Why I’ll Never Be A Quiet Vegan

How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

I used to be too embarrassed to tell people that I was vegan. I’d order something from a menu that appeared to be vegan, often to find that the side salad was smothered in mayo or such like, but I’d just leave it untouched rather than go through the rigmarole of having them exchange it, because I didn’t want to be one of those vegans. That’s why the above joke is a little unfair; we often have to mention that we’re vegan just to get by, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t eat.

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I think part of the reason that I didn’t like to tell anyone was because, well, vegans are not very well liked, generally speaking. It was in the news last week that a freelance writer had pitched an idea to the editor of Waitrose’s in-house magazine, William Sitwell, to run a series of plant-based recipes. The response that she received from him was nothing short of hateful, proposing instead to run a series with ideas on how to kill off vegans one by one. He likely meant it as a satirical joke, but if you replace the word “vegan” in his response with another minority group, you’ll quickly realise why he had to resign from his post. He publicly apologised and said that he didn’t hate vegans, but his opinions are clear as far as I’m concerned, and it isn’t the first anti-vegan comment that he’s made.

Sore Point

I remember getting into a discussion once when a friend enquired after my husband. I explained that he too had become vegan, but was a little more vocal in his views than I was. For example, if I were eating a meal with someone and they ordered steak, I would sit at the table with them and not say anything, whereas he would probably have to put in his two penn’orth. My friend grew agitated by this and pointed out that what she chose to eat was nobody else’s business. I can understand why non-vegans have this viewpoint and she’s certainly not alone. I’ve heard countless times people saying “if you want to be vegan, that’s fine, but don’t push your views onto others, eating meat is my personal choice.” I would counter with individual choice: yes, personal choice: no.

“Personal”  implies that the choice doesn’t affect anybody except for the person making the decision. The reality is that the choice to eat meat is destroying the planet, a planet that I (and 7.5 billion other people) share. I wouldn’t call that personal. Furthermore, the grain and crops that are fed to farmed animals are grown in the same countries where there are starving people; every time you eat meat, you take food from someone else’s mouth. Would you tell those starving children that your choice to eat steak from a cow fattened up with food that could’ve been fed to them, is a personal choice? And without wanting to state the obvious, if you say that eating meat is a personal choice, then you’re forgetting the animal on your plate that died for those fleeting moments on your tastebuds.

It’s not me, it’s your conscience

I’ve had several conversations with people who have strangely attempted to use the fact that they “don’t like how smug vegans are” as some sort of justification for their eating meat. I can’t speak for all vegans, but I don’t feel superior to anybody else because of my choice not to partake in these cruel industries. If that were the case, then I wouldn’t be trying to convince others to go vegan too, I’d just sit up there on my pedestal by myself, looking down on the masses. If that’s how vegans come across to non-vegans, I believe it’s more of a reflection of them. Maybe they feel that way because deep down, they know that veganism is the correct moral position. They don’t agree with violence towards animals, yet they understand that one had to die in order to sit on their plate. Where are they supposed to put that? They’re at odds with their own beliefs and this manifests itself as anger towards those who are a physical representation of that malalignment.

I don’t feel smug, it’s really not about that, it’s about taking a stand against injustice. I obviously believe that what I’m doing is the right thing and I believe that eating meat is wrong, so there’s really no getting away from me looking “self-righteous”, but I don’t believe that I’m better than them. The meat-eating default is not their fault; the decision to eat meat was likely made for them when they were weaned off milk. I ate meat for a long time until I learnt the truth. I think the reason that most people eat meat is simply because they’re a product of the system, killing animals for food has been normalised and the truth has been concealed. Once people take a step outside of the system and have their eyes opened to the horrors, I believe most people would make the right decision, so that’s what I want to do; reconnect people with their conscience.

I believe there are some people who genuinely don’t care and would be happy to kill and eat an animal themselves (if not, relish it). But I appeal to those that recognise that it’s morally wrong, for those who couldn’t kill the animal themselves, who cover their eyes when slaughterhouse footage is shown. If you have to look away, you know in your heart that it’s wrong and you should question why you’re still paying for this to happen when you don’t have to. You may not be the hitman, but you’ve paid for the hit by purchasing the products, which makes you equally responsible for their murder. It’s to those people that I appeal, because they’re already vegan at heart.

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Photo credit: @anonymousforthevoiceless Instagram

The “Angry Vegan” Stereotype

There’s a sweeping generalisation that all vegans are angry. It’s difficult not to be angry when it comes to something that you’re so passionate about. But let’s not forget that it works the other way around too, non-vegans equally can be angry when having a discussion with a vegan. Carnists don’t want to hear about the vegan agenda, I get that. But at least they can mostly avoid it.

Vegan: in a non-vegan world

During the Summer Solstice and over a period of 10 days, a dog meat festival takes place in Yulin, China. It has been estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 dogs are consumed, some after public slaughter, as it’s believed that eating dog meat during the Summer months brings good health and fortune (to the consumer, not the dogs). You’ve likely heard about it because Westerners have petitioned against this since it’s beginnings in 2009.

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Photo credit: @lavacastyle Instagram

The Chinese have been brought up to eat dog meat just as we have to eat pork, beef, lamb and chicken, etc. Dogs in China are bred for meat in much the same way as our “meat” animals are factory-farmed. But when we hear about the Yulin Festival, we think it’s abhorrent. People get so angry when they read about it or see images on social media. A lot of these are the same people that go to Christmas markets and chow down on hog roasts rotating on a spit. There’s a hypocrisy in that, that goes unrecognised. How is it worse to kill and eat a dog than it is to kill and eat a pig? The only difference is perception.

Remember how angry you were when you heard about the Yulin festival and how upset you were at seeing those images. That’s how vegans feel too, but what’s worse for us, is that we don’t just see this surface on social media once a year, we see it every day, everywhere we look; in the supermarket, in a cafe, in people’s houses, at parties. We cannot get away from it.

Imagine that you’re at a restaurant with a friend and they’ve just ordered a Spaniel sandwich. Would you look away while they were eating? Would you be able to put it out of your mind? Would you lose your appetite? Welcome to my world. I sit and eat with meat-eaters because I still have to live my life and get along with everyone, but it can put me off my own food. I have to use cognitive dissonance myself just to get through the meal. Some vegans can’t. They refuse to eat at the same table as someone who’s eating meat. I can understand that.

Another time when out to dinner, soon after I’d announced that I’d turned vegan, the person I was sat directly opposite ordered a sizzling steak platter. Maybe they were trying to make a point. Their meal arrived and meat juices were spitting everywhere, all over the table, inching increasingly closer to my plate.

The reason I’m recounting this story is to demonstrate what vegans go through on the regular. Non-vegans don’t have to deal with things like this. The situation simply isn’t the same when the roles are reversed. A non-vegan wouldn’t be sickened by vegan food in the same way that a vegan is sickened by someone eating the chopped up dead body of an animal.

I hope this helps to explain why sometimes vegans come across as being angry. I can’t speak for all vegans, but I personally sometimes struggle to cope with the injustice. It pains me that I live in a world where I’m the one constantly having to defend my decision not to cause harm to animals, surely it should be the other way around?

People would want to know… Wouldn’t they?

It’s actually incredibly difficult to tell someone that you’re vegan. You feel apprehension, mentally gritting your teeth, wondering which way the conversation is going to go this time. You quickly learn to gauge people’s reactions. Some people are really receptive and genuinely interested and you know you can talk about it. Others, however, get angry very quickly and you know to let the subject drop. I’ve found that this can be the same whether talking to a stranger or to someone you’ve known all your life. In some ways, it’s more difficult to tell someone you’ve known all your life that you’re vegan. It can, I guess, seem a little hypocritical. “You’ve always eaten meat and dairy, so don’t start preaching to me now.” But the thing is, it’s the very opposite of hypocritical. You see, the day I learnt of the horrors of the meat and dairy industry was the day that I stopped funding them.

The horrors I refer to are threefold. Firstly, are the animals, that’s a given. Secondly is the environment (for more information on how the meat and dairy industry is bad for the environment, see my previous post HERE). Thirdly are the dangers to human health. As soon as I learnt that processed meats are classified by the World Health Organisation as being as carcinogenic as cigarettes, I stopped feeding them to my children. I learnt that eating meat is linked with Type II diabetes in later life as well as heart disease and strokes. These are all preventable illnesses that can be avoided by eschewing meat. I also learnt that casein, an animal protein found in milk and cheese is the most relevant carcinogen ever identified and that your chances of developing certain cancers can be reduced by a third on a plant-based diet.

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Photo credit: @veganforeva10 Instagram

If you want to know more information on the health impacts of eating meat and dairy, watch Forks Over Knives and What The Health? both available on Netflix.

When I learnt these things, I wondered why it wasn’t more widely known and I wanted to tell everyone I knew about it. Surely everyone would want to know? Turns out people don’t want to know. They really strongly don’t want to know. There are some that do. So I tell them. I chip away at my family and feed them small bits of information about how eating meat and dairy affects health and slowly but surely it starts to make an impact.

Because I care about you

I won’t be a quiet vegan because I care about people. I don’t want to watch them suffer from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and any other preventable diseases. I don’t want to see my mum and dad succumb to illness and suffering when I could have opened my mouth to warn them and stopped it from happening. So the next time I attempt to “ram my vegan agenda down your throat”, take it as a compliment, it means I care about you.

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Because I care about our world

I won’t go into detail about this one as I covered it quite extensively in my last post (read about it HERE). We need to do everything we can to prevent global warming to continue on its current path. We’ve literally been told to reduce our meat consumption or the world as we know it will end by mid-century, so yeah, for the sake of my children, I want the world to at least reduce meat consumption, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to. So many people have thanked me for alerting them to how their food choices are impacting the environment and they’ve made a few changes to their diet. The more the movement spreads, the more chance we have of saving the planet.

Because people don’t want to be in the dark

Until last year, I was blissfully unaware of exactly what went on in the meat and dairy industries. I was shocked to find out for example that the dairy industry was worse than the meat industry in terms of cruelty to animals. I naively thought that milk was fine “because nothing dies”. But then I found out that the cow is still slaughtered for meat at the end but endures a lifetime of torture before then; being forcibly impregnated every year to maintain high milk yields and having her babies stolen from her; being hooked up to machines that milk the life from her until she collapses aged around 6 years when she will be killed for hamburger meat rather than living until her natural lifespan of around 20 years. The boy babies from the milk industry are a ‘waste product’ and so become veal, whereas the girl babies will endure the same terrible fate as their mothers. We don’t know this stuff because it’s hidden from us.

I was also really upset that my friend who has been vegan for 10 years hadn’t told me any of this. I, without doubt, would’ve become vegan sooner, had I known. So I go on about it to anyone who’ll listen because I don’t want people approaching me in years to come asking “why didn’t you tell me?”

Because I care about Them

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Photo credit: @vegancommunity Instagram

Whilst there are literally hundreds of reasons to go vegan, the most obvious one is to save the lives of these sentient beings who have been bred into a miserable existence; where they’ll live in nasty conditions, worse than a prison, with health issues, until one day they are sent off to slaughter, where they’ll cry, experience fear as they smell the blood on the kill floor and watch their brothers and sisters being strung up by their ankles and having their throats slit to become someone’s lunch… When that person could’ve just eaten something else.

According to PETA, by being vegan, I’m saving 198 animals per year. Or rather, 198 animals per year are not bred into existence. By talking about it and giving information and educating, the movement is spreading. Because of my inability to stay quiet about these issues, my husband is now vegan, as is my brother, my Mum is pescatarian, my sister and my Dad have reduced their red meat consumption, my friend has become flexitarian and some of my work colleagues have stopped eating certain types of meat too. If I had kept quiet, I would have been limited to saving just 198 animals per year. By being a vocal vegan, I’ve saved countless more. And it has a knock-on effect. My husband has been talking to people and raising awareness with his work colleagues, some of which are researching veganism themselves and have already started to make some changes.

Try to stop me

I’m going to continue to spread the vegan message for the sake of people’s health, the planet’s health and the animals’ lives. If you want to shut me up… go vegan!

 

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Vegan Me

I figured it was about time that I got around to starting that blog that I always intended to. The aim is to share information and experiences. If I can make one person think and make a change, then it’ll have been worth it.

So this first post is to introduce myself and to explain a little about why I feel that transitioning to veganism is one of the best lifestyle choices I’ve made.

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I think my story is probably similar to many other vegans’ in that I initially stopped consuming animals and animal products, selfishly, for my own health. I have a very dear friend who was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. He went to visit a cancer nutritionist who told him that in order to minimise the chances of developing cancer to begin with, people should really turn to a plant-based diet.

This was news to me. What was so wrong with meat and dairy? My interest was piqued and I set about doing my own research.

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I found transitioning to veganism fairly easy. While studying for my undergrad, I lived with a vegetarian who I regarded as being quite strict. She always checked ingredients, even on sweets and checked the filtration processes of wines; she’d sometimes refuse medication because the capsule contained gelatine; she wouldn’t share the dishwasher, preferring to wash by hand; she was quite choosy when eating out at restaurants because she was concerned of cross-contamination if her chosen dish had been cooked in the same pan as meats; and she would only buy cosmetics from places like The Body Shop and Lush. I’d come across vegetarians before, but had never really thought about the Ins and Outs. I could completely understand her strictness and was always sort of in awe of her self-discipline. I thought it must be incredibly hard to live the way that she did. She was also studying veterinary science and kept guinea pigs in her bedroom. The very definition of a true animal-lover. She has since turned vegan.

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She made me think twice about eating animals. Prior to this, I’d chewed on dead carcasses quite happily without it entering my consciousness. As a family, we always had some form of meat with every dinner. Mum used to cook a lot of white meat, but I can honestly say that I’ve never eaten a steak in my whole life. I’ve only ever had gammon twice and I can clearly remember both occasions. The first time, I couldn’t get past the second mouthful it was just so salty and chewy and I vowed that there would never be a second time. Then, I went to the home of my university boyfriend where I was to meet his parents for the first time. About an hour before sitting down to dinner, he’d asked me if there were anything that I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat. I said I wasn’t fussy, the only thing I would NOT be able to eat was gammon and obviously, that is precisely what was placed in front of me. I had to politely chew and swallow every morsel, and it took me around a million excruciatingly painful minutes (I’m only slightly exaggerating). Embarrassingly, I think his parents actually left the table before I’d finished. So although red meat was not something that was regularly on the menu, aside from gammon, I would eat pretty much any dead animal… within (what I thought was) reason. I now realise it’s a ridiculous society-ingrained notion to think that it’s OK to eat some animals but not others.

But after meeting my veggie housemate, something changed. I felt sickened by the thought of eating a cow or a pig or a lamb. I obviously had always known where meat came from, but I’d never really thought about it. How had I not considered it before now? An animal had given the ultimate sacrifice (against its will). I no longer wanted something sitting in my stomach when I knew that it was a dismembered body part of our mammalian cousins. I felt like I could actually feel the remains laying heavy in my belly. A highly uncomfortable feeling. So I decided that I’d eliminate from my diet… cute animals. I just cringed writing that, but that’s basically what it boiled down to. I would not eat anything fluffy or hairy again.

But I decided that, because we surely needed meat in our diet to remain healthy (because weren’t all vegetarians pale and anaemic?), that I would continue to eat poultry and fish. And I did so for the next 15 years.

So when I discovered that, actually, ALL animal products have negative health consequences, I experienced something of an epiphany and decided quite easily that I had to eliminate chicken and fish, as well as dairy and eggs too.

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Just as I’d made the decision to become plant-based, I found out I was pregnant. I hadn’t done enough research around the topic and didn’t want to risk the health of my baby by not “doing it right”. I just didn’t feel confident enough that I was able to get all the required nutrients to sustain a healthy pregnancy. So while I stopped eating meat, I continued to eat dairy for a while because, y’know, milk builds strong bones and all that. Pfft.

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I did loads of research and found out that you can indeed sustain a healthy pregnancy without torturing, abusing and slaughtering animals. Who knew?

So, I committed to veganism. It really felt like the next logical step and at the time I felt like the metaphorical weight had been lifted. I was just “giving up” one extra thing. But, I wasn’t giving up anything. I was simply ceasing to take something that wasn’t mine in the first place. What a weird concept, I realised, drinking the breast milk of a completely different species. If I passed you a glass of dog’s milk that had been through the same pasteurising process, you’d say “yuk”. But breastmilk from a cow is completely different and completely fine? And fancy feeding it to our infant children when it’s intended to turn a 65 pound baby cow into an animal that weighs 700 pounds as quickly as possible. How have we been feeding this to our children without thinking that there could be negative consequences? But that’s for a different blog post.

Just for those eagle-eyed of you who are wondering where my what-should-be-an-8-month-bump is, I sadly found out at my 12-week scan that I had lost the baby. It had been my third miscarriage in 6 months. We’ve since decided that, actually, we’re quite happy as a foursome.

Back to the story.

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I started to do a lot more independent research. I watched health-related documentaries that focused on diet, such as What The Health? and Forks Over Knives. I learnt that by eliminating animal protein from your diet, you can increase your life expectancy and can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke, because when you follow a plant-based diet, you literally consume zero cholesterol. Cholesterol is only present in foods derived from animals. I also learnt that you can obtain all you need from plants, including protein, iron, and calcium. Furthermore, the quality of these vitamins and minerals is actually better, because you’re not recycling it through an animal who obtained all of those things itself from a plant-based diet. Learning what I did simply cemented my decision.

Digesting the persuasive arguments in those documentaries (‘scuse the pun) further fuelled my interest, not just in health, but in other areas such as the environmental impact of eating meat, I hadn’t even known that there was one up until that point.

I watched Cowspiracy next. It was a name banded about quite a lot in the vegan community and I felt it my duty as a new vegan to partake in viewing this influential film. Frankly, after watching this, I was scared. Scared for the planet and for my babies. What a world I have brought them into. I had no idea that the meat and dairy industry was having such a massive, destructive effect on our beloved Mother Earth. I didn’t know that we were clearing such massive areas of rainforest to make way for agricultural farming. An acre per second! If it continues at this rate, in 15 year’s time, the Amazonian Rainforest will no longer exist. We’re destroying the lungs of our planet. Without all of those trees photosynthesising and cleaning the air, we are contributing to global warming more than burning fossil fuels, driving cars and flying planes put together. By continuing this practice, we’re likely going to end up in a climate war with mass migration occurring as people flee from droughts, famine and sinking landscapes.

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The main takeaway message from this film was that we could literally halt global warming if we all agreed to stop eating meat, to stop breeding cattle, to stop clearing forests. Not only that, but if we took all of the grain that we use to fatten up cattle for the West, and instead gave it to people, there would be enough food for everyone and we could actually end world hunger too.

Now, I’m not an animal-lover per se. I’m not one to watch cute cat videos shared on Facebook, or even pet a puppy that comes over in a park. I mean, there are times when I really don’t see eye-to-eye with my own dog. But I challenge anyone to watch Earthlings without crying your heart out and without you taking away with you an image that you will never forget. I was only describing one scene from it to my husband and we both ended up in tears.

As I say, I’m no animal-lover, but I do respect another being’s right to live free from slavery, torture, abuse, fear and murder. I became vegan for my health, but veganism is not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle. Anyone can fall off the wagon on a diet. So I’ll remain vegan for the animals. I can no longer say that I don’t know. And I won’t go back.

So here’s a brief summary: eating animals and animal products is actually really bad for our health. Eating animals and animal products is actually really bad for the planet. So even if you don’t care about the animals, there are two massive reasons right there to refrain from farming, killing and eating them.

“If we don’t need to kill and eat animals to be healthy, what are we doing this for?” – James Aspey, animal activist.

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Me and my boy, Oscar