There’s a few key moments in my life where I distinctly remember thinking how corrupt the world is and how awful the humans are that strut across it. Hearing things about school shootings for example, or these casual genocides all over the world that our governments seemingly ignore… but on a less dramatic scale, it was surprisingly an episode of the classic Brit culture TV show “Come Dine With Me” that truly disgusted me. I couldn’t wrap my head around this one contestant.
I’m willing to bet nobody else will remember said contestant. Nobody accused him of leading a sad, little life, and as far as I know he can’t fit a balloon whisk in his mouth. Instead, he was overly cocky and talked incessantly about his ‘gains’, bragging about eating at least 3 (three) steaks a day. A DAY! I think I was still in school when I watched that episode and it’s stuck with me all this time. I just can’t fathom the sheer greed and how unnecessary that type of consumption is. And for what? So the pillock can wear a shirt two sizes too small? The nerve.
I wouldn’t really call myself a vegan. If anything, I call myself a ‘pretendatarian’. For a start, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, I’m quite apathetic towards most animals, which is why I often scoff at calling myself a vegan. I find the narrative ‘if you love animals, you should be a vegetarian/vegan’ is over-exploited. It’s still relevant but if you’ve watched ‘Seaspiracy’, ‘What the Health’ or any food documentary, you’ll know there’s more to veganism than just freeing the little piggies… but if their snuffly, wee snouts are enough to make you want to lead a better life, then great!
The other reason I don’t like labelling myself ‘vegan’, is because I think if you really want cheese, eat the bloody cheese. Just make sure it’s good quality and you’re not eating it in excess. Whatever your reasons are for trying out veganism, there’s no point making yourself miserable and then giving up and returning to your old ways because the raw vegan overlords have banned you from a cheese toastie. Maybe one day you’ll reach the point where you don’t want any animal products but until then, do what makes you happy, in a responsible, considerate way.
Ideally, we’d all be growing our own veg and living off the land with humble hens pecking around our back gardens, supplying our eggs for breakfast… but that’s not the world we live in – at least for the majority of us in the Western world.
As you well know, I grew up in rural Scotland where farming is people’s livelihood. Mum used to take us out to see the wee piglets and lambs and the smell of cow muck in the air was ripe. I kind of miss it. When I watched ‘What the Health’ though, I was repulsed at the farms they exploited, but those aren’t the kinds of farms I grew up around; those are factories – that’s ‘farming’ to meet outrageous human gluttony, so we can pig out on a cheap double cheeseburger with extra bacon and extra cheese. Why have 6 chicken wings when you can pay 50p extra and get a bucket of 20? I know all that sounds yummy, but try the vegan nuggets – they taste pretty good and you’re only responsible for a small patch of wheat instead of 10 dead chickens for a quick bite to eat (hey, that rhymes!). I do believe that farming in a better way, like the olden days, would be the best option, but our indulgence and selfishness has gotten out of control and plant-based diets seem like the only viable way to counteract this.
The first time I cut out meat (it’s been a sweet-sour relationship for years) was for a really simple reason: I was curious. I wasn’t looking into the impact on the environment or animal welfare; I just wanted to learn more recipes and learn to use veggies for something other than soup or reluctantly adding them as a side, so I challenged myself to go veggie for a month and it stuck, for the most part. When I decided to cut out dairy, it was purely for vanity – I wanted better skin. I can’t say that part’s working out for me but to be honest I don’t eat my 5-a-day or drink enough water either, so I’m not surprised.
Nowadays, the more I think about consumerism and greed, the more I think plant-based is the best thing since sliced bread. If everybody took up a predominantly plant-based diet and allowed themselves a ‘treat’ every now and then, the overconsumption and mass production of animals (and all the food they eat, and all the water that food needs to grow etc), would reduce almost tenfold. I’ll admit, the fake cheese still doesn’t quite cut the mustard but I did find a great vegan feta the other day, and if you’re prepared to pay artisan prices, you might find some good options, but again, if you want cheese, just eat cheese. It’s not about cutting things out; just cut down. Make switches that make sense.
For example, I only drink milk with my cereal and even then I hardly eat cereal, so I switched to plant-based (oat) milk years ago because cow milk wasn’t necessary for me. In any case, we’re the only animals that drink milk in adulthood, so how necessary is it at all? After that, I got curious about how other vegan substitutes tasted and started switching out more and more and you know what? My hair still grows and my joints are fine! It’s been a piece of cake! Side note: I find it much more fun to bake vegan cakes – it’s like science! Flax eggs and aquafaba? Sign me up!
If you’re wondering where to start with plant-based diets or how to cut down, think about your weekly staples – there’s probably not much variety in your weekly diet as it is. Unless it was just me that lived off frozen pepperoni pizzas and halloumi kebabs? Get curious and look up a couple of vegan staples that are easy and you can eat time and time again. A good place to start is looking into veggie options of what you already eat: vegan mac & cheese (that recipe might surprise you), veggie lasagne, veggie burgers, soups, curries, etc – sweet potatoes are going to be your new best friend. I also recommend buying dry beans – white or kidney beans for example – and if you’re thinking about making a stew, or a salad, or anything, you can soak them overnight and cook them the next day (follow the packet instructions). You can get the tinned ones too, I just feel more wholesome doing it myself and the dry beans take up less space in my cupboards. Namaste.
Another important tip for going plant-based is planning ahead (which I’m crap at) and more importantly: planning realistically for the weekly food shop. “Realistically, am I going to eat this whole bunch of bananas imported from Colombia? No. Do I really need a pumpkin in April that was imported from South Africa, just to meet my nostalgia for autumn? No. Do I really need a wedge of lime all the way from Vietnam in my tonic? No… but I’ll allow a lemon from Italy, or an orange from Spain”. Be considerate when you’re buying your produce and don’t fall into the ‘convenience’ traps. There’s no point introducing more plant-based options if all your veggies are pre-sliced, wrapped in plastic and imported from Timbuktu.
Our choices matter. What we watch, what we wear, what we eat – it all matters. Personally I just really hate waste, inconsideration and excessiveness, and what a privilege that is – to not be limited by dietary or financial means, and just be (pretendy) vegan to minimise my impact on the environment and because I want to be. In saying that though, there are a lot of studies about the health benefits of veganism and actually, it’s not too expensive either.
At first I thought I’d have to fork out loads for veganism and sure, it costs more than your cheap-as-chips, Tesco value processed ham, but compared to more sustainable or ethical organic meats and cheeses, it’s not that much difference. I say ‘sustainable’ lightly here, having felt the burden of Seaspiracy too. If you’re buying all the synthetic substitutes, it probably does add up, but if you base your weekly shop on natural, fresh (loose, plastic-free) fruits and veggies (and/or frozen), you won’t spend that much.
In the past 4 years, I’ve noticed a huge uptake on veganism and the amount of different products hitting the shelves these days is incredible. Berlin is a really good place to test out veganism but a lot of cities are catching on. Most restaurants and street vendors in the cities offer vegan options and there’s even specialised supermarkets. The regular supermarkets also have aisles brimming with new plant-based options – you’ll probably find them in their own little section, but they might be mingling with the regular food, because a lot of food is naturally vegan – bread, pasta, crisps and sweeties (watch for milk and animal jelly though, they love sneaking that in).
If we all ate more responsibly – whether it’s introducing more plant-based food, only choosing organic, monitoring our carbon footprints with the produce we choose, etc – it would force supermarkets and suppliers to reassess the demand and implement changes along the whole supply chain.
That’s what being plant-based is about for me. It’s making small changes and feeling encouraged and hopeful that these changes are catching on and making an impact. Müller is now bringing out a vegan line with rice puddings and milkshakes (and they’re tasty). Greggs, the UK’s pastry staple, brought out the vegan sausage roll and they sold like hotcakes! Pret-a-Manger completely removed their meatball sub and replaced it with the vegan option ‘due to demand’ – that’s amazing! That’s because of our choices. Of course these big consumer brands are still an issue but they’re trying. I’m constantly torn between supporting them to show there is a market for vegan options, or flat out boycotting them. Either way, we’re too far into globalisation and they’re still going to succeed with or without my money… but if I support them, I could get a nice milkshake out of it.
There is always going to be meat in the world, and I can’t deny, it does taste good. Even though the vegan brands try their best, they’ll never beat yer ma’s Sunday Roast. I’m a pretty crap vegan but I try. The majority of my weekly shop is plant-based and gradually I’m making more switches in other every day products – like toothpaste, soaps, shoes. It’s all a learning curve. For sure, the odd thing ‘may contain milk’ because they put damn powdered milk in everything, and every now and again I do just buy a wee cheese because I fancy it. When I order a takeaway, I go for the veggie/vegan option because I can’t guarantee the conditions the meat was reared but I still drool at the thought of a greasy cheeseburger, knowing it’s likely come out of a hefty sack of frozen meat from some over-capacitated factory farm. I probably don’t get all the nutrients and protein that I need because I don’t do protein shakes and supplements, but I doubt I got all that on my old frozen pepperoni pizza diet either.
In a nutshell, there’s always going to be a reason for people to snub the plant-based diet but make the little changes where you can. If you can go fully vegan, then great, but for me it’s not about cutting out, it’s about cutting down. Try switching milks, try vegan butter or cream in your cooking, get the veggie nuggets or vegan schnitzel instead. Add a couple vegan recipes to your weekly staples. Don’t be greedy. It probably won’t make much difference to you individually, but globally it makes a huge impact, and at the end of the day, your skin might get better and you’ll fart less – just go easy on the chickpeas.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try following #veganrecipes and #vegan on instagram or tiktok. There’s tonnes of pictures and videos that will pop up on your feed to help you with your dinner – most of them are cakes.
Another good account to follow is @maxlamanna, who has great recipes to reduce food waste – big fan of the lentil and broccoli stem tacos, also good with nachos!
There’s also concepts like @MeatFreeMonday, which might be a good place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed at making changes. But again, only make the switches that makes sense.