I never intended going vegan. To be honest I’d never really put that much thought into it. Veganism to me sounded like one of those strange and extreme things that strange and extreme people do. Besides that, vegans annoyed me:
“I hate vegans. I struggle with their obsessive criticism of my consumption of one of the few things that I hold dear to life… dairy products. I’ve been a vegetarian for 32 years, cheese and milk are my thing and I’m very happy with that – I don’t eat meat, what more do they want?
I’m sick of having it rammed down my throat on Facebook, aggressive messages about how cruel we are for eating dairy and videos of animals being seriously mistreated. None of these posts engage me, I quickly skip past them with feelings of guilt and and resentment and then go to the fridge and jack up some strong vintage cheddar, mmm.”
Hannah Anstee 2016
But life is never simple is it… “I want to go vegan.” said my daughter one day some time after me writing (or at least thinking) the above statement.
“Oh right – why?” “Because the dairy industry is cruel to animals and also it’s really bad for the environment.” “DAMN!” I thought.
I didn’t really understand her wanting to do it, but still, I wanted to support her. The thing about Holly is, as she gets older, she’s more informed, better read and more conscientious than I am – so I like to give her the benefit of the doubt on most occasions. The reason why I became a vegetarian all those years ago was because I don’t like to eat flesh, that’s it. I don’t like the taste, texture or smell of it. There’d never been any thought to the cruelty of animals, which I never thought about at seven and after then, well, I never had to think about it because I was vegetarian.
In preparation for this big lifestyle change I went shopping and bought everything I’d normally buy apart from dairy. No cheddar, no parmesan, no milk, no pizza, no mozzarella, no feta, no halloumi, no butter, you know – all the good stuff. So when we got home, we basically had nothing to eat. One of the things I now know about teenagers is that they eat constantly. They’re never out of the fridge, and if they don’t get food they’re not happy. I hadn’t really thought this through properly.
I went on websites and forums about going vegan and found recipes that involved ingredients that I’d never heard of before, and admittedly intimidated me. I went out and bought them anyway, spent a fortune, and hours in the kitchen producing some of the blandest food I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’m not the best cook anyway but I’d exceeded even my own limitations. Still not prepared to give in, I bought various vegan cheeses and tried to concoct my old recipes substituting them with this so called cheese, they were disgusting, all of them.
“Right Holly, forget this, let’s just limit the dairy intake, we simply cannot go vegan.”
The starving teenager reluctantly agreed.
But I have to say I felt some sanctuary in all of this, yes – who were these vegans? They must have no quality of life. I’m glad I’m normal and can’t be vegan – at least we tried. I quit smoking a few years ago, not because of the fear mongering photos of lung cancer on tobacco products, but because I read an article that informed me that if I quit smoking by 35 I’d have a good chance of not getting lung cancer – I was in. And this is the same way in the end that I came to be a vegan, by looking at the positive aspects, not the negatives.
Some months later, in January 2017, I read a book – a very gentle and beautifully written book called ‘Mindful Eating, Mindful Life’ by Thich Nhat Hanh. I started reading it in my neverending quest to try and live a more mindful life – which for me is the key to happiness. I had no idea that it would not only help me live more mindfully, it would also help me to understand veganism more; why it’s beneficial (to me and the world); and how to be be vegan if I wanted to. This book had a really big impact on me and changed the way I view food.
Next came the Deliciously Ella book, a gift to Holly from my mum. Ella Woodward has to eat a dairy free and gluten free diet to battle illness and is a massive Instagram sensation (yes one of those). The book isn’t particularly good in terms of the recipes, but it’s a good introduction into how to think differently about food.
Up until this point I’d never really found my feet with cooking, I had a couple of set meals that I could make reasonably well but I lacked imagination and confidence. This all changed dramatically after becoming vegan, it was a choice, we could either struggle on through, or I could up my game and start trying new things. I found that I loved cooking if I had the time to do it properly, and found it a very grounding and relaxing experience. I also found it satisfying knowing that I was providing my family (as small as it is) with a lovingly cooked meal that was healthy, nourishing, and not impacting on any other being or the environment.
It’s all in the planning
So now we had our staple meals under our belts and we planned a lot, I spent every Sunday cooking for the week ahead. At that time we always had to take a packed lunch with us so as not to get caught out, plus I wanted us to have frozen meals in for the evenings in case I couldn’t be bothered to cook. It might seem unappealing to some, but I enjoyed those Sundays in the winter, cooking for the week with the radio on and the odd glass of red.
The other surprising thing about all of this was that it was very cheap, it hardly cost anything to make these vegan dishes. It cost about a fiver to make each dish and we’d split that between 6 and 10 portions for the freezer. So we settled into being vegans quite nicely, I got used to what we could and couldn’t eat and didn’t have to forward plan so much.
Going vegan was actually a wonderful bonding experience (and still is) between Holly and I. For those of you who have teenagers you’ll understand how hard it can be to find a common ground sometimes. We now have this shared interest that we’re very passionate about and that we’re learning about together – and with a great reward , gorgeous food to share and enjoy.
Hangovers and cheese
About three months in, we came up against some barriers. I was getting annoyed at going out for meals with friends and having barely anything to choose from. I started thinking to myself: “Maybe when I go out for a meal I’ll allow myself to have dairy’. I then came home from a night out with a stinking hangover and all I could think about was pizza. I said to Holly:
“I’m thinking of going to get a pizza, just this once – do you think that would be ok?”
“Mum, do what you want, if you want a pizza have one – it’s not prison.”
So off I went to the Coop and bought a cheese pizza and a bottle of wine ( hair of the dog). I felt weirdly ashamed when I was buying it, and kept it close to my chest in case anyone might see me buying this damn pizza. It did taste good, but it wasn’t as nice as I had imagined it would be. The flavour, smell and consistency of cheese now seemed foreign to me.
I thought long and hard about why I felt so guilty about eating the pizza. I think it was to do with defining myself as a vegan and what that meant personally and it felt somehow fraudulent. But deep down I mainly felt guilty because I realised that I genuinely don’t want my personal consumption of food or anything else to have any impact whatsoever on animals. I don’t see why it should have to, I don’t believe that animals were put on this planet to be eaten or serve humans. BUT I understand those who don’t share my opinion, because your opinion was my opinion also until a few years ago.
What am I trying to say?
I think we need to change the way we talk about veganism as the way it’s being discussed at the moment creates barriers to those thinking about trying it. It doesn’t have to be this ‘all or nothing’ approach which is promoted by most vegans, vegetarians and carnivores. It can be a ‘I’ll do what I can but I don’t want to limit my social life or small pleasures approach’? If you eat some cake with dairy in it one time, so what? If you eat a pizza with mozzarella on a Saturday night, so what? You’re still contributing massively to a cleaner planet and healthier lifestyle.
Do we really need to label every single thing we do?
Holly doesn’t eat any dairy products whatsoever now. I on the other hand have had a pizza, and I might have one again, I guess that makes me a ‘casual vegan’? I’m still getting to grips with modern day terminology about almost everything. A guy told me in all seriousness last week that he’s a ‘vegan sexual’ make of that what you will – I’m still trying to figure it out.
I understand your pain, I feel it too, I want a better future for the planet, for my children and grandchildren, and for animals. But I feel it would help if we stop giving everyone hassle for eating meat and dairy as it alienates ourselves and the cause – remember the cigarette packets? They don’t work.
Non-vegans out there, stop challenging ‘vegans’ if they eat a piece of cheese , mind your own blooming business.
Should I try eating a more plant-based diet?
My short answer is why not – what do you have to lose? My own experience has been such a positive one, due to the bonding experience I’ve mentioned with my daughter and because I have so much more energy, never get bloated and feel a lightness about myself and my body. Going vegan has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.
These are the facts: IMO
- It’s cheap
- It’s healthy
- You’re being kinder to the planet
- You’re being kinder to yourself
- You’re being kinder to animals
- You’ll lose weight
- You’ll feel better
Even as a vegetarian for most of my life I brought Holly up to be a meat eater such was the strength of the social conditioning that we need to eat meat for a healthy, balanced diet – we don’t.
P.S I originally started this article in 2017 and can tell you that I haven’t yet had another pizza or deviated from plant-based foods, and that’s because anything else tastes strange to me now.
Hey, you’re still here? I thought you’d be out buying tofu and soya milk by now! If you’d like to learn more about living a more plant-based lifestyle or even going vegan then the film What The Health is a very interesting documentary and Earthling Ed is a handsome guy with a topknot roaming the UK and opening up the debate about veganism.
Are you thinking about going vegan? Would love to hear any of your thoughts or comments below.
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