Occasionally I am asked how long I have been vegan and/or what the turning point/motive was for me. It is an emotive subject but for those genuinely interested I thought I might share my journey to it here.
My grandmother was hugely influential as my guardian and she adored nature in all its forms. She taught me all about plants and when I was allowed my first ‘pet’ she insisted that I was responsible for him. Unfortunately the unpredictability and speed of my little gerbil Silky was a little too much for me at age 8 and my poor Grandmother ended up the one who had to clean his cage etc. He had a super dooper home but it was all plastic and if you know about gerbils you will know they live to chew to make their bedding and home. We went through quite a few thick plastic tubes before we gave up. Silky got an ear infection which affected his balance and never fully recovered really. When I came home from school one day to the news that he had died I was beside myself for days and felt so guilty for not spending more time with him. I did not have another ‘pet’ until I was in my early twenties.
That poor little hamster spent it’s life outside my bed sit room as the noise of his wheel kept me awake at night. I’m ashamed to say that by the time I realized he was dead rigor mortis really had set in. I was so upset by the touching of my first dead animal I put him and the entire cage and all it’s contents into a bin liner and threw it out. I decided I wasn’t fit to look after another animal and that was that until my mother bought a pedigree British Short Haired cat whom she named Luther. She discussed the process with me and spoke to her best friend, who had three pedigree cats, with regard to which breed might be best for a beginner. British Shorthairs are known for their laid back temperament and so the decision was made. Of course I fell in love with him and began to do my own research. Originally she was going to buy a British Blue but was impatient and bought Luther as soon as she set her eyes on him. Living in Streatham I found a local breeder nearby via a cat magazine and made an appointment to see her and her beautiful gang although that litter had all been sold. Of course I fell in love with all of them but mummy was on a contraceptive pill to give her a rest and whilst she was being shown at various cat shows. I was first on the list for the next litter which was a blessing as I had over a year to read up on pretty much all there is to know about cats and choose a fab name.
Eliot was named after T.S.Eliot and was a character from the second I met him. The breeder said he was the one she would pick and was tempted to keep him to show him but I knew I would never put him through all that. I remember the day he came home with me like it was yesterday. Poor little mite went to his brand new litter box to be sick with all the trauma. Taken away from his mummy and his brothers and sisters I felt just awful and loved him so hard to try and comfort him. He lived to a ripe age of 17 which is pretty good for a pedigree as their life expectancy tends to be around 12. His ashes are with me still and I will never forget the heartbreak when I finally had to make the decision to let him go when renal failure finally got the better of his little body.
It was during my time with Eliot that I found out how red meat stays in your gut for 7 days and putrifies. Not only could I not really afford the fillet steak that was my favourite meal back then but this thought made me literally gag. Please note there are lots of theories and myths surrounding this but what is true is how long it takes a non vegetarian to digest their food compared to a vegetarian. For example around 31-96 hours compared to 27-54. From that day I decided red meat was out. My first step towards becoming vegan had been taken. I continued to eat chicken and fish, dairy products and eggs. Then I came upon a programme on C4 almost by accident. I can’t remember the name of it but it was the first of its kind and slipped under the radar as nothing so graphic has ever been shown on terrestrial television since. With regards to animal farming that is. I was living at my current address so it would have been transmitted during the 90’s and the complaints that poured in after it aired when unprecedented. However what stuck out for me was the images of thousands upon thousands of male chicks, you know those cute things you see on Easter cards, falling into a mincer. I was horrified. The people handling them were just chucking them onto this conveyor belt of death. These beautiful fluffy yellow babies were alive. There was no anaesthetic, no attempt to even try to ease their suffering and a MINCER??? I never touched chicken ever again after that programme and to this day I see those images in my head when I see chicken in a supermarket, smell it in a restaurant etc.
During the late 90’s/early noughties I began developing a throat issue. I was smoking at the time and completely addicted despite attempting to stop several times so I just put it down to that. I had never been able to smoke without am accompanying drink but now I had this persistent tickly cough. It was particularly troublesome at night when I lay down. I have had sinus problems since I was a child so would sleep with two pillows but now I was up to three. Also my gagging reflex was failing whilst I was having these coughing fits so I would often vomit. The last straw came when I began to lose my voice completely whilst working behind a bar. Brandy and ginger wine could only take me so far in anaesthetizing/soothing the issue. Upon referral to an ENT consultant I was, to my horror, referred to a speech therapist. I still remember my ignorant reaction which he must have found highly amusing, ‘but I’ve always thought I was quite eloquent.’ One of the things I was given during my first appointment was a list of foodstuffs to avoid. This included all dairy produce, coffee and chocolate. I immediately cut my coffee intake to one cup a day in a concession to keep chocolate in my world and transferring from cows milk to soya was heavenly given that I was using skimmed milk. The different was so creamy I was an immediate convert.
Also during this time I became friends with my neighbour just before she moved back home. She was pescatarian and a finer role model for not shoving her opinions down your throat and just leading by example, I could not have wished for. But my naturally curious nature meant I asked lots of questions and I had the bit between my teeth, as it were, now well and truly. One Christmas she bought me The Rough Guide to Environmental Living and I was absorbed. I’m not great a reading non fiction but this was in nice handy segments and spoke to what was uppermost in my mind at the time; climate change and it’s long-term effects. Of course it had a section on the environmental affect agriculture has on the planet. It’s a good job I do the majority of my reading in bed in the evening. The information was truly shocking. There is a reason the meat and milk marketing board, if that’s still a thing, don’t tell people these facts, it’s like all other advertising, it’s to sell a product. For example did u know how inefficient most animal products are to produce? It takes 10 kilos of grain and 100,000 litres of water to produce a single kilo of beef. Yes you read that correctly 100,000. Then there is bycatch and sea bed damage and don’t even get me started on GMO’s and the long-term damage to soil.
It was then I began only eating line caught fish and nothing on the endangered list in the book. Like many people who stop eating meat cheese was becoming my go to substitute in a lot of ways. quiches, cheese and onion pasties, omelettes and pizzas were featured a lot in my meals. So I started trying to look at other things to eat. I had yet to discover the wonderful plethora of transitional foods and my friend hadn’t mentioned them either. Around this time a Lush shop opened in Bromley. I only knew about this company via my cousin but had since been a devout follower. Being the friendly kinda person I am I immediately got chatting to the staff who were equally approachable. One girl in particular became my go to person there and we began to develop a real friendship. I think it was through her that I found out about the Animal Aid Christmas Fayre in December which is held in London every year at Kensington Town Hall. I planned to visit with my boyfriend but he was ill having recently had laser eye surgery so I decided to go on my own having nursed him for days already. He was on the mend so left him some supplies and headed out. It was a revelation. Sooooo many stalls and on three floors and it was mega busy. I hoped I might see my friend who said she was going and sure enough she turned up eventually and we had a coffee together. She was with other friends which was quite fortunate as I got to really explore on my own. There were charities, grass-roots organizations, the vegan society and lectures in a couple of the halls upstairs as well as a vegan comedian and a press up competition. I wandered around talking to various stall holders and picking up educational leaflets. I had walked past the Sea Shepherd stall a couple of times and had heard the two stall holders talking to other interested parties. I began looking at their shark dvd and the gentleman behind the stall greeted me and we began talking about their current campaign. He asked me if I ate fish and I proudly told him only line caught and not endangered species. He told me that every single life form in the sea was endangered which took me back immediately given the trillions that would involve. He asked me what I did eat and how I imagined they were caught. I had an image of my Grandad fly fishing when I was a little girl and imagined it was a bit like that but with a bigger line. He then proceeded to educate me and to point out that many of the endangered species that were on my list were used as bait to catch the other fish. He was very passionate and being a sensitive soul I was a little scared of him. However I went away, bought various things as it was right near my birthday and I had some money and went home.
Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said and began some research of my own on Sea Shepherd’s website and other pages. I remember my grandmother saying she had a lot of time for Sea Shepherd so it was as if I had come full circle. That month I decided my new year resolution was to become vegan and I began doing some more research with the help of my two friends. I was exceedingly lucky as the friend I had made in Lush was an animal rights activist so she knew lots of other vegans and I was immediately accepted. The more I was educated the more horrified I became. I always said I would only watch one film in the genre and wanted it to be the best. At the time that film was Earthlings. Eventually I bought a copy and sat down to watch. It is a beautiful film and shows you how all animals should live at the beginning and then has various segments like ‘dairy’, ‘leather’, ‘pets’ etc. It’s a hard watch but I knew I had to know what really went on and I had so many questions. Most were answered by the end of the film which I watched in two halves. It wasn’t long before I was taking part in demonstrations, learning all sorts of fantastic recipes and buying my first copy of The Animal Free Shopper from the Vegan Society. That little book was my bible for so long as it made shopping in the supermarket a breeze. I, like the man on the Sea Shepherd stall, was so passionate about what I was learning that I bordered on the evangelical. I will admit I lost a couple of friends with, perhaps, my over zealous approach that I can see now might have come across as aggressive not passionate. Odd then that one of those friends was the very one who had been my original educator and told me she was the same when she first became vegan. These days I am a lot like she was with me. I’m sure that I have my critics in the movement for not being so active now as I have 4 prolapsed discs which prevent me from standing for long periods of time. My throat is still an issue if I over use my voice and not shouting on a demo would be impossible for me. But we can all do our bit even from our armchairs and at the end of the day the most important thing is I no longer collude with the mass murder of innocent animals. I don’t know a vegan that doesn’t say their only regret is not becoming vegan sooner but then we are all on a path and I believe we get there when we’re ready. Not soon enough for all those beautiful souls but I’m afraid the reality is that change is slow. Look at slavery, women’s rights etc. But with the movement gaining new members every day including celebrities a fabulous 1% of the population in the UK alone is now vegan. That’s 542,000 over 15 and above year olds and 360% of that was over the last decade (Telegraph) Sainsburys have only just brought out a whole range of dairy free cheeses and Tesco had already beat them to it with a couple of their own. The simple facts are that we cannot sustain a meat based diet with the resources this planet has. So why not try at least going veggie for a month before the government rations meat which is inevitable.
The links below are some I’ve found really helpful and one of for the Veganuary campaign which gives you all the support you need in trying veganism for the first time. If you have any questions please feel free to comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Oh and to answer the original question I have been vegan for 9 years now and haven’t regretted it for a single moment nor do I miss any food what so ever. I can veganize anything and just recently had the most luscious steak and it was far better than any of those fillets my Mum use to cook 🙂
Type vegan into FaceBook and you will be faced with a dizzying array of delights as on the Meetup site too. Meet other vegans in your area, join a newbie Facebook page etc. We’re some of the nicest people you will ever meet coz we’re all heart x