructing anything in order to build a brighter future. Within Sapiens, Harari also explained how we first decided to farm animals. It’s a short, painful chapter, but it was a pivotal point in my ongoing quest to live in harmony with the planet. I can’t recommend this book enough, even if you have no interest in going vegan.
After reading Sapiens, Dave and I decided to start educating ourselves on the benefits of veganism. We watched all the iconic documentaries - What the Health, Forks Over Knives, Before the Flood - before finally watching Cowspiracy on the Normandy beaches at sunset, sleeping in our campervan the night before our ferry crossing back to England. That night, we ate a slab of pungent French cheese with a bottle of cider and decided to say farewell to dairy. We sailed home the next day and never looked back.
The Joy of Veganism
Going vegan has, without doubt, been the best lifestyle choice I’ve ever made. I’ve never felt so healthy and slim, my skin is clear and I feel so much more energised. My passion for the environment has only grown since I’ve reduced my own demand on the planet, knowing I’m part of an active movement to make the world a healthier, happier place for everything else that lives here. And my love for animals and nature has deepened - I had called myself an animal-lover before, but how could I possibly claim that title while allowing other animals to die so I could enjoy a luxury product that was making me less healthy? All of a sudden, it made no sense. I can’t explain why, but I feel more connected with the landscape, more at peace with nature and wildlife, a part of something greater than myself.
The most important thing for me has been realising how disconnected we have become from our environment. So many of us blindly consume food and other products without thinking about the consequences or who had to suffer along the way. And while it’s great that lots of people try to buy free range or organic or ‘I know the farmer so I know the animals were well looked after before they were shot in the head’, the world needs more from us, and I’m so happy to be part of a movement that is so actively striving for change.
All the Questions…
As a rule, most people I meet are interested in veganism and open to the idea, although I hear the same questions time and time again. On the one hand, I love that people are genuinely interested, but sometimes it would be nice to just eat my vegetables in peace. Some of my favourites include:
‘But what will happen to all the livestock? It would be so sad to lose our rare and traditional breeds.’ It would, but around 150 wild species of plant, insect and animal go extinct every day due to climate change, pollution and habitat loss, all exacerbated by agriculture. Priorities, guys.
‘Vegans are ruining the planet with their demand for soya and avocados.’ This comes straight from a Daily Mail article - around 85% of the world’s soya is grown to feed cattle, and since when have avocados been grown exclusively for vegans? Being vegan doesn’t mean everything I eat is ethical by default, but it’s a hell of a lot easier.
‘What about the cattle farmers? They’ll go out of business!’ I could go on about the short-sightedness of this argument, or how pro-slavers probably argued the same thing, but the problem will resolve itself when climate change destroys us all. We’ve spent thousands of years putting humans first and look where it’s got us. It’s time to realise we are not the only species on this planet.
‘But I just love bacon!’ I honestly do sympathise with this - nothing gives me more pleasure than delicious food, but how can we possibly expect the world to change if we aren’t willing to compromise? We can’t just complain about how terrible things are and then refuse to change our habits. Plus, meat and dairy are indisputably bad for our health, so while it may seem like sacrifice, you’ll feel so much better for it. I promise I don’t miss bacon anymore!
‘Can’t we all just eat meat and dairy in moderation?’ If animal cruelty isn’t a big deal to you then, yes, we could. If we all ate less meat and dairy, the pressures of animal agriculture would lessen and things would improve. The problem is that a large portion of the global population is not willing to reduce their intake, so the only way I personally feel like I can make a difference is by ditching animal products completely in the hope that it might counterbalance the overall demand. (But it’s still great if you do want to reduce your intake!)
‘Aren’t you worried you won’t get enough nutrition?’ I’ve literally never felt healthier! I live on plant-based protein, carbs, fat, fibre and nutrients, I take a B12 supplement, and I’m slim and clear-skinned. Come join me, pals! Note: I completely understand that those with illnesses and allergies won’t find it so easy.
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For me, the most important thing we can all do is remain open-minded, talk to each other and educate ourselves, which is why I try really hard not to push my lifestyle onto others. But hey - it’s Veganuary! So I’ll be sharing a few more thoughts on veganism on my blog this month, and if you have any comments or questions I’d genuinely love to hear them.