How I finally, reluctantly, went bloody vegan.
As with many hells, the road to veganism is paved with good intentions.
I’d been perfectly happy as a vegetarian (lacto-ovo, don’tcha know), sitting atop my moral high ground for a good 15 years, quietly judging meat eaters as barbarians, and pescatarians as oddly specific fish-hating grudge-holders. While I had half an idea vegans beat me on morality, I beat them on convenience and 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.
I’d had a couple of half-assed attempts at veganism over the years, barely enough to qualify for even one full cheek. There were three big hurdles I couldn’t clear: I couldn’t stand soy milk, on account of how it tastes like attic flavoured piss; I couldn’t do without milk chocolate on account of how it’s essentially brown oxygen; and I couldn’t be bothered with starving to death in restaurants, having struggled to find decent veggie food for a decade and a half and finding a cheeseless social life quite unimaginable.
But researching farming, slaughterhouses and the dairy industry for you people turned out to be a full-on wind-pisser. The piss I covered myself in was my latest epiphany – my 17th, if you’re counting: The dairy industry is the meat industry. There is no separation, except in my wilfully blinkered eye-mind. I thought I’d bailed out of doing harm to animals, but I’d just turned away when things got grisly. I’d stopped eating chickens, but egg-laying hens – even the freest of free-range – are killed off when they stop laying eggs. Male chickens, which tend not to lay eggs at all, get bumped off as soon as someone spots their peens. 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 killed when they’re done making milk, and milkless he-cows are often done away with at birth. This idea I’d had, that I’d removed myself from that cruelty, got a solid kick in the sack. This is the problem with epiphanies: As truths go they’re often inconvenient. I was going to have to go fucking vegan.
The first thing to sort was milk. I was still haunted by my earlier attempts to drink soy milk, on account of how it tastes like piss-flavoured dust. Happily, thanks to hipster-wanks and super-allergic exclusion-dieters, there was a much wider range of alternatives around for me to try. I started with coconut milk, which lasted for one mouthful because it tasted like someone spiked my tea with shampoo. 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. In time I got used to it in tea, an achievement that can very definitely be called heroic. I levelled up.
Next, I ditched dairy things 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, ensuring 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. Sadly, vegan cakes remained largely shit.
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. As a baby I refused breast milk in favour of chocolate Yazoo. As an adult 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. While Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ranks people’s primary needs (safety) and lesser needs (self-actualisation) in a tiered triangle, my triangular hierarchy of needs is just a large chunk of Toblerone.
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 grown up stuff that tries hard not to taste like anything. This was the pivotal moment. I realised 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.
The final step was sorting my joke of a social life. As with milk alternatives, in the years since I’d last tried veganism the world had caught up a bit and Instagram d-bags had gone all-in on plant-based posery. A ton of vegan restaurants had opened around me while I wasn’t looking, mainstream eateries were offering vegan options better than the veggie slop they used to offer, and apps like Happy Cow were making it easier to find them. When trashy places like Greggs and KFC get in on it, you know you’re past the days of self-catering Beanfeasts.
A couple of years in now the losses sting less than they used to. New kinds of food have been popping up, I’m cooking more because I can’t lean as hard on convenience food trash, and I’m accidentally eating more healthily because I let my vending machine season ticket expire. Most importantly I feel better about myself, having undoubled my standard and done away with all traces of cruelty in my food. I wish I’d done it sooner. The old cliché is true: In many ways going vegan is like being born again.
By which I mean I’m shitting like a newborn baby.
Photo credit: The Zero
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