Looking back on my personal journey as a vegan, there are plenty of things I wish I would have known and could have prepared myself for. Some are funny, some are sad and some worth sharing.
I’ve always been destined for veganism. As a youngster, I was always preoccupied with animal rights and making my feelings known about certain topics. When I was nine, a school project to write to a big company saw my friends churning out letters to Robinsons and Walkers, asking for free jam and crisps.
And who did I choose to correspond with? The government of Spain, to ask them to stop bullfighting. Spoiler alert — I did not get a reply and nor did my persuasive pre-teen penmanship convince them to discard a national ‘tradition’. One of my friends did get a voucher for a free packet of crisps though, which she duly shared with me, so it wasn’t a total loss.
I was vegetarian on and off throughout my teens, more on than off and when I hit my twenties, that’s when veganism began to creep into my consciousness. I consider myself to have ‘properly’ embraced the vegan lifestyle six years ago, and wow, it’s been an experience. The most pertinent things I’ve learned along the way, which I would have loved to have known at the start of the journey, include the following:
The first attempt will likely fail
Ask any of my friends now and they’ll tell you I’m vegan through-and-through but back when I first tried it, it didn’t stick. The second try didn’t either and for the same reasons: a heady combination of peer pressure, lack of education and disingenuous motivations. I just wanted to be a bit different and to make a point and that, coupled with a distinct lack of ‘easy’ foods made it a short-lived fantasy.
I didn’t take the time to do my homework and the result was a disappointing voyage into a new lifestyle that didn’t feel right. No shock there.
It’s easier with a supportive partner
The boyfriend I had when I first tried veganism wasn’t much help, but then again, he was the manager of his family’s ham factory. No huge surprise that he didn’t love my newfound ethics or that our relationship didn’t last. My second boyfriend was an actual full-on sweetheart that tried to support me by making vegan-friendly pizzas (shaped like kittens no less), but he had no interest in pursuing a meat-free diet himself and I always felt like a bit of a chore to cater for. Then I started dating Gavin.
Vegetarian for more than half his life, Gavin was the first boyfriend that never made diet an issue. I went vegetarian the second we started hanging out and when we started to plan our wedding a few years later, we decided to go all out and make it a vegan spectacular.
As soon as I knew I wanted to be properly vegan, Gavin was in. No discussion was needed, we just both jumped in, waving goodbye to our midnight cheese-on-toast marathons joyfully. As my veganism started to morph into something life-defining, with ethical connotations joining the fray and making me discard any and all animal materials and products, Gavin happily did the same.
And when we decided to have a baby? Again, no conversation really needed to happen. We knew I’d stay vegan while pregnant and that we would raise our daughter the way we live. That’s why we have a super sharp little vegan toddler now who hugs her giant cow toy and would never dream of drinking “Ilsa milk”.
There are no food temptations, no sighing at having to buy more expensive ethical clothing and honestly? Having a totally vegan household is a dream come true. We will never go back.
Some friendships will implode
I don’t think I could have ever guessed that being vegan would result in friendships falling away, but it did. With a little time having passed, I can see that it’s no bad thing and those connections can’t have been real to start with, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt at the time.
I didn’t notice it at first. The constant jabs about being preachy, the jokes about eating tofu and the eye-rolls when I moaned in coffee shops about the alt-milk surcharge, but once you do start seeing the frequent digs, they get hard to ignore. Then came the irritation at having to “choose somewhere the bloody vegan can eat” for birthday meals out. It all just got a little dull and nasty, to tell the truth. I never begrudged going to a restaurant with meat options for my night out, but the same courtesy was never a silent one.
Also, when someone tells you they are lactose intolerant and having seriously bad IBS, then tells you to stop trying to convert them when you suggest a good plant milk, that’s when you know a friendship is in trouble. I never thought some of my last words to somebody would be: “Then drink the dairy milk, but don’t give me a blow-by-blow account of your bathroom habits afterwards!” But there you go.
Weight gain is possible
I’ve had a tricky relationship with my weight. Maybe I’ll go into that in more detail another time, but I’m comfortable enough now to admit that I have experienced disordered eating habits, which is why gaining weight on a vegan diet did not sit well with me initially.
I could have adopted a healthy diet, full of whole foods and fresh produce, but instead, I filled up on bread, pasta and crisps. There was a pretty big dependence on hummus too. The result? Some serious weight gain that made me feel crappy about myself, but it didn’t detract from the ethical underpinnings of the switch. It did lead to a newfound relationship with my kitchen though, so silver linings.
Looking back at these issues, I know that even if I had known about them, I would have still made the move to veganism. I’ve found new purpose and positivity in the lifestyle and I know that I’m raising a kind and compassionate (if occasionally very stroppy) next-generation vegan that won’t have to deal with complications arising from making the switch. And that’s good enough for me.