One glance down this page- the duck, the dumplings, the pork, the eggs, the yoghurt, the milk- scream like a vegan hit-list of undesirables. Up until recently, considering issues of sustainability for me meant being aware of our finite and limited resources, namely the issues of energy, waste, clean water, plastics and other long-term landfill items. I still think about those elements in my lifestyle. But why didn’t I think of applying this to food?
First there’s making the connection between food and sustainability- the acceptance that eating less meat is a more sustainable choice. This isn’t a new idea. This war-time exhibition recipe book suggests just one meatless meal a week would save the country £52 million a year- presumably the equivalent is a much higher figure now.
Most recently it’s been likened to taking 24 million cars of the road. The emphasis may have shifted, but whether it’s saving the planet or your own wallet- eating less meat is more sustainable.
Next there’s the image. No-one likes being preached to and vegans either by virtue of it being a very different lifestyle choice or meat being so tasty, have been labelled as didactic, whether they are or not.
And then there’s the tipping point. You can accept the best arguments in the world, know the theory and yet do nothing in practice. My turning point came in the glorious form of comedian Simon Amstell and his show “Carnage”. It was his humorous and witty “mockumentary” set in a vegan future, that made me feel more comfortable about giving it a try.
3 months later and I think it’s time for a vegan review. I have lapsed on only a handful of occasions, not as I and my friends thought I would- when drunk- when we’re intoxicated I think we tend to make bad food choices in general. No, I lapsed at events such as when I went to my mother’s at the weekend and birthday celebrations, and yes sometimes I was also drunk. Take for example my friends’ birthday cake- she isn’t a vegan or even a fan of sweet things- so we made her a lasagne cake. To miss this was to miss out on a tiny part of the celebration:
For my birthday meal I was faced with a dilemma. To go to a vegan place or to not go to a vegan place I distinctly remember promising my carnivorous friends I would never drag them to a vegan establishment against their wishes. And I wasn’t going to disown them with the line “It’s not you, it’s me” and hang out with vegans only for the rest of my life. Even if I did want to go to a vegan restaurant, most were pop-ups, small, far from central, didn’t take bookings of large groups or just weren’t celebratory enough. I wanted somewhere like burger and lobster- without the burger and lobster, not the hipster cafe on the other side of town. In the end I went for Yauatcha which had a vegetarian set menu which could be made vegan. Unfortunately I had to confirm 2 days in advance by email for the vegan menus, so on the day I ended up with the vegetarian menu. It was overpriced, and not the experience I was hoping for.
My mother’s cooking. When you become vegan, your memories don’t just go away. My mother said she was supportive, but really she was at a loss. Even though a lot of the dishes she’s been making since forever are vegan- any veggie stir fry, gluten and shitake, peanut and sour plum, sweet and sour aubergine, she just didn’t know what to make me. We tried reinventing dishes- dumplings for example, but we had to make two fillings and in untested, untraditional waters. It wasn’t a comfortable experience venturing into the unknown and a hassle. In the end, I think being vegan drove a gigantic wedge in our relationship. I had to cook separate meals, I knew I was being a pain at family dinners and being vegan became the recurring topic in a negative way. When we should have been catching up about her life and mine, the question from her was still- why are you doing this to yourself?
The health benefits. I lost no weight and am still classified as overweight. Weight aside, I became spotty and moody. Apparently this may have been because I was unwittingly putting myself on a detox diet, during which my body decided to expel toxins to the surface causing me to erupt in unattractive, post-pubescent spots. Another explanation might be a temporary hormonal imbalance from not eating meat and dairy. Overall, I felt slightly better, but then again I wasn’t unhealthy to begin with.
I live to eat. A bad meal really ruins my day, whereas an outstanding one can make my year. My mood is lifted by comforting, familiar food. This isn’t the same for everyone, I once had a flatmate who lived on spinach tortellini and orange juice for an entire year. I look forward to mealtimes, I have to eat something different every day and am constantly thinking up new ways to make something taste better. After a lot of happy meat and seafood and cheese eating memories, I felt I was starting almost from scratch in terms of new dishes, but also memories and associations. I was consciously changing my relationship with food.
Even after all this, I do not regret becoming vegan. There have been moments where I really couldn’t give a flying pig’s bottom and been tested by my mum’s delicious, festive cooking. I’ve been lucky enough to share my journey with my lovely boyfriend who makes a mean chickpea curry whenever I feel down.
We’ve tried new, exciting foods and developed a better awareness of what we eat. We’ve also been lucky- this adventure has coincided with a general rise in vegan foods across the capital and, perhaps most importantly, the launch of Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter vegan ice cream.
For now, we’ve decided the benefits outweigh the negatives. And if eating animal products is at least the exception rather than the rule I feel like I’m making a small difference. If I can make it any easier by sharing some of the recipes that helped us, then I will. Cos for foodies, the road ain’t easy.