About two months ago I went cold tofurkey on animal-based foods. I hung up my steak knife. I turned in my poultry shears. I retired my eggcups.
I didn’t embrace veganism with the zeal of a convert. Rather, after 15 years of feeling guilty, I went into it with an attitude of “ok conscience, fine! You win, you bastard – but you’re dead to me. I don’t want to hear from you next time I use a disposable coffee cup or walk past a homeless person without giving them money. You sit down and you shut up”.
So I glumly embarked upon my life of culinary deprivation. I swapped steak for soybeans; traded turkey for tofu; exchanged chicken for chickpeas
To my great surprise, while some things suck about it, it’s not all doom and deficiency. There are things I actually like about being vegan.
Before I talk about the pulses and minuses, highs and lentils, nuts and downs, pros and quorns of being vegan, I feel the need to start with a disclaimer: I’m not trying to convert anyone or start any fights. I write about the stuff that is going on in my life and this is a thing that is going on in my life.
Yes, I think the world would be a better place if pretty much everyone was vegan, but I also think the world would be a better place if Timothy Olyphant lived in my pants.
It doesn’t mean every time I talk about the benefits of Timothy Olyphant living in my pants that I think he should live in everyone’s pants.
Which brings me to the first bad thing about being vegan:
Bad thing 1:
For a few people, any mention of my choice not to do X is taken as an attack on their choice to do X.
This is weird. Like I said, obviously I think veganism is a good choice, otherwise I wouldn’t do it – but it doesn’t follow that I’m judging other people’s very personal choices. It would be a bit bloody rich of me to judge anyone for eating meat when I was eating meat in January and still felt like I was basically a decent human being.
It sucks for people to assume you’re being judgmental when you’re just trying to, say, communicate efficiently that you have a long list of dietary restrictions. It’s even worse when they ask why you’re vegan and then get cross about your reasons for your choices as though you picked a fight.
Which leads to bad thing 2:
Bad thing 2:
I have a long list of dietary restrictions.
It is sometimes hard to find stuff to eat. Or to find stuff to eat that is nutritious. Or not boring. Or at the same place where your friends want to eat. Or that doesn’t have fennel in it. You want to talk about bad dietary choices? Fennel is wrong and bad and anyone who eats it is a deviant.
Which leads to…
Bad thing 3:
Food places that say “yes we can cater to vegans. You can have the burger but without any of the ingredients in it and it will still cost $18”
Bad thing 4:
This is the worst one for me: feeling like I’m putting people out when they are offering to feed me – for example if I’m invited to someone’s house for dinner.
It’s not like with my kid with allergies where we can go to someone’s house and say “can you please tell me what there will be to eat that won’t kill her. I am happy to bring safe food for her”. Instead it feels like I’m saying “I DEMAND THAT YOU PREPARE SPECIAL FOOD FOR ME BECAUSE I AM SPECIAL AND I AM PREPARED TO INCONVENIENCE YOU WITH MY TOTALLY DISCRETIONARY AND EXTREMELY FUSSY CHOICES”.
I had a friend invite me to dinner recently. I was under the impression we would be getting takeaways so I could just order something – but he sent me a text on the day saying that he got a leg of lamb. Naturally he thought I would be enthusiastic about this, as we had enjoyed partaking of the delicious sheep together before.
I felt terrible and seriously considered just saying nothing and eating (and, frankly, thoroughly enjoying) the lamb – but then I realised when he inevitably found out later that I was vegan he would feel terrible. So I told him and said I was happy just to eat veges and I could bring my own food and please don’t make anything special and I am so sorry I thought we were having takeaways and please don’t hate me and I sincerely hope you enjoy the lamb and and and.
It was fine. I ate veges. He ate lamb. We both drank wine. We will do it again someday.
I think this is one of the reasons it feels like vegans talk about being vegan a lot. Actually, since becoming vegan, I have found out that a lot of people are closet vegetarians or vegans because they fear being stereotyped – so no, not all vegans talk about being vegan. But to the extent that vegans do drop it into conversation, I think it’s often to avoid awkward situations where you’re going to feel rude and put people out later on. Better to get the revelation out of the way at a time when it doesn’t matter.
However, it must be said that some vegans are dicks. I guess in the same way that some people are dicks. Which isn’t really surprising since vegans are people.
I have seen weird online discussions between vegans talking about whether honey should be verboten or whether ostroveganism is ok (eating mussels and oysters on the grounds that from a sentience point of view they might be more like plants) and sometimes a dick vegan will come in any say “fine, but don’t call yourself vegan – you are polluting my brand. Burn in hell” or something like that.
So people being dicks is a bad thing.
Bad thing 6:
A lot of animal stuff tastes good and I won’t be eating that stuff anymore.
Bad things 7, 8, 9, 10:
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
I’ve had trouble finding a really good milk substitute. Unsweetened almond and coconut milk is my current milk of choice. I’m getting used to it.
Right! I kind of expected most of the bad things, but I promised some good things:
Good thing 1:
I feel better without the food-related guilt. I had been convinced I probably should be vegan (or at least use animals much less) about 15 years ago when I was studying bioethics, but I hung on until now. I hung on by buying free-range foods and by telling myself stories about why it was ok or why it would be too hard to stop or whatever. The cognitive dissonance hurt my brain, but for many years (Guilt + Animal products) outweighed (No guilt + Veganism). Then after my brother and sister became vegan and I saw that they were coping fine it looked much more achievable and less like an extreme lifestyle and the equation changed for me.
From the very first day I went vegan I felt the cognitive dissonance and guilt lift and I felt better. It was nice.
I live in an agricultural country. I live in a city but can go see sheep and cows 10-minutes drive away. I frequently see (and smell) crowded, sheep-transport trucks driving around. We hear a lot in the news about “dirty dairying” polluting our waterways. There is currently a case in the courts about bobby calves being thrown into trucks and abused. It feels good not to be part of that world anymore.
Good thing 2:
I feel healthy. I felt healthy before too – I eat pretty healthily and have done for many years – but I worried that with less protein and iron and calcium and stuff that I would feel tired or hungry or become malnourished.
I feel good. I don’t know whether I actually am healthier, but I don’t think I’m significantly unhealthier. I eat more sugar from sweetened soymilk etc, but less from opportunistic eating – like when someone brings in a cake to work. I probably eat more unsaturated fat but way less saturated fat. I definitely eat less protein, but I think my protein intake is adequate. I have neither lost nor gained weight as far as I can tell (not owning bathroom scales).
I might go see some sort of health professional at some stage and see whether I need to take any supplements or have blood tests of whatever – but now that I have talked to some people who have been vegan for 10-plus years, I feel more confident that I can get everything I need from plant-based foods, especially with many vegan foods being fortified with things like Vitamin B12.
Good thing 3:
My favourite vices are still on the menu:
Dark chocolate (which I’ve always preferred to milk)
Wine (most – some are processed using fish or eggs)
Good thing 4:
I’ve discovered some amazing food that I never would have discovered.
Yes, I could have made falafel from scratch before. I could have learned to cook lentils really well. I could have discovered how to make tofu Bolognese that tastes like the meat version. But I never did until I had to. And now I have and it’s good. It’s been fun. I did not expect anything to do with eating to be better than it was before, but some things are. I don’t feel deprived.
Good thing 5:
It’s cheaper. At least, it can be cheaper if you don’t eat vegan convenience foods (which I sometimes do). Meat and cheese and yogurt and stuff are expensive. Vegan milks are more expensive, but I don’t use much. I haven’t done the budgeting, but I’m pretty sure I’m spending significantly less on food.
Good thing 6:
If I ever really get a craving for something meaty I could eat some; I’m not allergic. If it’s true, as some claim, that a vegan diet uses 18 times less land than an omnivorous diet, then an almost-vegan diet might use 15 or 16 times less (this isn’t a fringe view, by the way. There is heaps of neutral, respectable research on the environmental benefits of having a plant-based diet). If I ate meat once in a blue moon I’d still be doing pretty well. I don’t see myself eating meat on special occasions, but it’s not the end of the world if I do.
Good thing 7:
There is a secret society of vegans.
I guess like any community – feminists, religious groups, ethnic-based groups, people with disabilities – when you find people like you there is a common feeling – an ease. You don’t have to explain yourself and you have shared experiences and understandings. I’ve made some really great friends.
Good thing 8:
At least where I live, eating out is way easier than I expected. I live in an educated, relatively wealthy, liberal city. I think I’ve taken up veganism at a good time. There is more and more to eat for vegans and the quality and range of the food is getting better.
I’ve visited small towns where they look at you like you have two heads if you ask for soy milk. But where I live, within a minute’s walk of my work, there are about 8 different lunch choices – like not 8 items – but 8 styles of vegan food: Turkish, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Japanese… my local pizza place has vegan mozzarella. It’s not that hard.
That said, at the local French café I had a long, confusing conversation with the woman at the counter (this was not a language barrier thing btw – she was local) when I asked if anything on the menu was vegan. She told me the crepes were vegan. I, doubtfully, asked if she was sure they didn’t have eggs in them and she said yes they did. So I asked if there was anything vegan and she said the crepes have eggs in them. So I said I understood the crepes had eggs in them and was there anything vegan and she told me the crepes had eggs in them and I asked if there was anything vegan and she told me the crepes had eggs in them… and eventually one of her colleagues interrupted our hilarious two-woman show and told her that eggs aren’t vegan. So she said “no, there’s nothing vegan here”.
(This sort of exchange is not new to me, having a kid with multiple allergies. Asking if there is anything with no dairy, eggs and nuts in it I have been offered all sorts of interesting options, including a gluten-free cheesecake. With veganism a mistake isn’t the end of the world. With my daughter it could literally be the end of her world – and allergies are very freaking common – so I don’t understand why allergy awareness isn’t part of the training in every food establishment. Don’t get me started)
Good thing 9:
I already had a fairly high-fibre diet but my fibre intake is a lot higher. Perhaps because I already ate lots of fibre, I haven’t noticed a change in my level of fartinesss. However, in related departments there have been other… improvements. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Good thing 10:
There is less gross stuff to deal with when cooking. Like – you know when you’re cutting up a chicken and there’s raw chicken blood that gets on your hands and then you use the soap dispenser to wash your hands and now the soap dispenser has blood on it so you wash it off but now the taps have blood on them so you wash the taps and you think you got it all but you somehow feel like everything is contaminated and like you will never be clean again. Yeah, there’s none of that.
And the food waste and leftovers are all compostable and nothing smells very bad in the rubbish bin.
So this is a good thing.
And if the good things didn’t outweigh the bad things? All this is totally reversible. If the vegan versus non-vegan equation changes for me in the future, I could just not be vegan anymore. With each passing week I feel more confident that I’m probably vegan for life, but I’ve lived long enough to have been proven wrong about things before, so I’m learning to be less arrogant about my choices and beliefs.
I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, but I’m not looking to argue with anyone, please. My parents and husband and children eat meat and I love them. I love you too. Let’s be friends.