I’d definitely consider myself an animal lover. Kids I’m ambivalent about, but if someone’s got a dog I’m there. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12. I don’t wear fur or leather. I’ve switched my beauty products to (mostly) cruelty-free. I don’t visit zoos, or places with drugged up tigers. Instead, when I go abroad I volunteer at ethical animal sanctuaries.
The one thing I haven’t done though is go vegan. Despite the movement really taking off over the last few years, and the cruel farming practices in the dairy and egg industries becoming more widely known, I’m yet to jump on that bandwagon.
So why is that? Why do I claim to love animals, yet contribute to industries that harm them? Well, I’m also a massive foodie. I have a fast metabolism that burns energy like an oven, so I walk around in a constant state of hunger. I’ve noticed that some people don’t really eat much. They’ll have a sandwich or soup to sustain themselves, or go out for drinks and end up skipping dinner. I, on the other hand, need two hot meals a day, and love eating. I find drinks socalisers boring, and my favourite activity is eating out at a restaurant. And I’m not a massively picky eater, but I like quite simple food. I love pasta, curries, pizza, Chinese, Indian, chips, burgers, stir fries, muffins, and cheese. I hate really fancy, “clean eating”-type food. So to eat such a restrictive diet, that rules out most of the food I like, would be a special kind of hell for me.
There’s also the politics issue. For some reason, veganism seems to be associated with the far-left movement. A lot of right-wingers appear to really hate vegans. Why is this? Surely the fight for fairness- free speech, national security, a fairer taxation and welfare system- should extend to rights for animals too? But anyway, my fear that if I turned vegan, all the liberals would hate me for being a conservative, and all the conservatives would hate me for being a vegan, and I’d be forever single.
But for the most part, I advocate for basing your opinions on your experiences rather than assumptions, so this year I decided to try doing Veganuary. I’d try out veganism for a month, have real-life experiences to base my views on, then try and at least cut down on my animal product consumption even if I can’t go all the way.
Then I got thinking. Perhaps it could be more doable than I thought. Perhaps I could make it a permanent change. And just because things are the way they are, doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. Perhaps I could be the Blaire White of veganism, start a new blog called “THE CAPITALIST VEGAN”, tweet about politics and animal rights all day, and inspire a new generation of conservative vegans.
Then on New Year’s Eve, I popped down to Waitrose to stock up on vegan food. Aside from one type of quorn burgers and some rank-looking vegetable sausages, none of the meat substitutes were vegan. I asked where the vegan cheese was, and the woman gave me side-eye and told me “we don’t do that here”. I realised just how restrictive the diet is, and was immediately hit with anxiety over how I’d even survive the month.
I began 2018 with a raging hangover and some porridge with soy milk instead of my usual boiled egg. The next day at work, I had the sweet and sour tofu at Wasabi rather than my favourite tofu curry (off limits because it has milk in the sauce). For the rest of the week, I had Violife cheese sandwiches which were pretty grim- Violife is pretty good on pasta but in sandwiches it’s so bland. I went out for dinner a couple of times and had vegan pizza- which wasn’t great.
Overall, I felt it was doable, and some of the food was nice (the burrito I usually get on the way home on gym nights tasted just as good without cheese and sour cream), but I just felt unsatisfied. Like plant-based is fine for a while, but every so often I just CRAVE a bit of cheese or tofu curry with milk in the sauce or a poached egg.
I also started to feel really rough. The anxiety over food restriction had nixed the hunger I thought I’d feel, but I was starting to get an upset stomach and, instead of losing weight which I thought might happen, I got really bloated. That Friday evening I was going out for a curry with my family, and I was fully prepared to just have rice if none of the curries turned out to be vegan, but by the end of the week I was feeling so rank I decided to just be willfully ignorant and get one that looked vegan. I immediately felt better, so it definitely had butter in the sauce.
The following week, I started getting these really awful tension headaches that didn’t respond to painkillers. I read that headaches are a side-effect of switching to veganism, but I was also worried that they may be a bad reaction to something else, so I was started to get worried. Mid-way through the week, I put my hair in a ponytail, and noticed that it felt really thin. To be fair, my hair is bleached light blonde and I think it may have been getting more damaged over a period of time, however I looked into it and the vegetarian and vegan diets are known to be bad for your hair due to lack of protein and iron. I looked into iron deficiency in further detail and noticed that a lot of the symptoms applied to me- I’m always tired but I thought that was just my personality- and it would make sense because I haven’t eaten meat for 14 years and I stopped taking my iron tablets when I went to university. By this point, the headaches were getting unnerving and I just wanted to start trying to grow my hair back, so I caved and ate cheese.
So what can we learn from this? Well for a start, if you’re going to cut out entire food groups, it’s better to phase them out gradually than go cold turkey. And it’s important to make sure to find alternative sources of the nutrients you’re missing. Done properly, the vegan diet can be really healthy, but a diet of Violife sandwiches and vegan pizza probably isn’t that great for you. Which brings me onto an important factor when considering veganism- time. My cousin is a vegan, she never gets ill, but she’s a student and spends a lot of time cooking and preparing meals from scratch. My working day is 12 hours long, so I have to buy most of my food “on the go”- for me it would be much harder. Although veganism is a great thing, it’s so restrictive that I don’t think it’s for everyone. After all, even if you do go full vegan, how many of your clothes were made in a sweatshop? How many of your vegetables were picked by exploited third world workers? You will never be the perfect ethical consumer. But overall, our power is in our wallets, and I think we should all try and make better choices where we can, even if that doesn’t end up being food. For example, I’ve decided to be stringent with my clothes and beauty products now- no leather, silk or down, and 100% cruelty-free- need to phase out my Estee Lauder foundation and YSL touche eclat. Ultimately you will never be perfect, but there’s no harm in trying to be the best you can be.
Did you do Veganuary this year? How did it go for you? Let me know in the comments!