A Christmas vigil

Look into the eyes of the dying.

The main picture was taken at a slaughterhouse vigil. The pigs in the truck were about to have their throats slashed.

This is just before Christmas – a season on joylessness for many, many animals slaughtered for the benefit of human over-indulgent. As half the world starve, the grain that could fill their bellies goes towards raising animals for the dinner table of the “first world”.

This is followed by Boxing Day – a day of pheasant shooting and pheasant shooting. Like the animals killed for meat, many of the pheasants’ bodies are simply thrown away – surplus to requirements – they died for nothing.

Of course, Christmas is followed by Veganuary  (https://veganuary.com/) – more people than ever are expected to take part next year (2019) (https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganuary-2019-biggest-year-300-000-taking-part?fbclid=IwAR2zaJ6AVMoLteL1MiVItEzNe3K5SrCDuG5yxzSpZk2IdMFEE02dPeBM3qY0) meaning that there are shining lessons of compassion breaking through the darkness of environmental destruction, animal pain and misery and dangers to human health.

There are even hints that more and more people are shunning meat for their Christmas dinner (https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/one-in-12-people-will-tuck-into-a-vegan-or-vegetarian-christmas-day-meal-in-the-uk-this-year/?fbclid=IwAR20R8-71GijVbvHaWzx5HysyYCKP12vkkYAND27P7naUHsfTxu_9HZQ8D4) – given the rise in veganism over the past few years, this should really come as no surprise. But it is easy to feel alienated by simply browsing the comments to posts about veganism from national media outlets. I know, I know, the first rule of social media is never read the comments!

We sometimes forget that vegans are still in a minority, and the constant advertising of meat and “traditional” Christmas meals rams this down our throats at every opportunity over the festive period. The fact that many feel like the “token vegan” at office parties or company meals out can make this an even more depressing time of year, but the sheer number of meat-free Christmas dishes now available should be cause for joy.

I think, this year, every major UK supermarket has their own version of the vegan Christmas dinner – the Guardian has even rated them for us – although, it has to be noted this is just one person’s point of view – https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/dec/15/vegan-taste-test-grace-dent-rates-supermarket-christmas-dishes

So, with rising numbers of vegans, one has to ask why the advertising industry is still stuffing images of meat down our throats over the festive season, families make light of the “ vegan option” and some people still feel alienated. Indeed, many of us do not like the thought of sharing a table with those consuming animal products – even the smell is intolerable for me.

This is why attending the vigil was important. Even those of us who have been vegan for a long time need reminders every now and then as to why we choose a compassionate lifestyle – and what could be more compassionate than being there before somebody dies?

It’s also important to make the connection between the living being and the slab of meat on somebody’s plate – need I elaborate any further?

Veganism in Veganuary and beyond!

veganuary

I love the Idea of Veganuary (https://veganuary.com/) – asking that people should go vegan for the month of January.

Many people who try it don’t go back to a meat-based diet and, with this in mind, I ask what better New Year resolution than trying Veganuary? After all, veganism is better for the animals, the environment and your own health.

I decided to ask some relatively new vegans about their experiences of converting to veganism – some even came to it through Veganuary.

I hope the answers will help other prospective vegans and show new vegans how easy it is to choose a compassionate diet. It may even help some new vegans over the issues those making the change may face.

Those questioned are all members of the Facebook group Vegan Friends UK – there is so much support for new vegans on Facebook and other social media sites.

My participants are:

Scott McKie, aged  21, from Glasgow

Karen Clarke, aged 51, from , Dorset

Lee Cash aged 44, from Brockley, South East London

Katey, aged 22, from Norfolk (now living in London)

Christina. aged 31, from near Preston

Nikki, aged, 44, from Gloucestershire

Rebecca Bamsey, aged 24, from Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales.

What made you turn vegan?

Scott: “I started listening to punk rock when I was like 13/14 years old and started identifying with “punk” subculture etc, and through that became aware of political, social, environmental etc issues. After a while of supporting animal rights and things of that nature I found it harder and harder to justify eating meat to myself. I tried going vegetarian for a month to see how I found it, went back to eating meat, then decided I’d try going vegan for a month around a year after my last experiment. I thought it would suck changing from my normal, omnivore diet to a strictly vegan diet, so I went vegetarian again for two months running up to my vegan month. Although I then ate dairy and eggs after my vegan trial month the next year (in the month where I would traditionally challenge myself) I decided I would commit to being completely vegan with the aims of it being for good this time. Nearly one year on and there are zero signs of me going back to animal products. A much longer and more drawn out process than I’d have liked but going from being someone who consumed so many animal products, I think the gradual shift over the years has made it so much easier for me to maintain a vegan lifestyle now. I feel better about myself knowing I’m lessening my contribution to the destruction of the environment and to the suffering of non-human animals.”

Karen: “My husband and son are vegans and had been nagging me to make the jump from vegetarianism. I agreed to do it for a month and see how I felt.”

Lee: “I watched Cowspiracy.”

Kayey: “I went vegan in the house and still ate omni when going out for dinner for about four months before Veganuary because I watched conspiracy and I studied environmentally sensitive design at university and they pointed out how bad the animal agriculture industry is and I learnt the science behind our actions against the planet and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand knowing I was contributing towards the deterioration of our planet.”

Christina: “I was vegetarian since birth. Then I turned vegan after seeing baby goats taken away instantly from there mums and being fed by bottles stuck on to a wall on Countryfile. The more I looked into it the more I was disgusted by the whole dairy and egg industry.”

Nikki: “Animal welfare, having my buried head removed from the sand after 36 years strict vegetarian.”

Rebecca: “I was already a vegetarian and had put on a bit of weight during freshers in uni so I thought it was a good way to drop the pounds if I were to do it for a month. During this month, I began researching veganism and uncovered the issues with the dairy industry. My moral compass wouldn’t allow me to live with the hypocrisy of being a veggie but turning a blind eye to these issues so the ‘diet’ became a lifestyle change.”

 

What made you try Veganuary? Did you think you would still be vegan after Veganuary?

Katey: “I tried Veganuary because my friend Sophie is a vegan activist and through exposure to her views and information I decided to give it a go. I knew afterwards that I would stay vegan because I got involved in the vegan community and I used to suffer from an eating disorder and to my surprise, it changed my entire perspective and relationship towards food. It saved my life.”

Christina: “I didn’t do Veganuary, but Viva had something similar where they sent you emails every day for a month with a day’s food menu. I knew I would continue to be vegan after the 30-day period.”

Rebecca: “I tried Veganuary the previous year to becoming a vegan after seeing a Facebook add, I think it was more curiosity and challenge than actually recognising the ethics of it. ‘Did I think I would still be vegan after Veganuary?’ Not really, I guess I thought it was too ‘extreme’ or quite impossible to sustain in the long term.”

 

Have you noticed any physical/mental changes since you became vegan?

Scott: “Since turning vegan I’m far slimmer/leaner and (predominantly since dropping meat from my diet) my general immune system seems to have improved, and I regularly feel less sluggish and groggy.
Karen: “I have felt much more mentally alert, less fatigued and my asthma has improved. I’ve also lost weight without trying and still eating what I fancy.”

Katey: “Yes. Like I stated previously, it saved me from self-destruction. I feel ten times better. I also suffer from celiac disease and damages to my stomach and bowel from all the abuse I did to it during the dark times of my ED – veganism has made it so much better. I’m more awake, I feel better in myself. My hair has actually started to grow back from when it fell out when my eating as bad. It’s just amazing!”

Christina: “Physical differences much more energy and psoriasis cleared up. Mental differences I was quite sensitive beforehand when it came to animals but much more now and I seem to be much more aware of the suffering in the world (can be quite depressing) it has also helped me with mental issues with food as I no longer feel guilty whilst eating. I struggled at first until I found out everything and since then there’s no going back.”

Nikki: “Yes, I dislike people more. I feel healthier, although I did gain weight at first.”

Rebecca: “I’m not the most observant of my own health. However, I do get a lot less sick (I used to get colds and flues quite regular), I have lost weight and I get a lot less lethargic.”

 

Has there been any times when you’ve found it particularly difficult to stick to veganism?

Scott: “Veganism for my ‘trial month’ was pretty difficult, but since going completely vegan I have had very few difficulties apart from odd cravings here or there. Strangely I did get meat-anxiety dreams for a little while where I’d dream I was eating a burger or something like that and then feel really bad once I realised what I was doing but they didn’t last for very long.”

Karen: “The hardest bit for me is giving up cereals as I haven’t got my head round eating cereal with milk alternatives yet. Apart from that I have found it much easier than I thought. I am a master at seeking out vegan alternatives and I make food from scratch most of the time.”

Lee: “Early on in my vegan journey I had a get together with friend that was organised at a steak house. I got drunk and ended up eating some steak and was ill the next morning. That was the only time I ever struggled. Now I find the thought of eating animal flesh repulsive.”

Katey: “Yes, but not due to veganism itself. Just when I go out for dinner with my friends or try to get food on the go. As I’m gluten-free too it makes it extremely difficult to find anywhere that provides food to those dietary requirements however I’ve gotten used to it now and just call ahead.”

Rebecca: “The hardest is when I’m in a rush looking for food on the go, I definitely should have learnt my lesson to prepare lush by now!”

 

Were you surprised by the range of vegan options available?

Scott: “Part of me is surprised by the amount of vegan options there are but Glasgow is very good for vegans. My more rural hometown of Dumfries in southwest Scotland is a little tougher but still very manageable.”

Lee: “Yes. Especially the fact that vegan bacon is so great!”

Katey: “I was surprised by the development of vegan options in supermarkets – especially over the past 12 months. Makes life a lot easier! Although, I’ve always shopped in the free-from section so I’ve known about a lot of the vegan options for a while.”

Christina: “The vegan options have grown massively in just the 2 years I have been vegan. It’s amazing now.”

Nikki: “Yes, veganism is the future, and it’s showing out there in the shops/restaurants.”

Rebecca: “Yes, definitely! It’s about knowing what things are ‘accidently vegan’ that makes life so much easier (mmm Oreos and bacon rashers).”

 

How “vegan friendly” is the area in which you live?

Karen: “Our area is good for vegan food, a number of restaurants and shops plus two vegan fish and chip shops and lots of takeaways with excellent options and vegan menus.”
Lee: “Very.”

Katey: “In London, pretty much everywhere is vegan-friendly. but back in Norfolk not so much. However, I am seeing a massive increase in vegetarian cafes and restaurants!”

Christina: “I still struggle eating out if with friends and family as not everyone wants to eat at a veggie/vegan places. But just have chips or salad. There’s not many restaurants close by, but plenty in bigger cities near me and can get most of what I need from a supermarket and a health food shop. If not, one can always order things online.”

Nikki: “Pretty good.”

Rebecca: “There is a lovely vegetarian whole foods shop, just a few houses away from where I live with all the vegan treats and essentials I could ever wish for!”

 

How did your friends and family react to your change in diet?

Scott: “A lot of my friends and family at first didn’t understand or didn’t think I’d stick with it, and were probably quite shocked that I have given how much I used to enjoy meat, but I think they all more or less get it now.”

Karen: “Most of my family are vegan or veggie and as we have all been veggie for years the omnis are used to it. Did get some non-vegan presents like biscuits etc. But I genuinely think they didn’t realise. I’m quite a strong character so not many people would be brave enough to say to my face anything negative.”

Lee: “Mine have been mostly supportive.”

Katey: “Some of my family members are farmers so they thought I was being silly but none of them were surprised. I was vegetarian for four years when I was at secondary school and then stopped because my ED got bad and the doctors forced me to eat meat to build up my calorie intake. However, my mum and brother have been incredibly supportive. They’d never be vegan but they always cater for me and accept my decision completely.”

Christina: “Friends and family thought it was a phase and used to try and tempt me to eat cheese again, but now they know I’m serious everyone is very supportive of me I did split up with a long-term boyfriend over it though, as he was extremely unsupportive and hated that I had gone vegan.”

Nikki: “Totally disrespectfully, unhelpful, insulting comments.”

Rebecca: “I had a varied reaction! My dad loves it and I think he boasts about me somewhat. My mother rolled her eyes and chuckled at me, she can’t quite understand it, I don’t think, but is still supportive. My partner didn’t react at all really. He engages in philosophic debate with me quite regularly, but he is now giving up beef and milk so I think he might agree somewhat.”

 

From a nutritional standpoint, do you watch what you eat?

Scott: “I don’t particularly watch what I eat in terms of health or nutrition, I’ve never been overly health conscious about my diet at all.”

Karen: “I make sure everyone eats a balanced diet which consists of tons of fruit and veg, juice and smoothies. Plus, we take B12 as a supplement. I believe in gentle conversion and do it through suggestion and humour.”

Lee: “Not particularly but I plan to in 2017.”

Katey: “Yes I do. I’ve learnt so much about nutrition and where to get nutrition from. That’s why it makes me laugh when people say “where do you get your protein from?” Well if you educate yourself you’ll find out where!”

Christina: “I do watch what I eat (sometimes better than others) but also take supplements to ensure I get what I need.”

Nikki: “I try to.”

Rebecca: “Not at all! My ethos is- If it’s vegan, I’ll eat it. Although I do eat a lot of junk food I don’t feel as though I’m lacking any nutrients, not that I am a professional, but I’m sure I’d notice if I was.”

 

Have you converted anyone else to veganism/asked anybody to try Veganuary?

Scott: “My girlfriend and I turned vegan together and have converted a few people to vegetarianism, as well as got more people considering veganism and approaching vegan dishes and lifestyle with a more open mind.”

Karen: “I have had a lot of genuine interest and I’m hopeful……..will encourage Veganuary too.

Lee: “Yes. My fiancée also went vegan shortly after I did.”

Katey: “I’ve managed to convert about four people so far, and got a lot of people to reduce their meat intake. My best friend is now a full vegan and is as much of an activist as I! It’s great!”

Christina: “I’ve planted the seed in a few people but none have gone fully vegan (one is now veggie) and won’t watch documentaries as they are happy being ignorant (their words) I have converted at least five people to drink plant milks instead and made people more aware of where food comes from and what’s it in it (like gelatin, lanolin, cochineal).”

Nikki: “Converted yes, although I don’t think they continued after we split up.”

Rebecca: “I converted a friend over the summer, although I’m not sure if he still is vegan. I shared a Veganuary post and stated if people wish for advice then to drop me a message. So far, I have had two people message me about it and also my partner is making a step in the right direction cutting out beef and milk (all about small steps, right?).”