Such is my dislike of proclaiming my personal beliefs across the rooftops, that I’m nervous even typing this. I don’t like putting myself centre-stage – but as it’s relevant to my blog, I’ll make my foreclosure, even just to organise my thoughts on the subject.
After several months as a vegetarian, most of which I chose not to eat eggs, I decided this summer that to begin making a difference to animals’ lives and welfare, I had to give up buying animal products. It doesn’t make sense, I realised, to consider yourself concerned about animals if you drink Frijj milkshake or buy leather Doc Martens. But this wasn’t an immediate decision – I watched ‘Earthlings’ – the vegan-ator, the trigger, the documentary which is said to turn people vegan before the credits roll – and then made myself a milky cup of tea to help mop my tears. It was an awful, awful watch, one which left me feeling pretty low and angry. But even still, however lucid its clarity, the message didn’t sink in. Whatever clicked in the brains of others as they watched, didn’t click for me; and I continued in my old ways, buying milk, cheese, and chocolate. But there was a realisation, a little moral niggle, lingering there whenever I thought about why I wasn’t a vegan. I knew what was right, but for whatever reason, carried on delaying it.
My issue was that my imagined vegan scenario positioned me as the victim, unable to savour the delights of dairy whilst others tucked in to pavlovas and poured cream over their desserts. I couldn’t fathom a life without mature cheddar, Minstrels, and a decent cup of tea with semi-skimmed. So, my first attempts at veganism were fairly half-hearted, as I ate plant-based meals but drank milky cappuccinos, and continued nibbling at the chocolate hoard I kept in a drawer. I needed a little extra push, which came from a weekend spent in Edinburgh with friends, to whom I’d mentioned my intention to go vegan. Seeing myself from their point of view, I was embarrassed of my inability to commit, my lax morals in trying to pick and choose for my own convenience. It helped, too, that Edinburgh is a great place to be vegan, with an abundance of cafes, health food shops, and vegan-friendly options.
Since that weekend, I haven’t looked back. It has become plain and simple to me: to care for animals is to care for all animals, not just dogs and cats and horses, but for cows, pigs, chickens, and all other species. Just as I would not discriminate between races and nationalities, it’s not okay to place species in a hierarchy of value. An armadillo is worth the same as a guinea pig, a panda the same as a pig. The fact that one is perceived as cuter and more lovable than the other, doesn’t make it more valuable in essence.
The problem is that we don’t see what really goes on in the makings of our animal products: we let ourselves be convinced that the suffering we don’t see isn’t our problem. Education is the key to unlocking awareness: for example, I had no idea until a few months ago that producing eggs takes such a toll on a hen’s body, which is why she lives years and years less than she is supposed to. Or, that once she can’t lay anymore, it’s curtains for her. Nor did I realise that free-range and organic are generally labels which we take to make ourselves feel less guilty about our actions. Just because a cow was grass-fed on rolling pastures, and got to gallumph around happily in the sun, doesn’t excuse the fact that her baby was ripped away from her soon after birth. I have YouTube to thank for my enlightenment, if I’m honest. I’d followed one particular outspoken YouTuber for a while, but never took her very seriously – it was the less in-your-face approaches which engaged me. Rhetoric is a useful weapon in the arsenal of anyone looking to change public opinion, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
But I would quickly regress to point out that I am not morally superior to any non-vegan, and would never openly criticise a meat-eater for doing what I did for twenty years, unless they professed their unashamed support for industries which use and abuse animals. Lambasting individuals for their own choices doesn’t get you far; words can persuade, but it may not be enough to cause a lifestyle change. I’m an example of that. The choice I made was a culmination of sources, working over time to gradually open my eyes – but I did need that little external push. One of my closest friends has been a vegan for years: although she made me feel more aware of my own habits by the simple act of going against the mainstream, this awareness only kicked in seriously in recent months. As with everything, the decision was a laboured one – spontaneity and impulsiveness are my complete polar opposites.
My family received the change in interesting ways, with my dad initially thinking it ridiculous, but has come round to it – although he still likes to substitute ‘hippy’ for ‘vegan’. My mum was completely unimpressed, and made sure to voice her concerns for animals fed on vegan pet food, and vegan children – funny, really, when you consider our overweight cat and my elder brother, who for most of his teenage years subsisted on plain pasta and sausages. She’s also made comments on how my veganism relates to my interest in health and fitness, which in the past has been unhealthy. Fair enough – but not if she knew the progress I’ve made in combatting that, evident in the huge plant-based meals I eat whilst she’s tucking into a tiny bowl of spaghetti bolognese.
I still find aspects of veganism difficult, of course – the primary issue being telling people that I’m vegan. The coffee round at work became stressful when my standard order became black, instead of white; I felt too embarrassed to utter the v-word in front of an office full of omnivores. Such is my horror of controversy, that the words ‘I’m a vegan’ seem loaded with accusations of moral criminality.
But I’m positive that little minor issues like that will work themselves out, and they’re not enough to alter my mindset. I’m embracing this new part of my life, and in navigating a new world and discourse. As someone with a passionate interest in food, I see bags of potential in veganism and the possibility to create fresh and cruelty-free takes on omnivorous classics. I’m not sacrificing anything for veganism – I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything at all.
If anybody made it this far – thanks for reading, and please comment so that I can visit your blog and learn more about veganism.