I was vegetarian for 40 years for all the usual reasons: ethics, sustainability, health, and thought that was enough. I gave up milk a long time ago, for health reasons. I still ate cheese and eggs. A couple of times, when I became a raw foodie and when my son lived in a tree (don’t ask), I almost became vegan, but couldn’t sustain it. I didn’t have the support and there wasn’t as much by way of articles, products or recipe ideas all those years ago. I finally became vegan accidentally after doing a 14 day juice challenge.
I realised after 3 months I hadn’t wanted to eat cheese or eggs, and I was a real cheese addict. Now I was vegan. And if I could do it for 3 months, I could do so permanently. But I was scared of committing myself and actually saying, I am vegan.
I started following vegan accounts and began reading about the cruelty of egg production and dairy farming. There is so much information available now on social media, via blogs, in the press and documentaries. All I had back then was a library book and a cookery book to turn me on to becoming vegetarian.
After several months, I took the plunge and in great trepidation began writing vegan recipes and informational posts on my blog. I fully expected to lose a lot of followers. It didn’t happen. In fact, quite the opposite happened, I gained a whole host of new ones!
The current wave of interest in sustainable living is being driven and adopted by young people in droves, because they now have access to educational tools, support, recipes and like-minded groups.
Five friends and family have subsequently become vegan, are transitioning or making gradual changes from observing my experience, seeing how healthy I am and that it is possible to be vegan, enjoy food and not waste away!
I have never tried to persuade anyone to be vegan. I only engage in the issues if it comes up organically and I know they are in a receptive mood. People need time to process and to work out how it will affect their lifestyle and family obligations. Being aggressive or judgemental is counter-productive. Being calm, understanding and the healthiest you can be is more likely to have people follow your example.
Education is the key, and support and encouragement. It was relatively easy for me as I was used to a vegetable- based diet and already bought cruelty-free toiletries and cosmetics. It can be very difficult for people unused to cooking from scratch, relying on processed convenience foods, on a tight budget (see link for Jack Monroe below) or who don’t have family support.
Becoming vegan also doesn’t necessarily mean you become healthy. It is quite possible to be vegan living on predominantly processed foods and be quite unhealthy! Food manufacturers and retailers are producing increasing amounts of fake meat products and convenience meals to cater for those who like meat-based meals. These products – not all, but many – can often read like a chemical experiment.
It’s important to learn about nutrition, to know what constitutes protein and good complex carbohydrates, where to get good plant-based sources of calcium, iron, B12, D3, and so on, so that you have a balanced diet – and so that you have all the facts to hand when you inevitably get asked the questions! Because people who rarely allow a fresh fruit or vegetable past their lips will suddenly become concerned experts on your nutritional input.
You can take baby steps by swapping to cruelty-free household products, toiletries and cosmetics. You can reduce your dependency on plastic packaging and this will often automatically mean you include more fresh food in your shopping as well as helping reduce the plastic waste that is fillling our oceans, seas and water supplies.
Adding more fresh vegetables and fruit will reduce your intake of sugary and fatty foods which will help reduce inflammation and pain, provide more energy and fewer slumps, and make you more alert. Your skin will be amazing! Skin loves fresh food, especially avocados.
Why not try Meatfree Mondays? Plantbased rice, pasta or quinoa dishes like curries, for example, or pizza (there are some great vegan cheeses*), are often acceptable to families not yet on board with giving up meat. We sometimes give meat-eating guests Quorn or Linda McCartney pies without telling them and they are often uncomfortable and somewhat puzzled, believing they are eating meat, and very surprised when we reveal the truth.
Being vegan is not all brown rice and lentils! Just look at any of the many vegan Instagram accounts and you will find colourful, appetising meals, snacks, treats, desserts, smoothie bowls and cakes for all occasions.
There are many websites, Instagram accounts, blogs and so on where you can find facts, recipes and support to help you make small changes that eventually lead to bigger ones. I have several posts here on the blog and I’ll include some links at the end. All the recipes on this blog are vegan and gluten-free, just look in the Menu or among Most Popular Posts, there are also posts on how to make Nut & Seed Milks & Smoothies
We Are Veganuary have a best-selling hardback book ‘How to Go Vegan and The Guardian’s Jack Monroe has a great blog of budget vegan recipes called Cooking on a Bootstrap.
Over 165,000 people signed up this year to try being vegan for a month. If you were one of them, well done! You have helped save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, hundreds of kilograms of grain and dozens of animals, not to mention the reduction in greenhouse gases, just in a month!
The Green People Company for vegan skincare, toiletries, cosmetics
*Bute Island Foods for Dairy-free Cheese – available in Waitrose and Holland & Barrett
Vivolife – a great resource, Josh does supportive, informative videos, newsletters, blogposts as well as selling good quality organic, vegan powders.
Copyright: Chris McGowan