On Mothers’ Day, I came across a YouTube video of a dairy calf a mere day or so old being forcibly removed from its mother so its milk could be drunk by humans – and I became vegan. The end.
Really, it was that fast – just 45 seconds for something to click in my brain that a splash of milk in my coffee was not worth the suffering I’d just witnessed.
A lifetime without meat, eggs, honey, fish, cheese, etc. at first seems impossible – these were all key ingredients that were the building blocks of almost every meal I had ever eaten.
It was not planned – there was no last hunk of cheese, no last fry-up binge. No final taste of seared squid drenched in garlic and herbs to linger on my tongue to provide a lifetime of tasty memories while I figured out what the hell I was going to eat. All those lasts had already unknowingly happened while I was completely unaware of my adventure ahead. I knew I wasn’t going to die of starvation, so I’d just have to figure it out.
The fear of the word ‘vegan’ is a zillion times worse than simply being it
Although I love to cook and am a massive fan of fruit, veg and all things plant-based, I decided to not plan ahead and freak myself out. A lifetime without meat, eggs, honey, fish, cheese, etc. at first seems impossible – these were all key ingredients that were the building blocks of almost every meal I had ever eaten. I was also beginning to get lots of questions Spanish-inquisition-style from several acquaintances. I wasn’t always sure of the answers and the questions tended to be asked really aggressively.
The fear of the word ‘vegan’ is a zillion times worse than simply being it. It certainly stirs up heightened emotions and strong reactions, and I wasn’t able to handle the shock, questions and sometimes blatant insults. In my head, I was just focused on making new choices that didn’t harm animals; it was my personal choice and I just wanted to get on with it.
Food and new ingredients became really exciting, gluttonous and flavourful adventures – I fell in love with my kitchen again.
I joined Twitter, watched Bite Size Vegan and James Aspey videos, I was hungry for information. Instagram, home of the food photo movement, was also a godsend and host of endless inspiration, product finds and new meal ideas.
Meals became days which became weeks, and I realised I was actually doing it and not missing any animal products whatsoever. When you know how those products get to your plate, they lose their appeal pretty darn quickly. Food and new ingredients became really exciting, gluttonous and flavourful adventures – I fell in love with my kitchen again.
A month in and I was feeling fantastic although creating a methane cloud a herd of cows would be proud of. Thankfully the flatulence thing has subsided and my family are able to sit next to me once more, less the horrified expressions, now that my body has got used to a cleaner diet.
I watched the go-to vegan videos such as Cowspiracy and Earthlings. I was already decided, but it was a rite of passage I felt I had to endure. Earthlings further educated me on issues such as leather, wool and the captivity of animals for entertainment and work, and my vegan lifestyle widened to cover these issues. I then forced my husband to watch them as well, not an easy task as they are not subtitled black and white – he’s that type. I did this not to convert him – yes, that would have been amazing, but that’s his choice – but I wanted him to understand why I was choosing this new path, which wasn’t taken solely to piss him off.
It’s not about what you can’t eat – it’s about what you don’t want to eat
That was the most challenging part, my husband’s reaction to the V word. I had run off down the path of vegan without any discussion – as I said, it took 45 seconds to make the connection. He thought the world had ended. That we would never be able to enjoy meals out again, or even eat in the same city, would have to eat separate meals and that I would become the type of vegan we all fear – pushy, preachy, angrier (that I normally am) and hateful towards meat eaters. We argued a lot and I felt like I was being punished for a decision based on kindness and respect and he thought I was making life difficult unnecessarily.
We’d had an unfair share of really tough life events and just as things were settling down nicely I dropped the V-bomb. I felt very lonely and he felt very pissed off. Food was our thing and I had changed that part of our relationship without any consultation. The house was not a fun place to be those first few weeks and our relationship was tense. I was just really upset at the cruelty of the dairy industry especially and him for not understanding that and allowing me space to come to terms with what I had been supporting my whole life. It’s a lot to take in when you expose yourself to the horrors of the animal industry from conception to slaughter – it’s brutal, the very epitome of inhumanity and abusive beyond anything one can imagine. I took my responsibility of having paid for it on the chin and it knocked me for six.
it’s not just about the animals but awareness of fellow humans and the environmental impact of the industries.
The most positive and unexpected part of family life was our then five-year-old daughter: a lover of olives, sausages, dining out on pizza and a Mary Berry fan with the appetite of Henry VIII. Quietly observing my new eating habits, she asked me after a few weeks why I wasn’t eating meat anymore and using different milk.
I wasn’t sure how to answer her without being too emotional and scary. Footage of abattoirs and images of animals being skinned and sliced still conscious are not for the eyes of a child her age. Neither is the often-appalling issues that slaughter house workers face – it’s not just about the animals but awareness of fellow humans and the environmental impact of the industries. I didn’t want to place any negativity on food for her until I figured out how we were going to move forward as a family with me being a vegan.
I didn’t think she would go vegan – as I said, there wasn’t a grand plan – it just happened. However she had questions and wanted answers. I needed to find someone else to explain it so that if she didn’t connect she would not feel like she was rejecting me and my choices – or feel pressured into joining me.
Emily from Bite Size Vegan came to the rescue with her age-appropriate kids’ videos, explaining why vegans abstain from meat, milk and eggs. She also explains things like the cruelty of wool, fishing and honey. I sat her down to watch a nine-minute clip about milk . Her response was one of profound sadness for the Mum cows and babies being separated, and her own journey to veganism began. She too made the connection between the animal and the product. As I realised we were going to do this together, I cannot describe the pride I felt at the natural compassion she showed.
The world has not ended and neither has our marriage. Life is as it was before – Ruby and I just happen to be vegans now.
We took it very slowly – I always gave her a choice, never saying you can’t eat this or can’t that. It’s not about what you can’t eat – it’s about what you don’t want to eat because of the suffering behind the product. She would ask, ‘Is this vegan?’, and I would reply no, but also tell her what was in it that made it non-vegan such as gelatine and then give her the choice. It was important for me to give her control, and so far she has only once, at the very beginning, decided to eat a pizza with non-vegan cheese on when . She has been and continues to be my biggest inspiration.
My husband too, after the initial issues, has been amazing. The milk in our fridge is now solely plant based and I am not greeted with any trays of meat, fish or animal products when I open the fridge or cubpoards. He has been cooking up some amazing meals for us all, he is the best plant-based cook I know, and we have been eating out in our usual haunts. Some extra-special places such as Le Gavroche in Mayfair were able to accommodate me for a meal, as well as continuing to discover new drinking dens for his blog, mouthtosouth.com. The world has not ended and neither has our marriage. Life is as it was before – Ruby and I just happen to be vegans now.
Although my husband may never be vegan, his meat and dairy consumption has drastically reduced and at home and when with us he has a plant-based diet. This must be beneficial to his health and the environment, and of course means less animals being eaten. I am a firm believer that every effort helps and angrily bashing people with your views – be it veganism, religion or Brexit – doesn’t tend to get you very far. Of course I feel hugely frustrated by people’s lack of awareness and personal (lack of) responsibility around animal abuse and the effects of animal agricultre on our environment – but then it took me 36 years to open my eyes.
Yes, I would love everyone I know to be vegan right now, but I am not going to shut myself in a room away from the meat-eating world, however tempting.
Instead I can only hope that by seeing that we have not died of protein deficiency (quite the opposite) and that we eat amazing, tasty and exciting food at home, and out and about, people may stop being so anti-vegan and defensive and a little more pro-animal welfare and to start to consider the animal behind the product and make more compassionate choices.