As with many hells, the road to veganism is paved with good intentions. I’d been perfectly happy as a vegetarian the past 15 years, sitting atop my moral high ground, quietly judging meat eaters as barbarians, and pescatarians as weirdly specific fish-hating grudge-holders. I felt sure of my reasons: meat tends to be made out of animals, and animals don’t like being killed and eaten. While I had half an idea vegans beat me on morality, I beat them on self-righteous dickery, and if they occupied a slightly higher moral high ground, all I had to do was not look up. All was well.
Recently, though, the double standard started nagging at me again, and researching veganism for the updated veggie section made something very clear: The dairy industry is the meat industry. Egg-laying hens, even the freest of free range, are killed off when they stop laying eggs. Male chickens, which are unlikely to lay eggs at all, get bumped off as soon as someone spots their peens. According to Veganuary, in the UK they’re gassed like innocent people in Republican states, and in America and Australia they can be shoved – alive – into the kind of horrific mincing machines seen only in the third act of Toy Stories. This idea I had, that I was divorced from that cruelty, got a solid kick in the sack. Same with cows. I figured I was in the clear just nicking their milk and cheese and butter, and turning my nose up at people eating their bodies. But she-cows are forcibly knocked up in order to produce milk, and when they give birth their calves are taken away from them. He-cows are often killed as soon as they’re born, and when she-cows stop producing milk they’re killed and eaten by total bastards. Even as a veggie I’m a part of that. And while, if I’m honest, I find it hard to give much of a shit about bees we still treat them like arseholes, with producers often wiping them out once they’re honeyed out. As I read this stuff I had the same kind of reluctant epiphany I’d had when I suddenly went veggie: I was going to have to be fucking vegan.
The first thing to sort was milk. This was the hurdle I’d never been able to clear before, because soy milk tastes like attic-flavoured piss. Happily, thanks to hipster-wanks and super-allergic people, there’s a wider range of alternatives around now. I started with coconut milk, which lasted one mouthful because it tasted like someone slipped shampoo into my tea. Then I tried almond milk, after which I gave up on tea forever. Finally, I took a punt on oat milk, using it only in porridge like it was hiding in plain sight. It took a while, and a lot of fruit and syrup to shout it down, but I made my peace with it and from there got used to it in tea. This baby step, small as it was, was further than I’d ever babystepped before. I levelled up.
I ditched dairy stuff in their primary forms – no more milk, no cheese by itself, no butter, no eggs – but kept hold of them as ingredients in other stuff like cakes, pizza, and such and such. Cheese was a big loss; the squidgy, honking stuff that you can smell 50 feet from your fridge. And poached eggs were a loss because I’m incredibly lazy and had them for breakfast every morning (to help me get large). I switched to my double-oated porridge, ensuing I could continue to be just as lazy as before (though I’d no longer be roughly the size of a barge). From there I ruled out dairy stuff as secondary ingredients on a meal-by-meal basis, finding vegan alternatives where I could.
Then came the biggie: losing milk chocolate. It’s hard to explain the scale of this. Through the 40 years I’ve been knocking about the earth I’ve gone maybe three days without chocolate. While Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ranks people’s primary needs (safety) and lesser needs (self-actualisation) in a triangle, my triangular hierarchy of needs is a bit of Toblerone. As a baby I refused breast milk in favour of chocolate Yazoo. I ate chocolate in a hair-of-the-dog kind of way, needing its sugar hit earlier and earlier in the day. When Fairtrade chocolate was first kicking off, before it became so widely available, I ordered a year’s supply and on day one dived into it face first like Scrooge McDuck.
This was a big deal. I tried pretend milk chocolate made with soy, which tasted like a diluted advent calendar. I tried dark chocolate, which was as bitter and joyless as I’d remembered, even the flavoured stuff that tried very hard not to taste like dark chocolate. This was the pivotal moment. I realized there was no compromise to be had. I could either be vegan, and live in a world where chocolate and I were forever apart, or stick with veggieness and re-blind my eye to what I was doing.
Reader, I divorced it.
Three months in, the losses sting less than they used to. New kinds of foods have been popping up, I’m cooking more, and I’m accidentally eating more healthily than before. And I feel better about myself, having undoubled my standard and done away with all traces of cruelty in my food. I recommend it. In many ways going vegan has been like being born again. By which I mean I’m shitting like a newborn baby.
Photo credit: The Zero