A last-minute guest post from my son, but better late than never…! – Mina
Yes, it’s World Vegan Day! It always feels like it’s some kind of special “day” on the internet, doesn’t it? Who even decides which days are what? Is there some kind of UN agency tasked with sorting through all the requests and deciding which of the 365 (or, sometimes, 366) days of the year will be allocated to a particular cause?
Well, nonetheless, I’m glad it’s World Vegan Day. This is a great opportunity to shine a light on some plant-based choices that I’ve been making gradually over the last few years, and I’m not alone. Did you know that the number of vegans in Britain has doubled twice in the past four years: from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018!
So here’s a little post about my journey towards being mostly vegan. And, because in fact it’s World Vegan Month this November, I’ll be posting a few follow-ups showing you just how easy it is to adapt my mum’s authentic Indian vegetarian recipes to a vegan diet. Look out for the first one on Saturday!
How did I start to go vegan?
It all began about 15 years ago when I realised something wasn’t quite right with my tummy. Eventually, I narrowed it down to being lactose-intolerant: yep, all that milk I was drinking with cereal, tea, Starbucks lattes, just wasn’t working for me. So I made a simple switch to soya milk and eventually realised that I preferred it.
At the same time, I began to think through just why I had no desire to eat meat. Having been brought up as a vegetarian, through religion and culture, I had never experienced eating meat. But I had been taught about the divinity of animals, particularly cows, which in Hindu tradition, are considered sacred for their agricultural uses and gentle nature.
Whilst I am not especially religious, I felt that I personally had no desire to bring further hurt and harm into the world and thus I was happy continuing to be vegetarian. And, later in my life, once I had read a bit more into the harsh treatment of animals in today’s highly mechanised and industrial agriculture, I realised I had a choice: I could continue to consume dairy and egg with the knowledge of where and how it was produced, or I could start to phase them out. That’s before I even started to consider both the environmental, and health benefits of going vegan.
In 2017, I came across the brilliant Veganuary campaign, which inspires and supports people to try eating vegan for a month. This was the kick starter for the next part of my journey towards being “mostly” vegan.
What do I mean by “mostly” vegan?
OK, this is where I want to be clear about what it means to be vegan. Veganism is much more than simply cutting out meat, dairy, eggs and fish. It’s not just a diet: it’s a philosophy. The Vegan Society of the UK says:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
I think that’s why there’s also been a bit of a backlash against people who choose to be vegan. The perception that perhaps they (we?) are trying to show off or act as ‘do-gooders’.
And when it’s not ‘possible and practicable’ for a person who defines themselves as vegan to exclude exploitation of animals by a choice they make, then that that is often pointed out to that person – as a way to maybe undermine their own beliefs.
I speak from experience of such behaviours. That’s why I say I’m “mostly” vegan, as a shortcut to the full definition of being a vegan. This means there are occasions when I will consume limited quantities of dairy and eggs, usually as an ingredient in a processed food or when completely plant-based food is hard to find. Often, this is whilst travelling in less vegan friendly places, but I won’t do this without considering alternatives first, and then actively accepting this choice.
Also, I often buy products that may, unknowingly to me, contain animal products. Did you know that many trainers (or “sneakers”) are not vegan, partly because of the glue they use?
Many others in a similar position to me also choose to use the term “plant-based”. This may indicate that they too only consume plant-based food (no dairy, eggs, fish etc), but have fewer issues with animal products like leather for belts and wallets, or tallow (in soap and £5 notes).
I also want to add that going vegan doesn’t mean you’ll spend your days eating lentils, leaves and longing for a slice of cheese. Vegan choices are now mainstream on menus in most UK cities and, thanks to EU allergy rules, there’s a vastly superior understanding of vegan requirements versus how it must have been for Indian vegetarians coming to the UK back in the 1960s and 70s. In Manchester, there’s even a dedicated vegan ‘junk food’ diner which I love going to!
Finally, if you considering choosing to go vegan, or plant-based, then I think it is important for you to consider your motivations. It’s also very much a personal choice to follow that philosophy – yet that doesn’t mean it’s something that you shouldn’t talk about or be proud of. Discussions about what it means to be vegan can absolutely encourage people become more plant-based, or at the very least, be aware of the impacts of the choices they make in the supermarket.
Coming up next – how most authentic vegetarian recipes in this blog can easily be made vegan! I’d love to hear your comments below, and if you have a specific recipe that you’d like to be made vegan, let me know too.