My Path Into Veganism
A smidge over seven years ago (so I recently figured out after digging into some old Facebook messages) I became a vegan. There was a moment back in September in 2013 when I realised it was just silly for me not be a vegan, when I was already so committed to everything about veganism, except actually fully committing to it. But that moment was built upon years of shifting behaviour and thought. I know many people find the idea of becoming a vegan daunting, it seems impossible, but it’s not. I hope my story can show that.
My journey down this path began a long time before I even knew the word vegan or even vegetarian. My earliest recollections of any sort of inclination towards veganism are from when I was a very young child. I’m sure shared with many children, once I figured out that eating meat meant killing some lovely animal, I didn’t want to. To counter this my parents told me for a long time that they only got meat from animals that had died from natural causes. I’m sure to them then, and probably now even, this seemed like a harmless mistruth in order to facilitate my eating properly. I thought it an amusing anecdote of my childhood for many years too. But now, reflecting back on that missed opportunity, I can’t help but feel a great sense of betrayal, and a sadness at that lie that infused my younger years — Had my parents thought to step out of their cultural conditioning, to listen to the rational and compassionate request of their young child, then my animal consumption would have been halted, many hundreds of animals would not have been created to be killed, and I dare say it could have influenced the whole family to do the same. But that didn’t happen, and so until my teens I ate like any other omnivorous westerner, a fairly regular intake of meat, and dairy, although few eggs outside of baking, as I never liked them!
Parents will do what they think is right for their child when it comes to food, just as they do when it comes to infusing children with their religions, political leanings, cultural biases, taboos, etc. Food is an integral part of our culture, and not many people think to challenge what they perceive as normal or traditional. When it comes to food, there’s also the feeling that it could be a dangerous move towards being unhealthy, for people who do not understand the inherent health benefits of veganism, and detrimental effects of animal products. While veganism remains a minority view it will be down to individuals to discover other options and make that choice to move outside of a cultural norm. That is what I did.
Throughout my life I have had a passion for environmental issues, understanding from a very early age that human activities harm the natural world, and campaigning in whatever way I could at various stages of my life to make changes to stop those harms. This my parents did support, taking me to a nature club in my younger years, and joyously often visiting the woods we living nearby at the time, allowing me to develop a great connection with nature.
As I entered my teens, climate change was a growing concern, and at some point I picked up the notion that eating meat has a detrimental environmental impact — I wish I could recall from where I learnt this, as that notion of animal agriculture being a climate change issue feels like something that’s only been in the environmentalist zeitgeist in a big way for a few years now. But something back then triggered my awareness, and so my dietary aim became to reduce my meat consumption. At this point the idea of eliminating it entirely just seemed fanciful; I could not conceive of going vegetarian, even while expressly aiming to eat less meat.
By then my parents had separated, and I was living with my mum. To be blunt, I did not rate my mum’s “cooking”, which consisted mostly of ready meals and heated processed, things… So at some point in my teens I began to insist on preparing my own meals. I’d not think favourably on what I cooked then looking back now, but I had to teach myself, and that was my first step. One thing this allowed me to do was reduce meat portions; I would make for instance fajitas with increasingly small portions of chicken; rationalising that I just needed a small amount to give the yummy flavour, but that I could, and did, gradually make that amount smaller — Of course now I realise you don’t need meat to make it yummy at all, it’s spices doing all the work!
I did still have a general taste for meat though, so would consume it without limitation when for instancing having a roast dinner at a carvery, or making burgers for a BBQ. In fact right up until I went vegan eating out was my exception to the meat reducing rule. I felt, as a picky eater, that when eating out I could only bare to eat meaty things, as I didn’t desire any of the the very limited vegetarian options of the day — At this point in mainstream dining, vegetarian choices were mostly limited to mushroom-something (yuck, I still hate mushrooms), or something obnoxiously cheesy (also yuck, I did like cheese, but not cooked).
As best I can recall, by the time I went to uni I actively identified as a “meat reducer”, but that still did mean I regularly ate meat at home as well as when eating out. At some point after starting uni I began to experiment with switching out dairy. As someone that only ever consumed a small amount of milk, switching to soya (about the only milk alternative option at the time) was easy. But as someone with an enthusiastic taste for yoghurts and ice-cream it took me a little long to find alternatives I liked; this was largely delayed by the lack of alternative options on the market at the time.
By the time I was done at uni I was zero-meat at home, but still ate it when eating out. I was also mostly non-dairy, having found yoghurts and ice-cream I liked. I was very nearly vegan, although still not actually vegetarian; my final hurdles were milk chocolate, and eating meat when I ate out.
Chocolate, genuinely, was the hardest thing for me to overcome. I am an avowed chocoholic; I love chocolate in the form of chocolate, but also enthusiastically consume it via breakfast cereal, snack bars, ice-cream, biscuits, cakes, milkshakes, and even sometimes in savoury food. But I’m not a big dark chocolate fan, and indeed back in my pre-vegan days I wouldn’t touch dark chocolate at all; I worshipped at the alter of milk chocolate, most especially Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The idea of not being able to eat milk chocolate was truly terrifying to me. And thus I clung onto it for years as my main reason to not go vegan.
But as time went on, the environmental issues around animal agriculture became ever clearer. So as an enthusiastic environmentalist, always striving to do one more thing to lessen my impact on the world, it became ever more difficult to allow myself to continue to consume animal products. I knew it was wrong. I knew I didn’t want to. But I let a lifetime of dietary habit hold me back.
I think what finally allowed me to go all the way was making vegan friends. This allowed me to see veganism in action first hand, it allowed to gain knowledge of alternatives, and their influence reinforcing the arguments for veganism I already knew, and adding in different points of view on issues around animal rights, to which I had a lesser awareness. This all helped build up a sense of what I needed to do.
The final moment I remember vividly. I was at a cafe (a really cool one that served amazing non-dairy milkshakes) with my vegan friend Sarah We were going to have lunch, and I was leaning towards a not-vegan something. Knowing my nearly-vegan state Sarah questioned this, and I agreed and ordered a vegan something instead. And that was that. In that moment I switched from being vegan-ish when I found it comfortable, to making myself be vegan because I wanted to be so.
Then the learning curve really came. My next couple of weeks food shopping were a trial; checking the labels on every single thing, and finding a frustrating proportion of them had milk and eggs hidden away in the small print! But I quickly learnt what was fine and what was not, and the weeks and months to follow were a liberation. Now I was vegan I embraced it, and sought out new food to try, new ways to cook, and made myself eat vegetables I’d long decided I didn’t like (bar few exceptions I in fact liked most!).
My becoming a vegan was also fortunately timed with an unceasing expansion of vegan options in supermarkets and prepared foods. Soy milk, which I never loved any more than dairy, was quickly replaced by coconut, almond, oat, and latterly hazelnut, among many other options; all far more delicious! The options for yoghurts and ice-creams have ballooned over the years too.
And then there’s chocolate. To start with, I just forced myself to enjoy dark chocolate more; in the face of no chocolate, dark chocolate was suddenly very appealing. Nowadays I do like some dark chocolate, although I preferred flavoured ones generally (mint, orange, hazelnut, pear, etc). But I still yearned for milk chocolate, and gradually those options have arrived in vegan form too; today there are many delicious vegan milk chocolates.
It’s not easy to make the transition to veganism in a world that still doesn’t want to be vegan. Animal products are hidden away in so many things, and labelling can be difficult to navigate. Things like vitamin D, often used to fortify cereal, being sometimes animal derived took me a while to learn, and are still a pain to navigate. Expanding veganism outside of just diet took me a while too; finding non-leather shoes is especially troublesome for someone probably even more picky about footwear than I am food!
But the thing to remember if you’re thinking about starting along this path is, you don’t need to be perfect. Ever step towards veganism means fewer animals are raised to be exploited and killed; fewer crops are grow to inefficiently feed farm animals instead of humans; less land and water and energy are used to produce food, and in turn more land in available to nature; and your individual contribution to climate change is reduced dramatically, because you avoid the inherent inefficiencies of animal agriculture.
The young child who wanted to not eat animals was taking a mental step towards that goal. The teenager who started to eat less meat was making a material difference in every meal that used less meat. The young adult who started to find alternatives to dairy was lessening their impact further. The newly made vegan helped shift demand for products that has created the incredible range of vegan options available today. The experienced vegan in their thirties has influenced friends to reduce their animal consumption and sometimes go vegan too. And in the future, this vegan will continue to find new ways to lessen their impact on the world and help others do the same.
Don’t be daunted by veganism, or steps towards veganism. It is the right thing to do to help make a more sustainable world, to stop exploiting and harming animals, and to give nature a chance. And what’s really great is that it’s so easy now; so many options when eating out; so many great vegan recipe books; so many direct meat/dairy alternatives; so many chocolates, ice-creams, and anything else you might love. This very picky chocoholic found a way to become a vegan, and so can you.