I am not a vegan.
There, I said it.
Before I get properly stuck into this blog post (and I fully intend to go IN on the vegan debate), I need to preface it by saying this: I have nothing but respect for anyone that has opted to adhere by a vegan lifestyle, I think it is ballsy and admirable and I think it is something that in an ideal world we should all be doing.
Having said that, I have no plans to go vegan anytime soon. I will explain my point of view as thoroughly, respectfully and eloquently as I can and I would therefore ask you to read right the way through to the end before you pick up your pitchforks and take issue with me for my decision.
Let’s start with a joke, as a means of breaking the ice:
How do you know if someone’s a vegan???
Because they’ll tell you.
This is an age old adage. Red faced men who’s adoration of all things pork-related, evident by their bulging waistbands and high cholesterol, have been tripping over themselves to tell this blinder since they met their first vegetarian all those years ago.
And yet there is some truth to it: vegans are famously loud about their way of life.
You’re unlikely to find a closet vegan.
The reasons for this are obvious, as far as I can see, and quite right too: by opting to observe a vegan lifestyle you are taking on huge personal sacrifice, the magnitude of which must not be underestimated.
The ease of existence that comes with being able to eat whatever you want, wherever and whenever you want disappears when you declare yourself to be a vegan and all of a sudden the extraordinary privilege that most of us in the Western-World take for granted; easy and readily available access to food, is taken away.
Yes, it’s been taken away by you, but it’s gone none-the-less.
Eating becomes complicated, relentlessly and tirelessly complicated.
Food goes from being something thought about only in the capacity of what shall I have for dinner to being something that you can never again escape from.
Labels have to be checked, and checked again. Waiter’s need to be asked, and asked again. Menus need to be read ahead of time, holiday’s reconsidered, dinner at a friend’s becomes almost impossible.
The idea of a life in which food exists simply as a commodity, an obvious, if not delightfully pleasant part of being a human, becomes a distant dream as soon as you so much as think of taking up veganism.
And it affects other parts of your life too.
Makeup becomes an issue as there are still streams of brands yet to go totally cruelty-free. Although the EU is now strict on animal testing laws, in order for a brand to stock any product in China, they must agree to Chinese regulations and that includes animal testing.
Nars, MAC, L’oreal, all crowd pleasing brands, are all companies that stock in China and are therefore not an option for strict vegans.
A similar story exists in fashion.
Although for anyone to admit to owning a piece of fur is a crime as egregious as admitting to actively loving Theresa May; something frowned upon by lots of people, not just vegans, it’s a problem in other areas too. Materials like leather and suede are also not an option for vegans.
As soon as you become a vegan, your life changes entirely.
When you compound that with the fact that they were turned onto this path for a specific and horrific reason, (animal murder, climate change, we’ll get onto that stuff in a bit), I personally think they’ve got all the right in the world to stomp up and down as self-righteously as they please.
They saw a great injustice being done in the world and felt so passionately about it that they decided to sacrifice a great deal for the cause.
All hail the vegans, I say.
And yet, as I type this, I know that there is a chicken waiting for me in the fridge. I know that I had salmon for my dinner last night.
I’m all too aware of my short-comings. And more acutely, my dwindling desire to do anything about them.
I wrote a few weeks ago about “millennial guilt”, about how hard it is to exist at the moment; how between fast fashion and plastic straws and the pressure to go vegan it’s bloody hard to feel as if you’re getting it right.
And it seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people. That post was my most read of 2018 and I had hundreds of messages afterwards from people who felt the same way; people that we’re doing enough, but we’re so exhausted of trying.
Unsurprisingly, the main point of contention and in fact the only backlash that I received at all, came from vegans. In the original post I expressed my angst at having veganism ‘shoved down my throat’ and ironically, people jumped on me to express their disappointment.
I felt conflicted to be honest.
On the one hand I was annoyed; annoyed that even as an ally I was so quick to be torn down. That of all the things I’d said in that post, of all the important shit I was talking about, it was this that people were going at me for. That even as I very much licked the arses of those making extraordinary sacrifices, still I wasn’t getting it right.
But on the other hand I felt shame; I shouldn’t have used that wording. In doing so, I was becoming part of the problem. I was compounding the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality that surrounds the vegan community and makes practical and civilised conversations hard to have.
See, like most people, I would like to be a vegan.
Like most people I am absolutely not okay with the fact that 90% of chicken production in the UK is in windowless sheds. That we slaughter around 950 million birds each year for human consumption. I’m not okay with the fact that only 3% of pigs spend their entire life outdoors.
And like most people I kick off and stand up to do something about my feelings whenever I can; I’ve stopped shopping at my local ‘big’ supermarket because they stock such huge amounts of halal meat and so long as 1.4 million sheep and goats are killed without being stunned every year using halal purposes, I won’t go near the stuff, how can you be sure that your animal was killed humanely?
I had a huge fight with a bloke I knew over his purchasing of battery farmed eggs that saw a crack form in our friendship that I will happily not work to fix. I will never buy meat that is not free range and organic.
I’m not really okay with eating meat.
As a slightly unrelated aside, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words ‘but you do realise you’re eating a dead cow right now, don’t you???’ from some big tough sausage lover who reckons the amount of meat he eats directly correlates with how primal and masculine he is.
I have had evolution and the circle of life mansplained to me more than I care to mention.
But I stand by it, just because I do it, just because I’m part of the problem, it doesn’t mean that I’m not desperate for the problem to end.
I don’t like the meat industry, I don’t like the idea of killing animals or forcing them to produce 10 times more milk than they would naturally.
I am however, not a vegan.
I am also, if you’re interested, equipped with excuses as to why I’m not, and why I won’t be.
At this point though, truthfully, they are futile.
Being vegan is not easy for anybody and to present an excuse is simply to say: I don’t want to do it. And I think that’s okay. I’m not sure I need an excuse, but I’m still trying to work that out. And to own it actually, because not being a vegan because you simply don’t want to be a vegan, doesn’t feel like the sort of excuse Twitter will like much.
But my excuses, all excuses, do deserve discussing, at least in part.
Because really, veganism is simply not a viable option for so many people.
It is not for me, for example. I cannot go vegan.
I am allergic to gluten, and to dairy and I also cannot eat nuts, or beans, and have to restrict my diet in countless and unpredictable ways thanks to my IBS and other health problems.
The dairy allergy takes me half way to vegan and I have previously considered just going the whole hog (if you’ll pardon the expression), but I was forced to conclude that without meat, I would have no protein, and that’s just not conducive.
There is another reason too, though, and this is the lesser spoken but substantially more problematic fact that being vegan will put an extraordinary pressure on your relationship with food, and that’s a pressure that a lot of us simply cannot have applied.
If problems surrounding disordered eating have ever plagued your life, at all, the pressure to once more monitor all that you eat, meticulously read labels, have your diet be observed and commented on by family members, friends, strangers, for the rest of your life? It’s so far from sensible.
Is it worth murdering a cow over??? I hear the irritating imaginary but probably real somewhere vegan voice ask me.
And as terrible as it makes me, if I were forced to answer that I would be inclined to say yes.
My health issues have caused me some real issues with food.
I scour labels for ingredients and my eyes can’t help but to skim over the calorie content. Health care professionals, when dealing with your stomach, have to discuss the elephant in the room that is of course, your diet and you weight. I have to watch everything I eat, all the time and I have to talk about it, all the time. It puts a lot of pressure on me.
I hate, with the fire of a thousand suns, going to people’s houses for dinner. For a long time I simply wouldn’t go. Even now, five years after first going ‘free from’, my body fills with dread and anxiety at the thought of asking someone else to cook for me and my complicated stomach.
To then have my food analysed by everyone there, have the questions asked, combined with the added risk that the cook ‘didn’t know butter was dairy’ (it happens!), it’s horrible. It makes it all horrible.
And that’s what you’re volunteering to by being a vegan. And that’s a bloody risky business if your relationship with food has ever been anything other than really, perfectly healthy.
So that’s why I’m not a vegan, and for what it’s worth, that’s why I don’t think suggesting we all go vegan is even a slightly realistic or reasonable thing to ask.
That’s why I do, very occasionally, take issue with vegans. Those who do feel the need to, for lack of a better expression, ‘force it down my throat’, because that lifestyle is not for everyone and that ought to be accepted and respected.
But to paint myself as a victim here is to take a very public bath in my privilege. I’m not a victim.
9 times out of 10, it’s the vegan on the receiving end of the abuse.
Just look at the reaction to Gregg’s announcement that they’re creating a vegan sausage roll.
The aforementioned red faced, quite obviously pork adoring men stood as fast as their deep vein thrombosis filled legs would allow to shake their ham resembling fists in the direction of the ‘looney lefties with their veganism and their armpit hair’ as soon as the announcement was made.
Piers Morgan, elaborately ‘throwing up’ after tasting a food not intended for him, imploring the snowflake generation not to be so easily offended, totally missing the irony in his own outrage and offence at this new product.
These men, these people, they hate vegans.
Lots of people hate vegans. And I’ll never truly understand it. It is, to an outsider, an apathetic observer, futile and ridiculous.
But if I had to guess as to why, I suspect it boils down to a couple of things;
Many of those that dislike vegans are Brexiteers, weekend racists who read the Daily Mail without any shame. It’s people clinging onto a romantic notion of what they think Britain should be and in their image of our Great Nation, they see bangers and mash and they see fish, chips and mushy peas and nowhere, in this picture is their a vegan option. They identify that human’s are at the top of the food chain and as such they will take what they deem to be theirs. They are unhappy with other humans not doing the same.
(I think this is where the ‘political vegnaism’ side of things comes in; using fox hunting as an example, that’s a sport enjoyed by the Upper Classes but, quite rightly, despised by those who are against animal cruelty of any kind. Generally speaking the traditionally right wing, wealthy, fox murdering folk are going to get ratty when some ‘liberal vegan’ pops up to spoil their fun).
The vast majority though, I suspect, are harbouring a resentment stemming from the fact that they know, in their heart of hearts, that they could never be a vegan. They lack the drive, or the self discipline, or the passion and dedication that causes people to do something so fantastically selfless.
I was amazed after I gave up smoking by how many smokers offered me a cigarette. I laugh when I tell people I’m trying to eat a little healthier only for them to force a biscuit on me. I’m continually being nagged by my friends to ‘just have one’ when I confide in them that I’m not drinking.
People don’t want to be bad alone.
They’re sinking. You’re coming with them. Safety in numbers; it’s a concept as old as time.
I was incredibly shocked to learn that vegans only make up 1.16% of the population in Britain.
I was however encouraged to find out that one third of people are now regularly buying plant based milk. That almost half of the UK vegans made the change in 2018. That 35% of Brits say they make a point of having meat free Mondays. That 25% of British consumers say that concerns about the environment have caused them to cut back on the amount of red meat they eat.
Whilst the divide still feels big, the divide between meat-eater-Morgans of the world and the vegans, it is closing.
And that’s great.
For our bodies, for the animals, for the planet.
An Oxford University study done in 2018 found that “avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth”.
I will never be a full-blown vegan, I don’t think.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to do my bit; to try my hardest and be absolutely aware of what I am doing and what that means, not just for me, but for the world we live in.
(NB. These photos were taken in my favourite restaurant in London, which just so happens to be totally vegan. It’s in Notting Hill and is called Farmacy).