YouTuber, lorry driver and actor Dan Sheppard, known as Grumpy Vegan Grandad, is on a mission to show people it’s never too late to turn your health, career and life around.
“I’m a real Grinch at Christmas. I don’t buy into it, never have. I’d rather be in Tenerife right now,” says Dan Sheppard, known more notoriously as Grumpy Vegan Grandad. From his Christmas-bare living room, in a thick Mancunian accent, Sheppard tells me the story behind his YouTube name. “My wife will feed my granddaughter bacon sandwiches whenever she’s over. ‘That’s Peppa Pig you’re eating there,’ I’m always saying to her. She’ll ask: ‘Why are you always grumpy grandad?’ And the name just stuck.”
Living in Oldham, England, the 53-year-old HGV driver and part-time actor has been running his YouTube account for a year now. There, he shares reaction videos, interviews, recipes, debates, activism reports and his fitness journey.
Like many in his generation, the YouTuber was drawn to veganism because of its health benefits. Just over four years since he transitioned, Sheppard explains he didn’t want to be the parent his son would have to look after. “I don’t want to be a burden on him.”
View this post on Instagram
After trying out a juicing diet, he took to research to understand the benefits of cucumbers, tomatoes, and chillies. “My hair was growing quicker, my nails longer, and my eyes were brighter,” he recalls.
Mid-afternoon lows were no longer occurring, and after a colleague’s suggestion, he read John Joseph’s Meat is for Pussies — a book on how the pharmaceutical and animal agricultural industries are interlocked. The book sent him down a path filled with Forks Over Knives, Earthlings and vegan YouTubers. Four months later, he was totally committed to veganism.
As things improved internally, Sheppard felt the need to share everything with his friends. Increasingly though, he found himself in long arguments with strangers on Facebook, so he turned to Joey Carbstrong, Earthling Ed and Big Mike to help with supporting discussions.
Every so often, Sheppard goes off on a tangent, or changes topic suddenly. He tells me he has ADHD, and that it’s been a struggle all his life. He learns by watching, and wishes YouTube had been around when he was in his teens. “I’d have a very different job today,” he says.
The actor is constantly looking to combine his career with his activism. The main problem with running a vegan account is he is still “preaching to the converted”. He hopes that one day, his following from acting will get him to have more guests like Chris Reilly, the 2018 Scottish BAFTA winner, on for Q&As — so he can reach non-vegans too.
Sheppard is showing people it’s never too late to make a leap in life. He hasn’t always been an actor. In fact, he only started three years ago. Hollywood was advertising for an HGV driver role. “I assumed it was moving scenery around. Next thing I know, they’ve called me down to Pinewood studios, saying I’m going to be on Jurassic World Falling Kingdom.” Any wagons you see in that movie were driven by him. Throughout life, Sheppard has felt like an outsider, but acting has shown him he belongs somewhere.
Recently, his HGV driving shifts have meant he’s had to sacrifice a lot of time doing what he loves most: cooking. “Hands up, I’m a really good cook,” he says, laughing. The YouTuber loves lentil dal, because it’s quick, tasty and full of protein. But he doesn’t turn his nose up at ready meals.
View this post on Instagram
“We’ve all got busy lifestyles, and sometimes we can’t be arsed to cook,” he says. His go-to recently has been a mixture of plant-based meatballs, sauce and spaghetti. He adds that plant-based convenience food is surprisingly packed full of good macros for athletes, and can be a real aid for young people who are trying to transition — but might not know how to cook just yet.
Sheppard is in awe at the steep rise in vegans this year. But he wants the snowball that people like him have started to keep rolling, for the numbers to keep rising. He reflects on 2020 as a year of awakening. “I keep wanting to say thank God for Covid, for the simple reason that it’s making people realise we have a problem.”
He believes any rational-thinking person can’t possibly say there’s nothing wrong with factory farming anymore. But he says the key to getting people in his generation to try veganism is through their health.
Sheppard has never heard of Generation X before. “Is that what you call us? That was a punk band in the 80s,” he says, smiling. He says people in his generation are stuck in a routine, and will find any reason not to have to cut out meat or dairy.
“We’ve had 40 years of ‘Monday is fish day, Tuesday it’s pudding, and Wednesday we’re going to the chippy.’” But the YouTuber sees the damage this is causing in people’s health. And he wants to change that.
“I’ve lost so many people prematurely. A lot of them get ill before they even consider veganism. So, I’m hoping they might see me, this 53-year-old guy who’s running long distances and doing well, and think: ‘Oh, he’s not doing too badly.’”
Grumpy Vegan Grandad doesn’t want to think about where he’ll be in 10 years’ time: “Olivia, how could you ask me that?” But he is hopeful that he’ll be an inspiration people can get on board with. “I want to be somebody people look at and say: ‘Look how fucking great he looks. Can you believe he’s 65?’”