I recently received a mythbusting email from Veganuary. I haven’t been following a vegan diet over the last month, but I am interested in the movement and there were a few enthusiastic people at work that invited me to join them for some lunch sessions to chat about it, and bring food in to try, so I embraced the opportunity with an open mind.
As I read through the 40+ common arguments that vegans are presented with, I realised that I could answer a lot more than I would have been able to before, and that I had changed my views in a number of areas. Unlike the militant, judgemental vegans that the media often portray, everyone that joined the Veganuary-based meetings were friendly and encouraging of anyone that wanted to hear more information about their lifestyle and implement any changes into their own.
I have been consuming less meat fairly consistently for a couple of years now. It started with cutting out beef, as I became aware of how polluting cattle farming is, and then I reduced my dairy intake too, because the industries are two sides of the same coin. I always thought it would be hypocritical to pick and choose what to eat without being a full vegetarian or vegan, but demand drives supply, and cattle farming has a significantly high impact on the environment so I decided that any change I made to my diet to reduce my consumption of products from cows would be helpful. I hadn’t seriously considered the ethical issues surrounding leather; I had heard the argument that it is a byproduct so why not use the whole animal, and practically I didn’t know if you could get decent quality shoes without using leather. This is just one area I have learned more about during January.
It is easy to make excuses to consume whatever you like and however you like in modern Western society. I wasn’t proactive in researching the food production industry before, probably because on a subconscious level I didn’t want to find out things I couldn’t unknow again, and feel a moral responsibility for what I chose to eat.
During ‘Veganuary’ I tried hard not to eat meat, as a first step to a lifestyle change. Since living back with my parents, where meals are centred on a meat and two veg format, I had been eating more animal products and even allowed beef back into my diet so I didn’t have to make a separate meal. I didn’t manage a completely meat-free month, but I did become more conscious about how much meat was around me and that I wasn’t as attached to it as I had thought.
Without the encouragement of the group at work, I don’t think I would have explored veganism as much, but with potluck lunches most weeks, it was a good opportunity to have a go at shopping and cooking vegan, and trying recipes from other people with much more experience. I tried some amazing stews, brownies and cakes 😋 I had also signed up to receive Veganuary emails, and they were really excellent quality, with YouTube videos from famous vegans, top tips and a tone that made the information easy to digest and showed that veganism doesn’t have to be as extreme as a lot of popular opinion would have you believe. The Veganuary champions at work went a step further, setting up a shared drive full of links, meal plans and advice about a vegan lifestyle, from many different perspectives e.g. sports training, pig farmers and the accidentally vegan Instagram page.
By the end of the month I had made a vegan meal – Mexican rice, baked vegan millionaire shortbread (very rich and heavy on the coconut oil, but I liked them), ordered an entirely vegan meal at a restaurant, and I had tried to swap some of my supermarket purchases for vegan alternatives.
The group I met at work were fully supportive of me and others, whether we had gone fully vegan, tried to incorporate some vegan ideas or just reduced our consumption of meat over the month. We had some really interesting discussions, not just about diet, but the environment as a whole. People are vegan for different reasons; I was attracted to it from an environmental point of view, but others were in it for animal welfare. Previously I hadn’t been fully on board with that argument but I learned so much about food production and it’s problems that it now makes a lot more sense to be more conscious about what I put in my body, and how every individual’s attitude to the environmental impact of their consumption is important. I was able to go from thinking about all the sacrifices I would have to make of foods I like, to serious consideration about how I could approach a different lifestyle long term, without being that difficult friend who only eats vegan, and tries to make everyone else feel uncomfortable about what they do. It’s important to share ideas about any subject you feel strongly about, but only by accepting others choices and trying to educate yourself and people around you, can real positive change be achieved.
I am not a vegan, and I will almost certainly eat meat again. I have changed my attitude to food though, probably for life, and I can highly recommend an experience that encourages you to take a focused interest in a subject, provides you with opportunities to research and to practically apply ideas.
Otherwise time continues to drift by and we may have a sense that something isn’t right and needs to change, but get sucked into an attitude of apathy and distracted by other concerns. I suggest anyone reading this picks an area to explore today, maybe a political or social issue, or an environmental one like me (our world needs all the help it can get) and commit to finding out more. Knowledge can challenge and test us, but I see it as a gift rather than a burden.