Thursday, 30 January 2014


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:

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.

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.


  1. Initially I was concerned about you getting enough of the right nutrients but have long since realised that you know so much more about nutrition now that there is not much danger of that happening.
    My problems are is those of most people. Laziness. The ability to pretend that the meat on my plate has nothing to do with a little lamb frolicking in a field. An innate belief that a vegetarian / vegan diet is boring. A failure to acknowledge that one person's contribution can make any difference (where would mankind be if all our great men and women had thought the same way?) The knowledge that Argentina is a long way away - ignoring the fact that that the oceans that wash its shores are the same as flow around Japan and up the River Dee. The excuses go on and on... I am just so glad that one of my children cares enough for the planet and for future generations and for other sentient beings. It makes me very proud.

    1. Thank you very much. If it's any consolation it's your love of animals and natural history that has rubbed off on me and ultimately led to this decision.

  2. Having spent quite a few years of my life as a non-meat eater (who ate very little fish anyway) I have no problem with being a vegetarian other than the problem that I met constantly: being part of a large circle of carnivores. Being the only vegetarians (Joan and I) at a dinner party cooked by someone else caused problems for others because it's rarely a question of just not eating the meat (few of our friends were meat and two veg people). Joan wouldn't eat meat but I would even though I never cooked it nor ate it at home. I have no desire to become vegan and I was trying to think these days how often I cook meat for myself and was surprised by the answer: perhaps once a week. I do eat it when I cook for others though. As for cheese I rarely eat it for supper in fact I rarely have supper these days unless I have visitors in at supper time. The rest of the time my cheese consumption has plummeted. Apart from anything else 'nice' cheese is exorbitantly expensive in NZ.

    So having said where my thoughts and practice lay I turn to yours. Without a shadow of doubt vegetarianism can lead to far more varied meals than a meat eater usually has on a day to day basis. Carol was a superb cook who produced good nourishing meals for the family year after year. Joan was also a very good cook but her meals were infinitely more varied and surprising but contained no meat. I never heard anyone at one of our dinner parties (we had 12 friends who all ate together once a month or perhaps more frequently in the winter) complain about her superb vegetarian meals or stop coming because of them.

    I wholeheartedly agree with most of your reasoning for becoming vegan although I shall remain a person with non-meat eating tendencies who nevertheless eats meat when it's put in front of me (and who will occasionally put it in front of himself).

  3. Hi Helen, I wrote a comment yesterday but obviously my lack of expertise in the field won again as it does not appear. Anyway the gist of what I said was that I very much admire you and Ian for 'walking the talk' instead of 'talking the walk' as so many of us do. I have a friend who, after a critical illness, traveled the world and lived with local inhabitants to learn about nature and natural healing. She has been vegan for many years and when I stay with her, eating her diet, I always feel so much better. You would think that would be sufficient for me to alter my meat eating ways, but alas not so. Another close friend decluttered a few years ago and she too now only has white crockery which looks beautiful. I think you are both inspiring. Jo

    1. You did Jo. It's on the first post not this one.