Update: At New Year 2016 I wrote a honker of a comprehensive guide to Being Vegan. Check it out! I’ll keep the post updated from now on so that it continues to be relevant.
I ate animal products for the majority of my life; well, the majority of my life so far. I did a lot of obnoxious, ill-advised stuff when I was young(er). I think I more or less got a good hold of life’s reins when I was about 27. Mostly, anything before that, I prefer to pretend never happened…
Despite all of that, I had a few aborted attempts at going Full Veggie from a fairly young age. I was always fond of animals, and I wasn’t crazy about the idea of eating them (I’ve always had a deep suspicion of seafood), but going meat-free was never wildly encouraged in my household (despite a pescetarian step-parent). I finally managed it in my early 20s when I was a mature student. After a while, I felt increasingly bad about all those chickens and cows, and I started buying free range eggs and organic milk with pictures of merrily pasturing bovines on the cartons. I felt a bit better about myself.
At the back of my mind, I knew that I ought to give up all animal products. I just knew it. It makes logical and ethical sense. I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to go ahead and do it (I don’t think I’d ever met a vegan in my entire life; I didn’t even know any veggies back then). One day I was visiting with a friend in London (we went to a Nick Cave gig and it was super); she wasn’t vegan but had dairy allergies, so she prepped a dairy free breakfast for me, including porridge. I was so impressed by how ~normal~ it tasted that I decided then to give veganism a try.
Let’s fast-forward about 8 years. Here I am! Going vegan was one of the best things I ever did. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve met some bloody intolerant people (conclusion: they are everywhere). I’ve seen some amazing political intersections, I’ve been educated. I set up a cake business and I’ve cooked some of the most impressive foods of my life. I’ve never craved anything with an animal product in, except cola bottles, and I can think of at least 3 local shops where I can buy vegan ones (fizzy or plain, yes). And by the way, I LOVE FOOD. I love food so much. I was fat before I was vegan, I’m fat now, and body positivity is just another great, amazing, intersectional movement that veganism helped me stumble on.
Even in the past 7 years I’ve seen amazing changes in my own city and in the foods commercially available. I feel like public perception of veganism has changed, but actually, I think it’s the shift in my own perception that’s been most dramatic.
You know what helped massively? THE INTERNET. The Post Punk Kitchen. Some of the amazing blogs you see listed to the right. Brilliant local meetups where we all piled into a room and shared cake. I’ve even had one friend go vegan, and that was a good feeling.
But it wasn’t all fabulousness and cake. Hands down, the hardest part of the journey for me was those initial moments of enlightenment. The undercover slaughterhouse videos, the hidden footage, the statistics, the exposés…… Nowadays, for the sake of my own wellbeing, I mostly ignore all that stuff. But it’s the truth, and the truth does matter. How we live in the world matters. How and what we consume actually matters hugely in a consumerist culture. I believe that veganism is the right choice for a whole lot of people on this planet, though certainly not all. I’ve studied nomadic hunter-gatherers in remote Siberia as part of my Masters degree, and I believe that their hunting practices are vital to them. But I’ve also studied Jain communities, and others in India, who have access to a huge variety of natural plant-based foods, and who have, over time, chosen to abandon animal products because they can and because they think it is right.
Animal agriculture, biotechnology, overuse of hormones, cruel hidden practices, free range lies, ‘humane meat’ lies……..the world we live in is a mess, and not just for these animals. We have a choice. It’s a choice that makes us alien to a whole lot of people who would rather not know or who choose not to care (in a strange way, I can respect that decision, if it’s an informed one, though I do not agree with it).
So why not get informed? What worries you? If it’s cleaning products, makeup, toiletries, cheese, gelatine, restaurant eating, travelling on holiday, leather, or anything else……. Don’t worry. Everyone wants to help you. Everyone has amazing hints and tips. Everyone knows which mainstream restaurants do great vegan options, which mainstream pharmacy/beauty chain has 99% vegan toiletries and makeup in their own range, which cheap and £-shop available cleaning range is totally cruelty free, which faux vegan cheeses coming out of Germany and Switzerland are AMAZING, which coffee shops in your local town have vegan cake on the counter……… Just don’t worry about that stuff. It’s worth a try, right?
These days, a lot of folks credit their own personal vegolution to one of these films:
- Forks Over Knives.
- Cowspiracy. (Though, be careful about some of its stats.)
- The Ghosts in Our Machine.
There are a few books that may get you thinking (I haven’t read them all):
- Vegan Freak.
- Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows.
- Eating Animals.
- Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.
- We Animals.
- A lot of others by category here.
A lot of folks level accusations of bias at any resource that comes from an already-vegan standpoint, and in one way I think that’s a fair concern. Try to remember, though, that the majority of vegans were omnivores or veggies at some point, and they all have a different ‘going vegan’ story.
If nothing else, try to read this: it’s called the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, and it was written in 2012. In July of that year a prominent group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviours in human and non-human animals.
What does that mean? It means that the scientists were looking (again) at whether we can say that animals have consciousness from a scientific, rather than philosophical, perspective.
The group’s conclusion was this:
“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” they write, “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.
Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
What does THAT mean? Well, it means that science has, finally, debunked (or formally challenged) the longstanding Cartesian view that animals do not possess human-like consciousness, because they do not possess a soul, and that any distress or pain they seem to feel is therefore the result of ‘biological mechanics’ and nothing more.
Considering that the sentience of all mammals, birds and many other creatures is now regarded as scientific fact, what does this mean for animals kept in zoos, chickens crammed into battery farms, livestock bred on factory farms, etc? I believe that the meat and dairy industries are far too colossal and profitable to blithley accept the consequences of these findings. I also believe they would be willing to cheat, like many corporations have, in order to appear more ‘humane’ or ‘free range’.
This is one of the main reasons that I chose to be vegan.
Just Try It
If you’re curious about veganism, or just considering giving it a go, why not try it out? If something’s holding you back, think about what it is holding you back. Is it what other people might think? I think you’ll find a lot of vegan folks went through that. Reach out to them and they will support you! Lots of websites offer a ‘vegan month challenge’ or similar. Many will even help you find a mentor. These sites will provide free info and support:
I’m happy to help anyone out with any aspect of going vegan. Please just drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll do whatever I can to help!