Today is World Vegan Day, which seemed to me to be a good day to write about my journey to veganism. There are lots of reasons why people turn to a plant-based diet or a fully vegan lifestyle. Many start vegetarian and then at some point progress to veganism. For me, though, it was kind of round the other way. Let me explain…
Where it all started: less dairy
It all started with my skin. I have a skin condition that’s not that pleasant, and I’ve had it since I was a teenager. Back in 2014 I read a book that suggested that this skin condition may be exacerbated by diet. Remembering that my mum, who has the same condition, had once given up milk and seen an improvement, I decided to reduce my consumption of cheese, milk and other dairy products to see if it helped. I cut out cow’s milk and instead started making my own almond milk. I stopped eating cheese and discovered the wonder that is soaking and blending cashew nuts. I found that, with a little persistance, I actually enjoyed dark chocolate – and realised that as long as you don’t buy the 99% cacao one, its bitterness doesn’t actually turn your face inside out!
Anyway, it didn’t take long before I noticed an improvement in my skin. The condition didn’t clear up and go away overnight – I still have it today – but there was definitely a marked improvement. Having suffered with this annoying and quite unpleasant condition for so long, I was super excited at this discovery – so I kept going.
The next stage: less meat
I continued with the no-dairy thing for a while longer. I wasn’t 100% strict about it at this stage, I just avoided it where I could and ate it if I couldn’t really avoid it – or sometimes just because I was craving it. Every time I made an exception and ate some dairy, my skin reacted. Every time my skin reacted, it made me that little bit less tempted to make any more exceptions.
At this point I still ate meat – though I was never really that into it. I loved a sausage sandwich and my dad’s lamb curry but I didn’t really cook a lot of meat myself. When I first started avoiding dairy, though, I found myself eating more meat than before when eating out, because avoiding the dairy often left me with a lot of meaty dishes to choose from.
At home, though, it was a quite different matter – we were starting to cook and eat only plant-based food! My fiancée is vegetarian and has been for some time. The sum of our eating preferences was an almost-vegan diet – no meat for one, no dairy for the other. The more I cooked like this, the more I found myself really enjoying the plant-based dishes. My ordering habits in restaurants began to change, as I started to avoid all animal products when eating out, too.
The third stage: plant-based
What happened next was that I got to a stage where I simply didn’t want to eat any of the dairy or meat. I’ve never really eaten eggs or fish, so I didn’t have to cut those out as they weren’t there in the first place. I began to find that I wasn’t craving milk chocolate or sausages or any of the foods I had once missed. Instead, as an enthusiastic cook, I was simply blown away by how exciting plant-based cooking can be. I was using ingredients I never had before, exploring new cuisines, discovering restaurants in Frankfurt that catered to my new lifestyle… in short, I was loving this new vegan life. It wasn’t until later that I realised that veganism could be about more than just food – but I was well on my way!
By this point, I had actually also lost a lot of weight. Kilos and kilos just fell off me, without me being on a ‘diet’. This may not be everyone’s experience of veganism, but for me this change in diet definitely brought with it unexpected and very welcome changes in my body shape. The old skin condition was almost non-existant, too!
Around this time I also began to learn more about the impact of the meat and dairy industries on the environment, on the animals themselves and on our health. Documentaries like Cowspiracy and What the Health made me even more certain about my decision to stop eating animal products for the sake of my health, the animals that suffer at the hands of the meat and dairy industries, and the planet we live on. I was beginning to see a bigger picture.
The final stage: vegan
As I said, when I first cut out all the obvious animal products from my diet, I thought that was the epitome of veganism. And maybe for some it is. But for me, I soon began to realise that ‘being vegan’ can mean a lot more than simply what you cook and eat. For me it’s come to be about how I live and interact with the world.
As I became part of vegan groups online and interacted more with the vegan community, I realised that there were animal products in so many things around me. My handcrafted, beautiful leather wallet was made of animal skin. So were pretty much all the shoes I owned. I discovered that not all wine is vegan, as many (but not all, hurrah!) are filtered using fining agents such as egg whites, gelatine or a substance called ‘isinglass’ made from the dried swim bladders of fish. The same goes for beer. There are even animal products used in some book-binding processes and in some inks and colouring agents.
This last stage is definitely a process. I didn’t throw away all my leather shoes, for example, as that seemed extremely wasteful – but I decided that the next time I bought new ones, they wouldn’t be made from leather. I think everyone has to find a definition of veganism that works for them. For me, though, aside from being a way of living that makes me feel healthy and good in myself, it is also something that constantly challenges how I see the world. It challenges what I think I know about it and how I want to interact with our planet and all the creatures that live on it. Knowing that my impact on the environment is smaller, and that I’m not harming any other living creatures just to satisfy my hunger, gives me a sense of wellbeing and peace that I hadn’t expected to find when I decided to cut out dairy to help my skin back in 2014.
So what happens next? For me, veganism has become a lifestyle that I can’t see myself ever turning my back on. Why would I, when I’ve never felt better?! It’s extremely exciting to see the momentum that the vegan movement is gaining at the moment – more and more restaurants have vegan dishes on their menus, more vegan events and fairs are taking place, and increasing numbers of non-vegans are choosing to eat less meat and dairy, too.
Everyone has the right to choose how they live and what they eat, so I certainly don’t want anyone to read this and think I’m trying to ‘convert’ them. I’m not. I’m just sharing my story because my journey to veganism changed my life – and if my story inspires anyone else to explore plant-based cooking or veganism then, well, happy days!