For my entire life up to my mid-forties, I was cheese devotee – I am not ashamed to admit it. So how and why did I become vegan?
For me, the overwhelming reason to stop eating meat and dairy was a small matter of wanting to save the planet – no pressure there then! Increasingly, the evidence is pointing towards our heavy dependence on meat and dairy products being problematic in terms of both loss of habitat and climate change. The overall figures and relative impacts of our food are shown in this article but it is important to point out that the picture is likely to be oversimplified – factors such as the individual agricultural practices and air miles come into play and so the figures can vary considerably.
The environment was a core motivation for me, but I strongly believe that “militant veganism” is self-defeating so I do not tend to discuss it or judge other people’s choices. It’s not a great idea to attack people in the hope that you will change them! So, imagine my surprise when my meat-eating husband announced that he was considering veganism. It seems the biggest influence was documentaries like The Game Changers, which provided compelling evidence for the health benefits of a plant-based diet. My husband had been suffering from high blood pressure and was diagnosed with diabetes, but managed to convince his doctor to let him try to manage his conditions by diet and exercise. Through the change to a plant-based diet, he lost weight and, remarkably, at his next check-up with the doctor, was no longer classed as diabetic and had markedly improved blood pressure. This all seems pretty radical, but one year on the changes in our lifestyles have been relatively painless. Actually we both feel much healthier.
It is possible to be vegan and eat a terrible diet. There are now any number of vegan versions of the sweet treats and fatty condiments. There are an awful lot of meat-free versions of foods like burgers and other processed food. These are often healthier than their meat and dairy counterparts, although not necessarily as tasty (do not get me started on vegan cheese, which mostly falls into the “not for human consumption -even after much vegan wine and an otherwise empty fridge” category!) So personally I was less drawn by The Game Changers movie and more convinced by the How Not to Die school of thought, which advocates a whole-food plant-based diet. I have to confess, though, that strict adherence to this type of diet was much harder than veganism. We do eat a fair amount of processed food, but it generally sits in the “tasty and not terrible for your health” aisle.
How has it worked for us? Well, I have not missed cheese as much as I thought I would. I prefer vegan ice cream to the dairy variety and, if you ask me, the breadcrumbed vegetable fingers or burgers are far superior to the round patties pretending to be meat burgers. The key, for us at least, appears to be enjoying a variety of plant-based foods and not worrying to try to emulate the meat/dairy diet. Protein comes from Quorn, tofu, chickpeas, quinoa and the like. Spaghetti bolognese made with fresh Quorn mince is amazing, as our my husband’s vegetable curries.
This lifestyle does change your [hunts for polite euphemism] intestinal chemistry, so there may be a period of a few weeks where you want to give your fellow householders plenty of space and ventilation, but this does settle. While we are on the subject of the vegan small-print, beware how many foods are not vegan – many items have cheese or milk in them. It depends how strict you want to be – you may feel that a little won’t hurt. Personally, if we find we have bought something in error, I would prefer that it is not in vain – far worse, to me, for it to end up in the bin.
We decided not to enforce a vegan lifestyle on the dog or kids, although we avoid beef and processed meats. However, it does mean the kids get several vegan meals a week, so there is a healthy compromise and probably much closer to the diet that we have evolved to eat. Somehow we probably ought to further reduce the processed food because our ancestors definitely did without some of this junk (whoever invented squirty cheese has a lot to answer for – a crime to both cheese and humanity!)