I thought I was vegan. It turns out I was wrong.
As the term has changed in recent years to encompass a growing number of plant-based foodies, it has morphed from a way of describing those who exclude animal products from their diet, to those who replace them.
A whole industry has grown up around mock meat, faux fish, egg alternatives, and non-milks. Supermarkets are rearranging their shelves to make room for these ‘natural’ vegan health foods. Seitan burgers, fake feta salads, TLTs (smoked tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwiches) and cashew cremes are nosing their way onto menus in every big city restaurant, urban street food stall, fashionable town deli and village gastro-pub in the UK.
The rise of Veganuary, or vegan January, has done wonders to raise the profile, promote the ethics, understanding and appreciation of veganism and many people are trying hard to reduce their meat and dairy intake as a result.
It’s truly incredible to see the pace of the change and, if recent converts need these alternatives to make the transition, I’m all for it. But it’s not for me.
I suppose I’m old school. I came to this lifestyle on a different route. I’ve been vegetarian for a decade and stopped eating red meat long before. I didn’t try to become vegan, it just happened.
First, I realised I didn’t enjoy eating meat and was just having it as I always had. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I remember as a child the horrible sensation of chewing beef that wouldn’t dissolve in my mouth for what seemed like an eternity before swallowing a big ball of stringy flesh. I did it because I thought I had to. I was in my 20s before I realised that I didn’t need to eat meat to have a healthy, balanced diet.
I love to eat fresh vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts and seeds, and those are things I always want to eat, above all else. Meat and fish eating were getting in the way of that.
For a long time, I was convinced I still needed to eat eggs and cheese to achieve the required amount of nutrients, particularly for their complete protein and vitamin b12, but over the years I have realised that this is not the case. All the amino acids that make up protein are available in plant sources, and vitamin b12 can easily be taken as a supplement. (I used to think supplementation was ‘unnatural’ and the result of a poor diet, but have altered my view based on the fact that the UK NHS recommends Vitamin D supplements in the winter months due to low levels of sunlight, and folate supplements for all pregnant mothers, so there are some occasions when we cannot get what we need naturally. There are also claims that animals farmed for their meat actually receive vitamin b12 supplement injections).
Over the years of being vegetarian, eggs and dairy just became unnecessary, I began to enjoy them less and I gradually stopped eating them. Looking for a replacement for them never crossed my mind. I haven’t consciously eaten dairy or eggs for over two years now and I don’t miss them in the slightest.
My ethical motivations for veganism have increased in intensity the longer I eat a plant-based diet. I was always interested in how dietary changes can contribute to a reduction in environmental damage, but animal welfare concerns came a lot later. The realisation that humans can sustain themselves perfectly well without resorting to harming other creatures has given me a much greater sensitivity to the plight of farmed animals, and a more intense revulsion towards the abuse of their bodies. I suppose the farming of animals has now become utterly unnecessary in my mind.
Becoming vegan has never been difficult and I have never missed or lacked or craved. I don’t have a ‘sweet tooth’ and vegan cake can never hit the spot like dried fruit and nuts or a banana dipped in peanut butter can. Anything that detracts from my enjoyment of eating simple, fresh fruit and vegetables, be it too much oil, spice, salt or sugar, seems a waste and a shame. Given the choice, I’d take a salad over a ‘facon’ butty any day.
With the sheer number of substitutes around these days, a vegan diet can be as healthy or unhealthy as any other diet. As for me, I think I fall into some kind of vegan sub-classification – fruitarian-plus, maybe?
What do you think? Do we need vegan sub-categories? Comment below, or on our Facebook page