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Friday, October 30, 2020

From Lisburn to London: My struggles with going vegan

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Being from a small town outside Belfast, I grew up eating meat. Now, the sceptic in me has turned fully vegan, a journey with many ups and downs.

Not too long ago, the word ‘vegan’ didn’t hold much value for me. I knew what veganism was, but it never intrigued me. I didn’t have any vegan friends or family, it wasn’t something I was exposed to or would think about, and to be honest, I had little to no interest in learning more about it.

I grew up in a town called Lisburn, just outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland. One of the great things about living in Lisburn was how close I was to both city and countryside. From my house in a suburban neighbourhood, I could walk for five minutes and end up deep in the countryside where urban planners had yet to lay their claim. I would frequently go for walks along country roads and through luscious green fields. It wasn’t uncommon to see farmers leading herds of cattle or hear chickens clucking inside of their pens. The sights, sounds and smells of my childhood were largely based around the cattle and dairy farms that I lived beside.

Agriculture is huge in Northern Ireland. As a whole, there are over 25,000 farm businesses and the industry employs one in eight people in the UK. Buying and eating meat is something I never questioned as a child. In school, we were taught about the importance of the agriculture industry and why we must support local farmers. Almost every meal I ate consisted of meat, or at least some kind of animal product. It was mostly the same for everyone I surrounded myself with. It wasn’t until my late teens when I began questioning my eating habits.

One of my close friends, Ethan, went to a Morrisey concert with his parents a few years ago. Eager to tell everyone about how great the gig was, I expected him to rush into school bursting with energy the next morning. Instead, he wallowed into the classroom looking sombre and lost. Was Morrisey’s music really that depressing?

As it turned out, it wasn’t the music that put him in that state; it was a video that the Manchester-born singer showed on the Megatron that really did a number on Ethan. He found the video on YouTube, titled Farm to Fridge, and showed it to me.

I was horrified. Speechless. Is this really the way we treat animals? How can anyone condone this?

I told my parents of the horror I had witnessed at school and claimed I was never eating meat again. But two hours later, it was steak for dinner, and I wasn’t complaining.

It wasn’t until I had full independence that I decided to take the idea of living a plant-based lifestyle more seriously. In September 2019, I moved to London to go to university. This was going to be my chance to finally cut the meat and embrace the vegan lifestyle. As you can probably guess, this isn’t exactly what happened.

I started to cook a few vegan meals, which were delicious and packed with nutrients, but like most people raised on meat, I started to crave it. I slowly gave in to my desire to eat some chicken, then a juicy burger. And once I broke, it was a near-impossible struggle for me to get my vegan diet back on track. Until now.

When I returned to London this August to begin the academic year, I told myself it was boom or bust: either I go fully vegan now, else I probably never will. Lucky for me, I was able to convince (quite easily, I must admit) one of my housemates to go vegan with me. And just like that, we did.

On our first grocery trip together, we stayed clear of the meat and dairy aisles, no matter how loudly they were calling our names. Instead, we planted ourselves in the vegetable and pulse aisle, stocking up on chickpeas, beans, carrots, broccoli, the like — all the essentials to make delicious plant-based meals. That same night, I made a delightful vegetable chili with lots of beans, roasted vegetables and wilted spinach, served over a bed of Mexican style rice. It really packed a flavour punch, so much so that I couldn’t believe that I actually made it.

Filled with confidence from the previous night’s delicious dinner, I opted to make an aubergine curry. Totally vegan, totally delicious. Soon enough, it became clear that I could make hearty homecooked meals without any animal products at all. Better still, cutting meat from my diet has meant that my weekly grocery costs have decreased.

veganism struggles
“The sights, sounds and smells of my childhood were largely based around the cattle and dairy farms that I lived beside.” Photo: Matt Donaghy

My time writing for The Vegan Review has helped inspired me to stick with the vegan diet when times are tough. The vegan street food guides have really opened my eyes to the endless list of incredible vegan food that I can try. Even reading articles about the benefits of a vegan diet or pieces on vegan influencers have shown me that the world of veganism is not a limiting one, but an exciting one to explore and be part of.

Now, I’d be lying to you if I said that I don’t crave meat from time to time, because I do. But for whatever reason, I am able to hold off the urge to order a greasy KFC or a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I think it’s down to the fact that I am more open than ever to exploring tasty vegan recipes such as dal, chickpea curries or, my personal favourite, falafel pitta burgers.

So, next time I’m back in Lisburn, it won’t be my wonderful mum serving me sweet and sour chicken. Instead, I’ll be in the kitchen cooking up a storm and showing my family how delicious vegan food can be when you put a little thought into what you’re making.

Matt Donaghy
Matthew is a journalism student from Ireland, living in London. He is an avid musician, a keen reader and always looking to delve into new things. Motivated by his vegan friends, Matthew is open to exploring the world of vegan subcultures and how they link with the world around us. You’ll probably find him in a hip London music venue listening to new bands and finding new things things to write about.