What I’ve learned going vegan: A non-preachy vegan anniversary post

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I cooked chorizo the night I “went vegan”. A year ago today.

[NOTE: This post is about me. I won’t be asking you to change. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. I do think we can learn from each other though, so I wanted to put this down for myself just so I can get a few thoughts clear. If you get something from it, great. These are just thoughts. They might change. Probably will. I’m still learning.]

I’ve always liked cooking. Probably because my mam was always cooking when I was younger. Food is a big part of my life. I love the variety, cultures, traditions, flavours and experience of it.

I hadn’t planned to stop eating meat or consciously stop using animal products altogether. It never crossed my mind, despite the fact that I was well aware of it and even a close friend from my childhood had been vegan for the best part of a decade. For some reason, I never gave it space in my head to really consider it.

There’s a whole load of baggage that comes alongside veganism. I’m still learning. You don’t simply stop eating meat, eggs and dairy. Well, you do. That bit’s easy, but after that it gets more complicated. Your life gets more complicated, for the better.

Making a life change as big as this isn’t something you do in isolation. It has ramifications that reach into every aspect of your life. Here are some of my thoughts on them.

Food

I’ve never eaten better. Looking back at my old eating habits, I was actually eating really badly. I probably couldn’t tell you what I ate most days and especially not what I snacked on. When you look at critical challenges against the vegan diet, most comparisons consider high quality, well balanced meat diets. There aren’t many people that really eat that well. I know I didn’t.

I certainly never thought about nutrition, balancing what went into a meal, portion sizes, preparation and planning, the amount of processed food I ate or where my food came from. I mean, I thought I did, but if I’m really honest I was terrible.

Now? Well, I’m obviously not perfect, but I’m much more focused and tuned to what I’m eating. I’m making choices that are light years ahead of those I was making a year ago.

My eating is more mindful. There’s less salad and fresh food going off in my fridge and all the (largely unused) whole food stuffs I bought as a well intentioned omnivore are now part of my weekly staple ingredients.

Health

Veganism does not equal health. However, becoming vegan means you have to become more aware of what you’re putting in your body and with the right mindset it can develop into habit that leads to healthier choices.

I’m not going to claim to know anything about nutrition. As soon as you stop eating meat, many people will assume you have also become an expert in nutrition (as they have also magically become) and use this to challenge you on your decision (that doesn’t affect them in any way). To be honest, I don’t care. I know the same now as I knew when I ate meat, so I don’t see why it’s suddenly an issue. It would have been more helpful if they had piped up long ago to let me know that my previous diet and alcohol habits were contributing to continuing obesity, depression and general unhealthiness.

It’s incredible that so much of what people commonly understand is just perpetuated nonsense from mainstream media and mostly company’s that want you to buy their products.

I was recently asked by a 14 year old where I got my protein. 14! Who cares about protein at 14? Who could actually say they knew enough about the various sources of protein well enough to be able to question an adult about their diet at 14? That’s the influence of the media that’s misinforming a generation of impressionable young people right there.

Anyway, I’m not saying I’m magically healthy, but in a year I’ve lost almost 2st, stopped snoring, quit alcohol, exercised more and have increased energy and motivation. That’s obviously not a direct result of no longer eating animals, but that decision was a key factor and catalyst in making those positive changes happen for me.

Personal growth and confidence

It’s a huge choice to cut out all animal products. Easy, but huge. It’s good to make big decisions. It’s a test of character and values. Deep down, my values were always there, so I found I’d been living outside of them for decades. That’s a harsh fact and one I’ve had to deal with. I love animals, yet I ate animals. I wanted to be kind to the planet, but my choices were damaging it.

Becoming more accepting of my past self is part of my journey and only reinforces my decision and the choices I make everyday.

This was a good choice. This is me. I am closer to living my values. I am a better person than I was yesterday. I will make mistakes. I will keep learning.

Relationships

I’ve found that the social aspect of going vegan the hardest. As with the inner tensions it brings out, those with others are more pronounced and apparent.

Immediately, my world was different. I was different. All the reasons for my decision were suddenly right in my face everyday. The thing that hit me most was the normality of the world I’d just chosen to leave was now more apparent and amplified. Worse still, all my family, friends and colleagues were still part of it. I’d just consciously created a huge issue between all of us.

I started noticing weird things: the mass ordering of milk for tea and coffee at work, the sheer cheapness and availability of animal food options, the fact that all I could now eat in a standard buffet was plain crisps and the vast amount of products that unnecessarily contain milk or eggs.

One thing that came up really early for me in my learning was the range of types of vegan. It never sat right with me to become an activist or to force my views on others. I wouldn’t have been receptive to it when I ate meat and I think that it’s a flawed approach to motivate change in others.

Yes, animal agriculture is very likely to be bringing about huge irreversible damage to the entire planet. Yes, animals really are being brutally raised and slaughtered on an incomprehensible scale and most of us are directly contributing to it multiple times each day. Yes, eating a diet based on animal products is probably having a seriously bad impact on your health.

But I look at it like this. It took me 43 years to realise/accept/understand this and to make the decision to stop. That was my decision and I needed to make it for myself. Yes, other people helped me arrive at that decision, but not by pressuring me or making me feel guilty. I could feel guilty without anyone elses help.

We’re all adults and deserve the chance to make sure we’re informed and aware of how our choices impact the world. We deserve the same amount of respect we should be giving animals.

I also think we have to accept our place in the world as it today. We can’t expect people to instantly change without good reason. We can’t deny our history and traditions, but we can be aware of them, learn from them and see them for what they are.

I know I don’t need bacon sandwiches, roast chicken dinners, fish and chips, fried eggs, cheese or anything else simply because they’ve always existed as part of my culture for as long as I’ve known. This is probably the hardest thing most people will see as a barrier to making a positive change. The habits and traditions that are so ingrained in society it’s almost like turning your back on your family, friends and the entire country if you choose to no longer partake in them.

You know what? It’s worth it.

Sure there are strange moments, like the first time you go to a pub and just ask for a plate of vegetables and vegan gravy for a Sunday dinner or early on, when you’re still adjusting and nearly break down wondering what the hell you’re going to eat for the rest of your life.

But it gets easier and more rewarding. There are moments of sheer joy, like when I went to Nottingham Vegan Festival and ate the most incredible vegan Greek flatbread wrap I’ve ever had. As someone who loves food and cooking, I’ve actually found it more liberating and inspiring than restrictive. I have a whole new range of ingredients and recipes to try. I love the challenge of trying to recreate familiar or traditional meals that are totally animal free.

And no, this does not mean that I’m yearning to recreate meat style dishes because I secretly love the taste of dead animals or their secretions. It’s because we are all rooted in tradition and memories.

There is honestly nothing I miss about my old diet. Bacon, no. Cheese, no. Burgers, no. Kebab, no. Steak, no.

Even though I’m not preachy, I still wouldn’t hold back from being honest about my reasons for not eating animals.

I don’t want a pig to be gassed with agonising quantities of CO¬≤ just so I can have a breakfast I don’t need.

I don’t want a cow to be forcibly impregnated and have it’s calf taken away and shot just so I can stuff a square of cheese into my mouth, again that I don’t need.

I don’t want thousands of male chicks to be ground up alive as a bi product of the egg industry just so I can have an omelette or make cake when I eat something else or use another ingredient.

These are my choices. You may think they’re silly. You may make different choices. I don’t care. I haven’t died from my new diet. I’m not deficient in anything. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.

It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Other good habits

Just another minor point. Making this change has given me more willpower to be able to make further positive changes in my life.

The biggest of these has been quitting alcohol altogether.

Seeing veganism in part as a rejection of many societal norms, has made this one a lot easier. In many ways it was very similar, although I did use an Allen Carr book to get me going. Alcohol consumption is as normalised as animal consumption, so it’s not much more of a progression to quit that too: a widespread acceptance in society, a largely damaging behaviour, unhealthy and mass-marketed. Those who don’t drink are seen as odd, boring, killjoys or not real “men/women”.

I’m coming up to four months sober now and my thoughts are very similar to quitting meat. Don’t miss it. Don’t need it. Healthier and wealthier without it. Looking back, I had a problem and it was damaging me and those around me. I know that’s not related to not eating animals, but the point is that one decision led to another.

Having the strength to make a bold change, stick to it, form a habit and then make it part of my life was really rewarding.

If I did that, I can do anything.

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