Veganism: A Work in Progress
The challenges, the obstacles, and why I will never stop trying to be a better at it.
Two and a half years ago, I transitioned to a Vegan lifestyle after being vegetarian for 28 years and it was something I’d wanted to do for a while but never thought I could. I had absolutely no understanding of what a Vegan diet looked like. I always thought it seemed so ‘extreme.’ I had already omitted meat and fish from my diet and I wondered if I took dairy away, what would be left? How would I survive on a few vegetables?
I loved cheese and thought that I would not survive without it. It was my staple. The thought of never eating pizza again was too much to bear. And tea. I loved a good cuppa and not being able to have a decent brew was not an option for me. So I put it off.
But, after watching a couple of documentaries about dairy production, my mind was changed almost instantly and I started to learn that Veganism is so much more than a diet. It’s a complete philosophy with compassion for all living things at the heart of it. Of all the ‘extreme’ things a person could do, committing to a life of non-violence and promising to do no harm to other living beings hardly seems like it belongs at the top of the list does it?
Being Vegan just means that I am against animal cruelty. If you asked a lot of people if they supported animal cruelty they would most likely say no, and probably be outraged that you even asked, yet by consuming products that come from animals, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’ve just never thought about it that way. People are funny about food; they really don’t like being challenged over what they eat.
The ‘extreme’ stance, in my view, is a person who is happy to pay for the slaughter and suffering of innocent animals, that given the choice, would want to live. Taking the life of a living creature for our own gains is murder. And yet the popular opinion is that Veganism is ‘extreme.’
One of the things that I’ve learned throughout my journey so far, is that being Vegan is far from easy, and not for the reasons you may think.
Sure, eating out can be tricky at times and yes, I have to put a bit of effort into making sure I’m getting all the essential nutrients, but what I find the most difficult—at times uncomfortable —are the conversations with non-vegans. Notice I didn’t say meat-eaters. I’ve had many conversations with vegetarians and pescatarians too which I’ve found quite awkward, which was a surprise to me as I thought they would understand.
By nature, I am not a pushy person. I’m not aggressive in my beliefs; I don’t like confrontation or coming across as self- righteous. I generally avoid starting a conversation about it as I usually end up feeling quite frustrated.
I like a good debate however, with someone who is genuinely interested and wants to engage where I can put my point across and sometimes have MY perspective challenged by an intelligent argument. BUT, I’ve had so many conversations in the last two and a half years where I feel instantly under attack for my world view. People seem to focus purely on Veganism as a diet when it is so much more than that. Vegans don’t consume animal products—or partake in activities which exploit animals. We avoid using products which have been tested on animals or contain animal derivatives. We don’t like seeing animals ‘used’ for human entertainment. This covers a huge list of things, yet people usually focus on food.
Now let me just add a caveat here—some people are genuinely interested in the Vegan way of life and ask questions to educate themselves.
Then there are those who ask questions just to be morons.
By that I mean there are some who really do have no clue about where their food comes from and have very little understanding about animal agriculture and what’s involved in producing meat and dairy and after asking me a question about what I eat will come back with some ‘hilarious’ quip about bacon or some other such dribble. At this point I usually stop talking.
What I find most infuriating as a Vegan are those with good intentions who claim to be against animal cruelty; who share FB posts and petitions to end the violence towards animals (think Yulin dog meat festival, fox hunting, horse racing etc) and then see no connection at all whilst tucking into their roast dinner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people are passionate about ending things like the fur or ivory trade, raising awareness about the elephants that are badly mistreated as part of the tourism trade in countries like Thailand etc, but to be so disconnected from the suffering caused by their own actions baffles me. IF YOU EAT MEAT OR DAIRY, YOU ARE SUPPORTING ANIMAL CRUELTY. Sorry, I hate to break it to you but you cannot consume animal products and cause no suffering to them. It’s just not possible. There is no nice way to take milk from a cow. They don’t consent to it. They get nothing out of it other than a lifetime of pain and suffering.
I’ll admit, that as a vegetarian I naively believed that I was causing no harm to animals by only eating dairy. I’ve never eaten fish, and didn’t like eggs so for me, it was only a case of cheese, milk and yoghurt. I’d never really thought about the dairy industry in that much detail. I didn’t understand the horrendous suffering animals go through to produce it. And I look back now at my uneducated, naive self with a sense of guilt that I didn’t look into this years ago. But, the main thing is that now I know. Now I have had my eyes opened and have connected all the dots.
Now I understand that my love and compassion for ALL living beings on this earth is not species-specific.
I don’t choose to feel sorry for elephants or orangutans whilst paying for pigs, cows and chickens to be killed for me.
Now I understand that a pig’s suffering is no less than a cow’s, bird’s, giraffe’s, dog’s, cat’s or anything else. Suffering is suffering, no matter what type of animal is on the end of it and I have taken a stance to say to the world that I do not think it’s right to hurt animals.
I recently went on holiday to Egypt to an all-inclusive resort. I was quite worried about what I would be able to eat since I’d read online that the Egyptians put meat in everything—even salads and bread.
It wasn’t easy. I managed to find salads without meat and I ate A LOT of them (which you are advised by travel companies not to eat, due to the possibility of getting ill from the water it’s washed in.) But if I hadn’t of eaten the salads, I would have been really hungry. As someone pointed out to me, it would have been so much easier if I was ‘just a vegetarian instead of vegan’ as I would at least be able to eat the cheese and dairy. Yes, it would have been, but Veganism is my way of life. When you choose to stand up for your beliefs, you can’t switch them off when it becomes difficult. I believe wholeheartedly in this philosophy, and making life easy for myself by eating dairy was not an option. As hard as it was at times, I never once even considered it. I AM VEGAN.
Veganism is my faith. Doing what you feel is right is not always easy. Sticking to our principles when it gets hard is the true test of faith and I know in my heart that I am living true to myself.
Veganism is still largely misunderstood and vegans are often ridiculed and hated. There are a lot of Vegans that give us all a bad reputation because they are loud about the cause, (we need this if we want to change the world), sometimes aggressive, but there are also a large number who quietly but passionately go about their business educating those around them almost effortlessly.
One thing I know to be true is that Veganism is a work in progress. It’s not always easy to live in a non-vegan world and there are times that my principles are put to the test and I can’t 100 percent live the way that I want. For example, my family eats meat. I wish they didn’t, but they do. Therefore there is meat in my fridge. It’s hard as it goes against every fibre of my being but I have to accept that they don’t share my views.
If I’m out in public and I need to wash my hands, I may be forced to use a soap which may have been tested on animals. Unfortunately, it’s not yet a Vegan world and I still have to live in it.
But, it’s my goal to always do what I can for the animals and the planet; always strive to be a better Vegan. There’s always more we can do.
I’ll end by saying, I don’t know who is reading this post; I’m guessing predominantly people who are already either living the Vegan lifestyle or those who are transitioning. But I hope maybe some non-vegans too and that I have made you think a little about moving towards a lifestyle of non-violence towards living beings.
This may not always be an easy way to live in a world that is yet to connect the dots, but I will carry on trying to live a life of compassion and non-violence and being the best vegan that I can.