I’ve often thought about becoming a vegan. It just looks hard. Really hard.
On the contrary, vegan friends often tell me that it’s simple. I don’t believe them, and it makes me feel like they want me to join a cult that “only” requires the tiny sacrifice of your entire life, along with everything you enjoy about it. Simple, right?
Whatever the sacrifice, I’ve made the decision to take on a vegan diet for the next 30 days. (Help.)
Having been a vegetarian for over five years, I’m often asked what the big deal is in saying goodbye to milk, eggs and cheese. I’ll tell you what the big deal is. All of those things are delicious.
Also, it’s like there’s a secret serving of eggs or dairy in everything. EVERYTHING. Last night, on day 1 of pretending to be a vegan, I tried so hard (and spent a small fortune) sourcing a handful of vegan-only ingredients to create a pasta bake. Vegan cheese, check. Cream-free pasta sauce, check. Faux meat, check. Well, kind of.
See, my go-to secret ingredient as a vegetarian has been Quorn, that weird meat that isn’t actually a meat. It adds some real heartiness to veggie comfort food, and I’ve never even thought twice to check its contents. My curiosity got the better of me this morning. Nope, turns out it’s not vegan — it contains egg whites. (Seriously eggs, stop following me. I’m trying to break up with you.)
So, I guess I’m back at day one. This vegan thing seems tough, even for a seasoned vego.
You might be wondering why I’m embarking on this whole vegan shenanigan. I’m almost wondering the same thing, but I’ll give you my line of reasoning so far.
When I gave up being a meat-eater in 2012, it was quite a profound turning point in my life. It required a lot of self-regulation, a character strength that I really needed to work on at the time. I was getting a little chubby around the waist (hello, thirties) and consistently gravitated towards sub-par meat products — mostly burgers, sandwich meats and, the holy grail of meat worship, bacon. Ahh. How I praised thy crispiness.
I tend to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ person, so saying a sweeping no to every kind of meat meant saying a sweeping yes to a meat-free diet, and to taking better care of my body as I entered a new decade. Trust me, I’m an expert at finding the loopholes in my own arguments, so the 100% ‘no meat’ rule gave me zero room to justify my ingrained habits. Sometimes, the best approach to behavioural change really is going cold turkey. (Or tofurkey.)
I was also becoming aware of my own cognitive dissonance — which is pretty much psychobabble for that stressed out feeling you get when your beliefs contradict each other. Interestingly, I experienced that feeling when coming to terms with my sexuality. I tried to convince my gay friends that I was out and proud, but could never tell my family about it.
Like my closeted thought processes, I was beginning to notice that I had a similar relationship with my love of meat. I was a big believer in treating animals with respect and honour, yet I kept eating animals because they made my sandwich taste better. Over time, my conflicting beliefs didn’t really make sense to me, and I felt like I was in denial.
Of course, coming out as gay is a lot different to coming out as a vegetarian or vegan — most notably, you don’t choose your sexuality. (Also, that one informative friend doesn’t tell you “they always knew you were a vegetarian”.) Still, you do make a choice to be true to your deepest convictions, and sometimes this means taking a stand as the odd one out. I was beginning to notice some striking similarities in the way I pushed my uncomfortable thoughts aside because they were, well… inconvenient.
So, I guess that’s why I’m giving this vegan thing a go. Like the process of saying goodbye to my hankering for animal flesh, it’s hard to give up on old mate dairy. However, it’s also hard to live with cognitive dissonance, and I’ve found that I can only suspend rational thought for so long. I now know that animal products aren’t as innocent as the jovial cow picture on a milk carton suggests. The truth I’m having to face is that I can’t be anti-cow killing if I support a dairy industry that essentially kills cows, and enables the very meat industry I claim to stand against.
Then there’s my next level of hypocrisy. Are my shoes vegan friendly? I have no idea. What’s more, I just bought new leather ear pads for my Bose headphones this morning, which could very well have been cleverly constructed from a tortured pig’s carcass. Eww. (Turns out they aren’t. Thanks Google.)
But I guess this is the point. I’m being invited to think more closely about where my food comes from, and to investigate how the products I purchase will do the least damage to the planet and those we share it with. In turn, this will no doubt inspire me to think more about how the vote of my dollar will best be used to contribute to the kind of world I want to leave behind.
I’m also finding comfort in the fact that becoming a vegetarian was not as hard as I initially thought it would be. It actually turned me into a real foodie. Like, I couldn’t stop ‘Gramming my food and hashtagging it with a gratuitous #nomnomnom. Perhaps the process of becoming a vegan is a similar experience, not the cult-like personal sacrifice I’m making it out to be.
So, wish me luck this month. I’ve been assured that I’m going to love this journey. I just hope I don’t starve to death. But, hey. If I somehow die of hunger in the next 30 days, perhaps the process will at least give some random animal friend a better chance at life. Maybe they deserve it as much as I do.
Definitely some food for thought.