Seriously, HOW? My transition from being a meat-eating cheese lover to passionate vegan has sparked quite a varied response from those I know and love. Those who have been interested enough to learn more have asked me why, and then how I made the transition. I have felt so much love for those people who have been open and honest with me about their feelings on this subject because I know it’s not an easy thing for most people to discuss.
Most people are keen firstly to know the basics of WHY a person would go vegan; (for the environment, because of ethics, and to improve their health – you can read more about these reasons here), but there is zero point in talking about why, if you don’t follow up with how. Many people find just the thought of going vegan terribly overwhelming. Others view it as a middle class fad and imagine tiny portions of quinoa marinated smugly in gluten free soy sauce on a side of bok choi and kale, and imagine vegans slowly starving to death. But the truth is that not only is making the switch delicious, it’s simple, cheap, and easy too. But how?
A gradual process. Very few people can become vegan overnight, and we were no exception. The beginning of the journey that has lead us to where we are now started on an evening in November 2015 when we sat down to watch Cowspiracy. This led to a lot more reading and research and to a change in our eating habits. We started by cutting out meat Monday to Friday. We decided on vegetarian dishes during the week, fish on Fridays or Saturdays, and then meat on a Sunday. I was careful to visit the butcher instead of buying from the supermarket and made sure that the meat we bought (usually a whole chicken), was organic and free range.
You cannot un-know the truth. In amidst all these transitions, we were rearing rescue chickens in our back garden. The irony of eating a roast chicken while the birds we had rescued and then painstakingly and lovingly brought back to health pecked around at our feet, was not lost on anyone. Soon I stopped going to the butcher. But I still felt unsettled. Every time I poured milk in my tea or used cheese in a sauce I felt my heart contract. I knew all about the cruelty of the dairy industry. After while I couldn’t bear it any longer. It was obvious that being vegetarian was simply not good enough. So when in January this year ‘Veganuary‘ appeared in our inboxes and on our social media feeds, it was easy to commit to going vegan for one month. We had to at the very least try it. We were doing Dry January as well and figured that we might as well ditch the meat and dairy as well as the booze.
Veganuary. The Veganuary website had some great recipes and a meal planner so I stocked the fridge and cupboards accordingly, and we went for it. There were quite a few ingredients for what they call ‘the transitioning vegan’, like vegan burgers and ‘prawn style pieces’ to ease us in gently. Discovering new recipes was really fun and we really enjoyed the changes we were making. As January came to a close though we had to have some serious conversations about where we wanted to take this new diet. Would we just be vegan at home? Would we allow ourselves meat in restaurants? Would we have cheese on special occasions? What about when we went to friend’s houses? Would we ask them to make special food? Or take our own? How would we explain our decision to our families? And what about the kids? It felt like a minefield. But it actually happened really organically. It turns out that you can’t really be a part time vegan. In the same way that you can’t be partially racist or a a little bit sexist. There was no going back. It was daunting. I felt alone and if I’m really honest, like a bit of a freak. But day by day my resolve got stronger. And the lovely thing was that friends were really accommodating. I never asked anyone to make me a vegan meal, but only because I didn’t have to. People seemed to like the challenge of cooking without meat or dairy. There were veggie curries with coconut cream. There were rice dishes and vegan starters and dairy free deserts. There was a lot of love in that food. If friends invite us over now I tell them about our new diet (and hold my breath and feel my heart rate increase slightly because I thrive on not being a nuisance), and then suggest that they come to us. This means that I don’t have to be a nuisance, and also that I can have the opportunity to cook them some really good food and dispel a few vegan myths along the way. (Sneaky.) More often than not though, people say that no, they’d love to have us, and then they cook us something yummy. I always take something divine for dessert – vegans can still have fun, and the proof is in the pudding.
You can veganise literally anything nowadays. Suddenly pudding is (almost) good for you!
What about lattes?! Although this new diet has left me feeling lighter and more energetic than ever before, I still love a good cup of coffee in the morning. After much trial and error I’ve found that almond milk is the perfect accompaniment. It froths up beautifully and tastes delicious. And I put soy milk in Early Grey tea which works really well. I hate being a pain at other people’s houses so for ease I’ve trained myself to like my tea and coffee black when I am out and about. And I’ve discovered a whole new world of herbal teas too.
But what about the kids? Well, it’s been a journey for them too. I have always been adamant that having not raised them this way since birth, this new decision had to be theirs too. Forcing them would never work – I knew that they would need to get to where I was in their own time. So at first I was just serving them vegan food at home, and then they went to the dinner hall at school or to friends houses or birthday parties they were allowed to choose for themselves. After a while they started to feel funny about eating chicken and sausages. And then sad. They started to ask if there was any dairy in the food at birthday parties. They started telling their friends that they were vegan because if they were a lamb or a pig they wouldn’t want to be killed and eaten. They explained to people that they didn’t eat cheese or drink milk because they weren’t baby cows. Being vegan makes perfect sense to them, but it can be hard because they face temptation every day. Birthday cakes are tricky and I’m going to have to re-think halloween! But we talk about it all the time, and I’m confident now that they own their decision to accompany us on this journey. It’s taken a while, but the whole family is totally on board now, and all of us feel great now that we’re feeling all the benefits of going vegan. Both the physical ones (Mr G and I have both lost weight, my hay fever has disappeared and the kids’ eczema has vanished), and the emotional perks too. No longer are we watching Peppa Pig before gobbling her up for tea. Gone is the absurd practice of serving the kids the animals they have been encouraged to adore since birth, with ketchup or gravy.
Is it fair to the children though? (I get this a lot.) The answer is YES! If I’ve found the most superior diet of all – why would I feed anything less to my most precious people?! We have gone from a family that ate whatever they fancied to one who considers all that passes their lips. We have posters up in the kitchen to show which foods give us calcium, protein, iron and healthy fats. We check labels on all the foods we buy. Mr G (who has been on his own journey and now considers himself “95% vegan”), has switched to packed lunches at work and has discovered all sorts of cool vegan places to eat in town. And wherever we are the children always ask before eating anything; “Mummy – is this vegan?” They really care, (as most children innately do). I feel really proud of my little tribe. They’re mini pioneers.
Feeling alone. At the beginning I knew only one other person who was a vegan. I won’t lie, it was a really lonely time. This lifestyle change was all consuming initially, and I felt really isolated with no one to really talk it all out with. Then a friend put me in touch with her friend who was raising her three small boys vegan, just a few streets away from me. I clung onto her for dear life. She gave me advice and tips, cooked delicious food for my kids, and made me laugh. Her attitude reinforced mine. I am and always will be so grateful to have her and her family in our lives, and will always endeavour to support anyone else who wants to try this lifestyle in the same way that she supports me. There is loads of help and advice to be found online too. My instagram is full of inspiring people who boost my resolve every day. There are too many recipes to even mention, and more and more places are offering vegan options for when you are out and about. It’s never been easier and I am confident that it will become even more so with the passing of time. I no longer feel alone! I’ve met SO MANY wonderful people in the last six months – vegans will find each other – and so my life has been hugely enriched by some really lovely new relationships, as well as a new diet.
Surviving in a meat and dairy eating world. It was soon after making my new friend that I took some further steps forward. At Easter time I asked those who usually bought the kids chocolate easter eggs to get them a book or something else instead, and hid dairy free treats all over the garden to find on Easter Sunday. At the start of the summer term I went to see the chef at the boy’s school and asked him to alter the menu for them. He tried really hard to veganise the school meals but he couldn’t fully manage it with the ingredients at his disposal, and so now I make them packed lunches. I took packets of cow-free sweets into their teachers so that when a classmate has a birthday and hands out treats, my kids don’t feel like they’re missing out. And now most of my friends are aware of the choice we’ve made and most of the time manage to serve meat and dairy free food at playdates, which I’m really grateful for.
But what about fussy eaters? Like lots of kids mine can be fussy, but now there is no dairy free junk in the house they have limited snacking options, and so come to the meal table pretty hungry. They’ve been trying lots of things they wouldn’t touch before and meal times have become a lot less painful! One of the number one rules of feeding your kids according to the experts is to avoid making some foods seem good and others bad. We shouldn’t be rewarding the consumption of (calcium packed) broccoli with ice cream for example. It is REALLY hard to follow this rule and stay sane though, and so recently I switched things around. The kids now get ‘pudding’ as an after school snack. I make sure I have dairy free cakes, or cookies, or home made rocky road bars (with sesame and sunflower seeds snuck in) and other treats available. Sometimes they’ll get an ice cream cone, (and no one can taste the difference if you buy the Swedish Glace soya brand). So then if they are fussing over their tea I tell them that they don’t have to eat it and that they may get down. They know they’ll be nothing else and so invariably, after a bit of sulking, they eat. And when they do, they realise that mama makes yummy food! And then a new taste is added to their list of acceptable tea items.
What about entertaining though? I feed friends, family and all my new mamas and papas delicious plant based food, cooked from scratch with love. I bake for people all the time too, and so this was a bit challenging at first but I’m getting better at it and learning all the time. (My cherry cake is to die for even if I do say so myself.) There are many other fats to use instead of butter, and omitting eggs isn’t hard; all they do is hold the mixture together and there are MANY plant based ingredients capable of that job. Whenever anyone pops in for a cuppa, I use RAW cow’s milk from The Calf At Foot Dairy which I order online in bulk and freeze. I still wince when I pour it into their hot drinks because YUK, but at least I know it has come from a cow who has been allowed to keep her calf.
I have some new cookbooks that have become my bibles: There is so much more variety in our diet now. Before I just pulled the same old recipes out of my brain and cooked them without thinking. Now I dive into my new books and pick out new things all the time. There is garlic and ginger and lime juice everywhere, and everything tastes SO GOOD. I feel like I could cook a different dinner every night till I’m one hundred and that I’ll still be trying new things even then. There are lots of alternatives out there and you may feel like you need them if you choose to start moving away from meat and dairy. As the industries catch onto the fact that more and more people are turning to a plant based diet, sales of vegan cheese are soaring. They are getting more and more yummy as they evolve too – Zizzi’s and Pizza Express being the leaders in melting vegan mozzarella! Having said that, a pizza with a sweet tomato sauce and a world of veggies on top is just as good as one covered in cheese. If not much better. Not to mention a million times healthier. I’ve honestly forgotten all about cheese now. It happens! Taste buds change. They really, really physically change. If you’d told me a year ago that I would soon be vowing never to eat milk chocolate again I would assume you were drunk. But now a cube or two of dark chocolate with a mug of peppermint tea, should I fancy it, is all that I want. I no longer crave the things I used to. Our food bills have gone down and we’ve never felt better.
I do miss brie though, and the fish with my chips. But my brain is more powerful than my belly. And to be honest I don’t really think about animal products anymore. Cutting them out completely enables the black and white attitude of ‘food’ and ‘not food’. I’m fitting into clothes that I haven’t worn for twenty years. My skin, hair and nails have never been in better condition. I rarely even wear deodorant – without animal flesh or their secretions inside your body it doesn’t sweat out anything defensive. Literally everything, from your dental health to your sex life, radically improves when you embrace plant based nutrition.
I feel so fortunate to be able to protect myself and my family as best I can by putting the best food inside of them. At our wedding nearly ten years ago, we served every guest a massive steak, and had a wedding cake that was made entirely out of cheese. Now we are impassioned vegans. A U turn is completely possible. It takes time, but soon a vegan diet feels completely natural and becomes absolutely second nature. Aside from having my babies – becoming a vegan has been the very best thing I have ever done. My huge and only regret – is not doing it sooner.
If you’re interested in adapting to a vegan diet here are some excellent links to help you:
You can do it!