Being Vegan: Lettuce Discuss

The past 18 months have seen some important changes in my life. I quit my career in banking, spent a year working as a climate change campaigner at an amazing charity, and I am now about to start a masters degree in ecological economics at Leeds uni. Capping all this off, and to truly cement the tree-hugging reputation, I have also become vegan.

I fully realise that loads of vegans love talking about being vegan, and that y’all omnivores are really over it at this point. But, personally, I have struggled to articulate how and why I made this lifestyle choice to those around me. And with more and more Brits cutting down on their meat consumption, Ithought it would be interesting to share my experiences and address some of the common questions I’m asked. So here’s my light-hearted take on being a vegan – I promise there is zero plant preachy-ness and plenty of jokes at my own expense! 🌱

“I could never go vegan” ~ Every vegan ever before going vegan.

Um, yeah… this ☝️ was definitely me. My friend Fiona will be bemused to remember that about 2 years ago I handed her a recipe book I no longer wanted because “it didn’t have enough meat in it”. True story.

Meat, fish, eggs and dairy have been a major part of my diet for most of my life and I truly loved each and every one of them. Among new acquaintances, a common response to discovering my veganism is: “YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING!”

I do know. But I don’t miss. Meat tastes great, I will not dispute this. Cheese is without doubt food of the absolute gods. And don’t get me started on pastry.

However, and here me out on this….

Not eating these things much (or at all) does not mean you will never eat tasty delicious foods ever again. Vegan food can and will absolutely rival your favourite animal flavours.

Bacon tho…

I sense some scepticism. OK, I’ll be honest. To eat good vegan food, you have to be able to cook. The plant-based equivalent of just grilling a quick chicken breast for dinner WILL taste like grass. A fully plant-based diet requires learning the basics of how to flavour foods to replicate the mouth-watering umami sensations of eating animal-based products. I promise you this isn’t difficult, it’s just new and different.

Yeah but surely you gotta have cash money to eat tasty delicious vegan foods?

I see where you’re coming from. It is unfortunate that veganism has in recent years has been hijacked by the Gwyneth-Paltrow-esque, kimchi-smoothie-drinking, vagina-steaming crowd. I’ve been in enough “vegan” health food shops to see prices that make me want to vomit (£2.99 for a can of chopped tomatoes anyone?). The yuppie vibe isn’t helped by that fact that vegan restaurants seem to be cropping up disproportionately in gentrified neighbourhoods.

But believe me, it’s worth looking past all the faddy rubbish. The basis of a vegan diet – fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts, herbs, spices, and soy-based products like milk, tofu and mince – can be bought on a budget. To put some numbers on it, my weekly grocery bill comes to around £20 for seven days of breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I could get it down ever further if I needed to. What I will admit is, coming back to the cooking point, you do need TIME. I appreciate that not everyone in this unequal world has that.

I can’t be vegan, I need protein, I AM PROTEIN.

It is funny how no one cares about your protein intake until they find out your vegan. And then loads of people go from zero to nutritionist real quick. I’m not even gonna address the protein question cos I think most people reading this know that plant proteins are a real thing. I will say that bits you’ve got to think more carefully about are calcium, iron and vitamin B12 – but fortunately this is really easy. Here’s a quick debunker:

  • Calcium: tofu, fortified plant milk, beans and lentils, almonds, and loads of other stuff.
  • Iron: dark leafy greens, all da pulses, brown rice, porridge, and approx a million varieties of nuts and seeds.
  • B12: fortified plant milks and breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and undisputed queen of all the spreads MARMITE (please leave if you do not agree).

Once you know, you know – y’know?

I can’t be vegan, I do sport, I AM SPORT

Some OK athletes manage it: Serena & Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton, Jermaine Defoe, Hector Bellerin, and this 300lb NFL player who I’ve never heard of but looks pretty stacked. Obviously, I’m way down on the amateur end of the athletic scale, but I’ve not had any performance issues with being vegan this season. In fact, I’ve lowered my parkrun PB to 19:07 and my 800m time to 2:17. I don’t think this is absolutely-definitely because I eat plants, but the plants have not slowed me down at least.

OK I’m hearing you, so why????

People go vegan for three main reasons: (1) animal cruelty, (2) environmental impact, (3) health benefits. I’m just gonna say straight up that I think the health claims are based on some dodgy science and I just don’t buy that shit. It is possible to be perfectly healthy eating animal bits and bobs in moderation.

But the ethics and the environment stuff (the two Es we all try to not think about) are, for me, harder to dispute. I’m not gonna dwell on it in great depth here (I hear that sigh of relief), but suffice to say it’s all a bit of a catch 22. To avoid the cruelty of industrial meat/dairy/egg production, ya gotta buy posh, organic, free-range produce. But when you look at the water/land/emissions footprint of said produce…. Not possible for 7 billion people eating animal bits everyday, my friends, not possible.

For many people I know, this dilemma is the main reason they are trying to massively reduce their animal-product intake. And hats off to y’all – I truly think that is a really great initiative to take. For me personally, working as a climate campaigner, I could only go the whole hog (sorry 😅). Call it what you will, munching on my halloumi wrap whilst yapping at coal companies to sort their shit out just didn’t sit right with me.

So your poor man doesn’t get his roast dinner anymore then?

Er… no, because for real the thought of handling poultry makes me want to puke. Instead he gets his animal fix at the work canteen. I realise he is an absolute gem. Not only has he kept the hummus-related jokes to an impressive minimum, he also eats all my vegan dinners and pretends to like them! (Actually I think he does really like them cos not to blow my own trumpet or anything but I am like an excellent cook).

Meaty man pretending that my tasty delicious ramen and gyoza isn’t rocking his absolute socks off

On a serious note, although I really do care about this stuff DEEP DOWN, I have taken the executive decision to be a non-judgy, non-preachy vegan. I’ve met some serious plant-based evangelicals in my time – and, man, they annoy even me. The world will undoubtedly be a better place with more plants in everyone’s diets, but I’m a big believer that peeps have got to figure out that journey their own way.

The way I see it, many people feel threatened by changes to their nice comfy lifestyles, and food is a particularly emotive topic. Veganism, and much of what it stands for, has the potential to be rapidly disruptive to our food culture, so ramming it down people’s throats will (in my opinion) cause more resentment than progress.

It’s a tricky one because, as I intend to articulate in a future blog post, lifestyle changes will be unavoidable in order to solve many of the social and environmental problems we currently face. Change is hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Achieving it is, I think, best done with patience, compassion and a healthy dose of humour.

And on that note…

I’ve bored you all enough today about being a vegan. I promise I won’t talk about it anymore (😏)…. but if you’re really morbidly curious I am always happy to share recipes…

Peas out

K x

What are your thoughts?