Thursday, 17 November 2011

Part One of the 'Vegan Series': Becoming Vegan.

I've decided that this blog is long over due for some explanations. Some are hard to read in one sitting so for the sake of saving your eyes from RSI (or should that be RS-eye?) I've decided to break up my 'food essays' or 'Vegan Series' into parts - after all who doesn't love a good cliff hanger?

So, why have I decided to write a Vegan Seires? 

1. I have considered dietary choice posts for a while. 

2. I have been living, breathing and sometimes failing at following a vegan diet for the past 6 years (if you're really curious, I'm going to write about my failings in another post, don't worry, we'll unearth my imperfections at some point.)

And now for some more honesty on this subject; I didn't want to write it at first because I don't want to get into the politics of food (like really, really, really, REALLY don't) and although people are nothing but fantastic there are those whose life time goal is to troll folks endlessly and sadly a lot of vegan bloggers are the target for the internet trolls.

I also didn't want to be known as a 'vegan blogger' because then people would come to expect recipes or recommendations to things and I'm not always the most forthcoming on that. Another thing on the 'vegan blogger' badge is that you leave yourself open to judgements about animal rights. 

I love animals and I believe they should have rights but I am not crazy on this subject. I tried to go to lots of anti-fur demos when I lived in London but they were always on way too early on a Saturday morning. I'm too lazy for animal rights protesting. 

And here comes the controversy: I do not condone any violence towards others, be that damaging property or hurting someone physically or emotionally. I dislike the reports on the news that focus on these 'affirmative actions.' I believe in non-violent affirmative action which is protesting, writing to MPs and the like. I don't know the numbers on this but I sincerely believe (through my own experiences) that the majority of animal rights activists have good intentions and use non-violent affirmative action. 

So with all these things considered it shouldn't stop me from talking about something that is part of my life and has been for the past nearly 6 years. If people want to be negative, I am more than used to handling it and while I'm not expecting anyone to 'convert' to my way of eating, who knows, they might. But I'm not writing these posts for that reason. I'm not looking to recruit anyone into my Kool Aid vegan cult. And I'm not even sure Kool Aid is vegan ;).

I'm writing this post to share what works for me and my family. I'm not an expert on anything food related or what works best for everyone - I can't dictate that to anyone as it's a very personal choice (and I explain just how personal food is later on.) 

Although, I'm not an idiot, and as respect is a two way street I'd ask you to bear this in mind when writing any comments - be that good or bad.

In the nearly 6 years of my vegan eating I've read both conflicting and supportive evidence as to why a vegan diet is 'okay.' I've been through different phases; the passionate and proselyting new vegan, the meat curious vegan (and by this I mean researching the way meat is farmed and slaughtered), the convinced vegan (convinced the pros outweigh the cons), the vegan wife, the pregnant vegan and now the vegan parent.

I enjoyed each stage as it allowed me to learn  something new every time. When I was new to vegan-ism  I had so many ideas of how it was going to be. Most of which never came to fruition.

After my 19th birthday I decided to become a vegetarian. I'd tried being veggie when I was 9. Back in the day where Quorn tasted like cardboard and doctors were convinced you'd shrivel up and die - actually I lied about the Quorn, it was pretty tasty. I gave it up after a few weeks because the food was limited. 

 I can't remember the reasons for the vegetarian switch-over at 19, but I think me and my then boyfriend (who will never be named on this blog because I roll like that) had been talking about trying soya milk for a while but what this had to do with vegetarianism I don't know.

So I went vegetarian. It was surprisingly difficult for me - I would eat something with meat in it by accident quite a lot and so I made the decision I would go vegan. Why? Because it meant I wouldn't have to 'watch what I ate', sure there'd be label checking and the like but it meant complete freedom from accidentally eating meat - if you've arrived at the conclusion I am an air head, you're far from the truth. I am not. I just get rattled sometimes.

My parents, not vegans but omnivores themselves, were supportive of my change to a vegan diet. My Dad actually bought me my first vegan cookery book (pictured below) - after a long discussion about how I could eat better to improve my health, body and mind. On their part I suspected a little scepticism at first, but that's a good sign. We didn't know many, if any, vegans at that time but seeing as I'd been vegetarian for the better part of a year and improved my general health I think they were happy about the vegan change over.

Before I made the switch I researched, read and got my hands on any evidence - either for or against a vegan diet and came up with my own conclusions - that personally, for me, a vegan diet would be the diet I would follow for as long as was possible. 

So how did the rest of my family react? It was mixed. At first I am sure there were major reservations - especially from my older sister. She was sceptical and didn't think the diet was optimal for my health. This was not out of malice, bad feeling or to drag me down. It was a very real concern on her part - like I said we didn't know any vegans so I would have reacted in the same way. Out of concern to a diversion from the norm. 

My Aunt was another critic (and I have no bad feeling over that, I am just stating a fact) on the vegan diet. We would have lengthy conversations about it; she being opposed and me being on the side of a vegan diet and it's positives. When I lived in London there were weekends and even a few months where I lived with my Aunt. I really believe this helped shape her perspective on my diet for the better and she would mostly eat the same meals as me when she was around me. And as a side note: living with her and the memories we had are some of the worst and best. But mostly the best.

The rest of my family joked about meat with me - which you have to expect and take with good humour. These days things are very different with my family. They have first hand seen the long term effects (all positive for me) it has had on me as a person. I'm not dead, I'm healthier and as a person I feel I've changed for the better all round. Most of my family have tried non dairy alternatives, some they have liked and some they haven't. I'm the same. I can't stand plain tofu or hemp milk. 

The things that made my transition easier were that my ex boyfriend then decided to start a vegan diet. Although he was less than desirable to be in a relationship with he was very supportive of the vegan diet. At the time my doctor had diagnosed me (wrongly) with IBS and   both me and the ex wanted all the help we could get to improve that condition so I could have a better life. A life not filled with fevers, cold sweats and pain worse than ten labours all at once. Shame that I didn't know what I know now.

I shopped in mainstream supermarkets as well as Whole Foods in Edinburgh and Holland and Barret - a chain of health food stores in the UK. The day I found vegan cheese I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. 

Vegan cheese on toast. Heaven on toast.
I ate relatively well in the first few years of vegan-ism; home made vegetable rolls, carrots sticks, cashews, peanut butter with OJ, houmous on everything (Zohan style), home made soup in varying forms, home made cakes, smoothies, home made sushi, tofu and mayola, lasagne, shepherds pie (with lentils, my Mum's recipe), apple crumble, pizza...whew I had so much fun creating dishes and being inventive with my food.  

But there did come a period in my life, mostly tied in with working and studying too much, when I began to really slip on eating. I had a full time job and full time studies - plus being full time sick and not knowing what my illness was. I didn't really have the inclination or energy to eat, even though it's what sustains us through life. 

At it's most basic we need food in order to stay alive. I've learned some very hard lessons from my period of not eating well - it caught up with me pretty quickly and I'm lucky I was able to remedy my poor eating habits fairly early on in life and stick to better habits.

 The truth is this: whether vegan, omnivorous or vegetarian we need good eating habits. We need 2,000 (2,500 for males) calories per day on average. Armed with basic nutritional understanding we can all form good eating habits.

Look I'm never going to tell you how to eat, you really have to make that decision for yourselves. It's a personal and private affair that is really none of my business - nor will I judge you on what you put on your plate. But I strongly urge everyone, where it's possible, to eat well and exercise, that's my message. 

And having given up chocolate for the better part of a year I really hope I am on that list of eating well (I know...I know. "Not chocolate!" but chocolate was taking over my life. And my jeans. It had to go.) 

I really hope this was a fun read for you - I loved writing it, re-living those early memories with you - and I'll invite you now to tune in next week when I write Part Two: Questions I get asked. A LOT.