Well, are you vegan or aren't you!
Turning vegan hasn’t been simple. It is significantly harder than when I became a vegetarian nearly 10 years ago. Two months in and I am about 90% of the way there. So what are the obstacles?
Taking the whole vegan thing a bit too seriously?
For me, turning vegetarian was more about publicly outing myself and preparing for the inevitable rolling eye brigade. The physical process of giving up meat was simple. It is just something that you add on the side of your plate and with very little imagination it was easy to associate that lump of flesh with a living creature and their hidden suffering.
Instead of ignoring what my daughter would call our collective wilful ignorance, I made myself look at those awful Peta videos and it was like connecting a lose wire. I could suddenly see what I had been buying into all these years. The meat aisle at the supermarket went from an everyday normal task to a bizarre torture chamber that hides in plain sight.
Going vegan is more about challenging the system at a microscopic level. Animal exploitation is so engrained in our business supply chains that you have to question everything you eat, wear or do. This is hard enough at home where you can control everything, but when you go out, it gets significantly tougher.
When invited to one of my more old-fashioned friends for lunch, I realised I had to explain I was turning vegan. The response was somewhat confrontational. “Well, are you vegan or aren’t you!” This was my first public outing and I could see it wasn’t going very well. I had unintentionally rattled his cage of comfortable normality with such progressive declarations.
The reality is that even removing dairy and eggs from your diet is difficult as supermarket products are insanely complex. I knew about the “hidden egg” in foods but “hidden dairy” is equally as commonplace. It is an utter mine field with everything from sweets, medicines, vitamins, artificial sweeteners, crackers, granola and beauty products containing some form of dairy.
Then there are the nuances that throw up all sorts of moral dilemmas that I continue to ponder over. Whilst I have always been vigilant about buying free-range eggs, the reality is that even this supports commercial scale killing. You might not be eating meat but the hens that lay these eggs have to come from somewhere.
Few know that the UK egg industry have chosen not to use the technology whereby fertile eggs can be sexed. This means when they hatch, the females get a free-pass to the brutal battery farms while day old male fluffy chicks are put on a conveyor belt to tumble into a meat grinder whilst alive. So even behind every free-range egg, is a hidden horror story.
I have spent my entire life rescuing animals, whether cows about to go to slaughter or snails crossing a pavement. But the concept of rescuing battery hens and letting them roam freely in my garden would throw up the question about what happens to their eggs. Do I throw them away just so I can smuggly say I am vegan?
For me, I think the answer is that I would happily eat these eggs. I’m sure it would outrage many more militant vegans, but whilst battery farms are in existence, rescuing hens is part of the solution and not to save them just so I can tick a self-righteous box would go against my values.
Other similar moral dilemmas exist. While I have steered away from leather for some years, I realised that my wardrobe contains other non-vegan products. I won’t buy them in the future but, do I throw away my existing wool jumpers just so I can say I am vegan? Even if recycled, it would go against my low waste life-style. This might sound very virtuous but I think I just hate wasting money!
I know that wearing fur promotes this vile industry but does the same happen with wool? In reality, my heart says no, but I completely get the argument. Maybe further down the line, this thought process would hold water, but it hasn’t even made it to peoples’ moral radars. However, such an approach is hardly leading by example. What chance is there of change if I give up without trying?
So when I say I am turning vegan and am 90% of the way there I hope you understand what I mean. While some are external systemic hurdles, others are my own deeply trodden belief systems. I’m sure I will learn more and find my way, but at present, I hope my ponderings give people the confidence to make changes, however small.