We were a little worried that if I wrote this blog post you would think that we feel the need to justify our choices or worse that we are trying to proselytise. This is not the case. My aim here is simply to explain our choices so that you will hopefully understand better and support the decisions that we have made.
Four years ago we gave up eating meat. Last year we gave up eating fish and replaced cow's milk with non-dairy milk. From New Years Day 2014 we tried going on a vegan diet. That is to say I tried and Ian succeeded, so Ian is now following a vegan diet and I am in a transitional phase of 'not-quite vegan', but hoping to get there sometime soon. For three weeks I managed to give up all dairy and eggs, but then fell into a deep moroseness due to a lack of cheese. I feel guilty that I succumbed to buying cheese, but pleased that I have not brought it back into my cooking / our meals. This should make it a lot easier to phase it out again.
The main difficulty I had was with lunch and supper. I'm more of a savoury than a sweet person and there's nothing I like more than some bread and cheese or maybe a baked potato with cheese or a cracker or two with cheese sliced on top. None of these foods are the things that I want to be eating - I should really be having vegetables instead of bread, sweet potatoes instead of ordinary baking potatoes (if baked sweet potatoes could only have crispy skin, sigh) and crackers are probably just a load of white flour and salt. So my sincere hope is that I will be able to phase out these foods (and therefore cheese too) over the next few weeks by incorporating more healthy things into my suppers and lunches.
So why become vegan in the first place you ask? There is no one reason, but there is abundant scientific evidence that it is both good for us and good for our planet. Since this is a blog I shall spare you the academic references, but one day I hope to write a fully-researched and referenced summary of our reasons. For now you'll have to make do with the following:
WHY BEING VEGAN IS GOOD FOR US:
1) Becoming vegan is a natural progression in the changes to our diets that we've been making over the last few years. We've both become very interested in nutrition as a preventative measure for disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, MS etc) and are moving towards a diet of predominately vegetables, pulses, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds. We both agree that eating none of something is (at least for us) easier than eating a small amount of something, so cutting out dairy and eggs entirely seems to be the best way forward. I guess we have what GB calls 'addictive personalities'.
2) It's been an incredible way of cutting out most processed foods. I was never a fan of microwave meals, but until this month it has been all too easy to go to the supermarket and buy a pizza or a vegetable lasagne or a pack of quorn and jar of chilli sauce. Okay the last three probably don't sound that bad, but if you actually read the list of ingredients you'll find that even vegetarian (but non-vegan) processed foods contains a huge amount of junk. Of course not all processed foods contain dairy, eggs, honey etc but wr have found that they sneak into a surprising number of the things we used to buy.
3) You may think that our diets would be less varied than they used to be,
when in fact the opposite has occurred. I used to keep a spreadsheet of
new foods that I've tried each year, but there have been so many in the last
year that I've given up.
4) The less junk we eat, the more we can actually taste other foods - I read that somewhere (can't for the life of me remember where, but I will endeavor to find the reference) and it does indeed seem to be the case. Everything
literally has more flavour. Only a few months ago I was still
struggling to 'eat my greens', but now I'd class kale as one of my top five favourite foods.
5) People often use food as a means of comfort and I'm not just talking about chocolate cake and ice cream. Have you ever been in a boring or difficult job or family-situation and felt like meal-times were the best part of the day? I know we both have. By cutting out the junk that we were addicted to and eating more natural foods we're regulating our bodies and becoming less emotionally-reliant on food. I've just read that cheese actually has an opiate effect on the brain - so I literally need to get over my addiction.
WHY BEING VEGAN IS GOOD FOR OTHERS:
6) Okay when you eat an egg you're not actually killing the chicken, but have you ever heard of a male chicken laying an egg? Egg laying varieties of chicken (as opposed to the ones that you eat) are sexed shortly after birth and then the males are killed. This is known as 'chick culling'and whilst none of the methods of killing are particularly pleasant I find 'maceration' the most inhumane - basically the chicks are thrown (alive) into a high-speed grinder. Is this any better than killing people in a gas chamber? Personally I don't think so (and if you're thinking that these are only chickens and not people, please remember that they are sentient beings and try to have a little empathy). Similarly, male dairy calves are usually killed when only a few months old.
7) The food that all these animals eat has to come from somewhere. When I was doing my Masters degree I did a research project on North Sea sandeels. These poor fish are being harvested on a massive scale for the animal-feed industry. Not only is this destroying the sandeel population, it is also destroying the food-chain with impacts on fish, seabirds and mammals to name only a few. As if that isn't enough, dredging for sandeels is also damaging the seafloor itself, with devastating consequences for plant and animal life.
In Argentina, huge swathes of forest are being taken from the locals, cut down and replaced with soya bean plantations. The pesticides and herbicides used to make sure that soya beans are the only thing that can grow on the land are not only decimating local wildlife, but they are leaching into the water supplies of the locals, causing unprecedented rates of deformities and cancers. This is all so that the world can have cheap soya for animal feed. Ugh.
8) It takes ten times as much water to produce 1kg of animal protein than it does to produce the equivalent amount of vegetable protein. Then there's the massive amount of land, animal feed and energy required, the impacts on the environment of cattle slurry lagoons etc etc . With the current global population, none of these are things that our planet can afford.
People often ask vegetarians and vegans if they have cravings for things
that they're not allowed to eat. My answer would be that after only a
few weeks it's quite the opposite. It's been so long since I ate meat or
fish that the idea of putting dead animal on my plate or in my mouth
absolutely revolts me. I still can't really believe that I did it for so
long. It's only been a month since I gave up eggs and already I feel
like there's no place for them in my life. I've already baked two vegan
cakes - a blueberry and chocolate cake and a lemon cake with lemon
drizzle. Both were delicious and if I hadn't baked them myself I'd never
have been able to tell that they had olive oil and not egg/butter in.
My problems with cheese come from a lack of interesting alternatives to
eat as snacks / suppers. If I can conquer that then it should take a lot
less effort to get to the 'I don't want to eat cheese' stage.
I know that the concerned among you may think that as vegans we will not get the right quantity and proportions of nutrients that our bodies require. I can assure you that we are both a lot healthier than we used to be and that the vegan diet requires so much more planning, attention and cooking from scratch than the average western diet that we are learning a great deal about nutrition.