Archives for category: Choosing Vegan

I didn’t go vegan.

Looking back at this blog six years later (in April 2019), it feels like it was written by someone else, as the past few years have brought a tremendous amount of change for me.  I didn’t go vegan, but the experiences I set in motion back in 2013 did change me.

I’d now describe my dietary ‘policy’, if I have one, as ‘flexi’.  I rarely eat dead creatures (in the past twelve months I’ve had a couple of things like prawn, chicken or tuna sandwiches, once a beef-burger).  This usually happens at motorway service stations, when I’m feeling bored and stressed, not having prepared any food to bring with me.  For the majority of the time, I eat a vegetarian diet, including some dairy and eggs, with far more vegan dishes than I used to eat, and people around me eat more vegan meals than they used to eat as well, because otherwise we wouldn’t be eating together.  I sometimes have a meal with fish, such as a piece of salmon, as there are some occasions when I really feel the need for animal protein.  There are whole days when my diet is vegan, and days when it isn’t, but there’s a lot more vegan in my life than there used to be.

After lapsing from this initial vegan effort in 2013 after approximately four months, there were a couple more times when I tried to be 100% vegan, but each time I went back to eating some animal products.  I periodically feel guilty about this, as I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘humane slaughter’, and anyone who claims not to know how much animals are abused in the dairy and egg industries is kidding themselves in my opinion.  I guess my position is that I am prepared to allow animals to suffer sometimes so I can enjoy certain things, even if I try to keep that at a fairly low level. I’m not proud of that.

I also became a climate breakdown activist, and spent quite a lot of time looking into human diet and what’s needed to try and help our poor ecosystem if its to have any chance of recovering.  I came to understand and appreciate how much plant-based diets are needed to reduce fossil fuel use.  I also learned about the problems with mono-cropping things like soya, palm, and avocado, and the labour abuses which occur in these industries, and realised that even choosing vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you have a compassionate diet.  I feel that, here in the UK we probably need to eat a lot more plant-based meals, but that it also doesn’t make sense to import protein that people elsewhere in the world should be benefitting from.  Responsible, organic animal agriculture, on a small scale can also help with land management.  There are so many issues.

The way I eat has changed forever, and perhaps I’ll have another try at being fully vegan sometime.

I know I’m reasonably healthy, and I had my bloods analysed last year.  It showed a vitamin D deficiency (something which many people, both omni- and vegan suffer from, often unknowingly), so now I supplement for that.

It’s worth noting, that I learned later in 2013 that my gallbladder was diseased, which would probably explain why I was suffering periods of digestive pain during the time I was trying The Vegan Pledge.  I had my gallbladder removed in November 2013, and have not had any problems since.  2013 was also a pretty tough year, as my Dad was chronically ill at the time, and died in the summer, so it’s also not surprising, looking back, that my emotions were all over the place as I was writing this blog.  Some of my poor health in those days very probably did arise from poor diet, with too much dairy, especially cheese.

I learned a lot from trying to live vegan, and I have tremendous respect and admiration for people who have managed to make it stick.  I continue to follow the developments of the vegan diet in this country, and to think about what I’m eating.

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It’s been a while since I’ve written here.  That’s partly just because things have been busy lately, but it’s also because it’s been quite a confusing few weeks.

After the initial euphoria of making it through a month with The Vegan Pledge, I had a sudden drop in mood and a period of soul-searching – ‘What’s this really all about now I’m not meeting a challenge any more?’, ‘Do I really want to make this a permanent lifestyle change?’ etc.

I’ve been feeling emotionally shaky and finding my reactions are all over the place: tears, temper, belly laughs.

Something which has surprised me is that I thought I would feel good about making a choice that takes me out of some of the cycles of cruelty upon which our current way of life is built, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it sometimes feels like an almost impossible task to choose ‘good’ food, by which I mean food the production of which hasn’t at some point had a negative impact on somebody somewhere.  For example, where do the cacao nibs I blithely snack on, to get the benefit of their ‘superfood’ properties, really come from? How were they harvested?  Did the workers get paid ok?  Was a village destroyed to plant a plantation to feed health obsessives thousands of miles away?  I worry about this stuff.  But, my life isn’t such that I can grow my own food, and so I have to buy food from others and therefore be part of a cycles of production and consumption.  I’m not sure if soya beans are really any ethically cleaner than processed meat, although at least there’s not the actually fact of an animal’s miserable life and stressful death to contemplate.  I don’t like the thought of human miserable lives either.  And that’s where things have really been biting recently.  In some respects my body and mind feel much clearer, and that is making things come through more hurtful, more shocking.  Now it upsets me more than ever to see people being horrible to each other and there have been times when stuff I’ve seen on the street, or in the bus, or on the news has made me literally flinch or weep.  Both conscious horribleness and apathetic obliviousness upset me.  I never liked it before and now it seems even worse.  I don’t feel like a strong, able person who is taking a positive choice.  I feel in shock.

Because it’s been quite dark sometimes it’s made me realise I need to watch my nutrition and make sure I’m not lacking anything that might be contributing to this drop in mood.  I’ve booked to see my GP later this week and I’m taking supplements now which should help keep up the levels of B vitamins.

I’ve also tried to talk with people about it, and vegans on the web have been brilliant, sending all sorts of advice, about food, about the psychology of change, and offering friendship and support.  I’m grateful for this.

I had one day where I ‘fell off the wagon’.  I’d come home hungry and had nothing readily available to eat in the house and was also in a bit of a low mood.  What I did have was a packet of shortbread and raspberry biscuits, which I’d not thrown out as they’d been given to me as a gift before I chose to go Vegan.  I’d been keeping them to offer to guests sometime.  Anyway, in a state of fairly mindless misery I opened up the pack and ate 5 of the biscuits.  It didn’t help lift my mood, and I just felt sad, both that I’d broken my Vegan commitment, and that I’d treated something which had been given as a gift so mindlessly.  It wasn’t a good evening.  I managed not to let it lead to anything further, however, and was back on track with my next meal and trying my best to take care of myself.  I also talked to some good people who helped me to keep things in perspective.  I can get over-earnest about things at times.

So, for now, I’d like to thank all those who are patiently putting up with me as I work through this stuff, and also say that I’m looking forward to having some fun doing things I love over the next few weeks.  It’s Easter, and even if it is cold, spring is on the way.  I’ll be doing some dancing and visiting a new place in Manchester which is supposed to be good for Vegan food – ‘The World Peace Cafe’.  Maybe I’ll see you there.  Oh, and I’m looking for a recipe for a great Vegan cake to celebrate the Easter/Spring holiday, so if you’ve got a good recipe, get in touch.

Horse meat – the hardest thing to digest is that it’s your fault.

I found the above article in ‘Freshly Pressed’ this morning.  I like it.  Here’s what I wrote in reply:-

This is a great post.  Your writing in this, and other posts, burns with the angry desire for authenticity.  I think it’s the ache of our age.  You are absolutely right, we are responsible for the world we create through our choices.  Well said.

I was raised by a mother who worked part-time and cooked real food, from ingredients, and knew how to use up leftovers.  She had been taught by her mum in turn, and both my grandmothers were of the WWII generation, where I think they learned how to live frugally and resourcefully.  There are elements of conservatism in the family life I knew as a child that I have sought to move on from in my adult life, but in terms of food I’m 100% with the people who mourn the state of the food industry, contemporary consumer habits, and the lack of time available for proper cooking, or indeed proper living.

Finding your post in ‘Freshly Pressed’ has come at a time when I’m struggling with paradox.  This month I’ve been trying out a Vegan diet, with the intention of exploring whether this is a lifestyle change I’d like to adopt permanently.

One of my reasons for transitioning to Vegan is concern about animal welfare and horror at the practices of the food industry.  I had a grandfather who was a vet and another who was a free-range pedigree poultry breeder, both trying to do the best in their professions,  but I don’t know if I would ever feel confident enough about animal welfare in today’s society that I would feel it’s ok to eat an animal/animal’s products.  I sometimes think I might be able to rear animals for food purposes myself, and kill them, but I’ve never tested that, so I don’t really know.  What I do know is, that the level of care I think a ‘used’ animal deserves leaves no room for profit.  Trying to make money out of selling animals for milk, meat etc. means that the pressures of the market will always be there, and, as you acknowledge, they are ferocious pressures.

The paradox I’m struggling with at the moment, in my third week of Veganism is the knowledge that it’s not just animal welfare that’s important.  Human welfare is equally important, and, I’d go as far as to say that, if we can’t get the human welfare sorted out, there’s little chance that we’ll manage it for the animals as well.  Humans feeling the pressure for whatever reason can easily cut moral corners and turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others.

You rightly acknowledge the misery caused in the lives of food producers in the UK as they’ve struggled to survive under market pressure and meet the ever-more-ridiculous demands of legislation.  There is a great deal of human suffering here.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, by choosing Vegan, I’m simply shifting the human suffering elsewhere.  As I’ve started choosing different products (for example: soya, quinoa, different plant oils) I’ve noticed that many of them come from far-away places and I have nothing but the bland assurances on the product’s packaging that what I’m consuming has been ethically produced.  You don’t have to Google very far to find evidence that the West’s appetite for different foods, or ‘wholefoods’, or ‘superfoods’, is leading, in some cases, to the clearance of native habitat, and to the displacement and/or hunger of local populations.

And that’s to say nothing of the air miles the lie behind the food I’m now choosing to eat.  It’s harder to avoid imported food if you eat Vegan in the UK, unless you live on root vegetables, cabbage and potatoes.

Your post vividly expresses  the monster we’ve collectively created in the Food Industry by our desire for cheap and convenient food.  I can see that choosing a Vegan diet isn’t going to make that monster go away.  There are still huge ethical concerns about food production on a mass scale, whatever it is and wherever it happens, and in our global society we have a collective responsibility for this.

I’ll be sticking to my Vegan choice for the time being, because I have strong concerns about animal welfare, whether in the slaughterhouses of Romania or an organic farm in the Cotswolds, and there is proper, statistical evidence that we all need to cut down our meat and dairy consumption for both health and environmental reasons.  I would really like, however, to be able to eat food that’s locally, and wholesomely produced.  I would like to know that the people producing that food have been able to work in decent conditions, that they have been well-paid for their work, that the lives of the communities of those food producers are good lives.

I’ve little idea how to bring that about through the power of my purchase.

For now, I’ll do my best to shop local, and where I can’t shop local, I’ll try not to be naïve, and be discerning about the food that’s being imported in my name.  I’ll be looking for Fairtrade products and companies that have authenticity and ethics at the heart of their operations.  All this searching uses up valuable cooking time, and, yes, it does cost more money than buying products for price alone.  It’s not easy swimming against the tide.  I applaud anybody who bothers to try to do it.  I applaud all food producers and consumers who are struggling to do what they can to make a better world.

I’m almost into my 3rd week of eating Vegan now.  These are the things I’m finding hard.

Eggs

The only thing I’m really missing is eggs.  Eggs, scrambled or boiled, were my favourite breakfast food, which I used to have a couple of times per week.  I also used to enjoy the occasional omelette as a simple supper.  I am starting to really miss these now.  Sitting down to breakfast this week with Dan and his little boy, as they tucked into their boiled eggs and toast soldiers, left me feeling a bit miserable.  I’m trying to vary my breakfasts, but they are generally cereal or toast based due to speed and convenience.  I’ve had toast with either p-nut butter or beans, and museli/granola with a variety of toppings, always trying to get some kind of protein and extra nutrients into the meal.  I’m beginning to tire of these breakfasts however.  I need to experiment with some new breakfast ideas, but it’s hard to find the time, and I don’t have a blender, which seems to be a kitchen staple of many Vegan cooks.

In just over a week’s time I’ll be going to visit an aunt at the weekend.  She keeps chickens, who are ex-battery hens that have been rescued and re-homed.  She has about 5 of them.  They are essentially pets, but when they’re laying, she eats the eggs.  I know that the chickens have a good home with this woman, whose Dad was a vet.  Are we really contributing to their suffering by taking their eggs away?  I would so much like to eat those eggs!

Yes, I would so much like to eat those eggs, which happen to be the potential for another creature’s child.  Doesn’t sound quite so good put like that.

I would like to eat them, but I’m choosing not to, because I’ve chosen to be Vegan, which means not treating another species as if it exists for my use.

In relation to the mainstream supply of eggs, I am appalled that we still have caged farms in this country, and agree that so-called ‘Free-Range’ or ‘Organic’ egg production can be still be highly industrialized and doesn’t look like a good experience for the birds involved.  I wonder, if I kept my own chickens, would that be such a bad thing?  Here are links to a couple of articles which show what Gentle World have to say about eggs:-

http://gentleworld.org/a-chickens-relationship-with-her-eggs/

http://gentleworld.org/whats-wrong-with-backyard-eggs/

When I was little I had a grandpa who had made his living from rearing free-range chickens, and I used to enjoy spending time with him, helping him to feed the birds and clean out the hen houses.  As a child it never occurred to me to ask what happened to the little boy chicks, or the hens once they stopped laying, and although I remember spending a lot of time around the hens and collecting eggs, I don’t remember noticing a hen looking distressed and looking for her egg after it had been taken away, but, I realise now, that’s because it never occurred to me to look.  I took the egg and moved on, I didn’t stay to see what happened next.

So, I’m struggling with a desire for eggs, but I understand the arguments for not eating them, so I’m persevering.

Nutrition

I’ve been feeling a bit tired this week.  It could be the helping-to-care-for-5-year-old-boy factor, but I’m aware that I don’t really know whether I’m nourishing myself ok at the moment.  To be fair, I didn’t know this when I was an omnivore either, and most of the time I didn’t care (and have suffered a few health problems, namely obesity, as a result).  I’m been very aware this week, however, that I’ve not managed to get much variety into my diet, which is one of the key aspects of eating Vegan.  For example, I’ve not had as many leafy greens as I think I need, and my protein sources have been a bit limited.

Last night I had my regular Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture appointment and my Acupuncturist told me that my tongue suggested that I am currently a bit “blood deficient”.  One of the main foods for balancing this is meat.  Others are dark beans, dark greens, prunes, seaweeds, and some grains.

So, I’ll be off to the nearest wholefood shop tonight for a long-overdue visit to stock up on some nourishing items and a couple of supplements in order to be on the safe side.

It’s also time to get to grips with tofu, which is something I’ve been avoiding, because previous cooking experiences with it have resulted in a soggy mush.  I need to get over my fears and learn how to cook tofu in a palatable way.  I know when I’ve had it in restaurants, firm and well-flavoured, it can be fantastic.  How do you re-create this in your own kitchen?

Conscience

I started to watch ‘Earthlings’ last week.  It’s a documentary feature film made by, among others, Joaquin Phoenix and Moby, who are practicing Vegans.   It’s Vegan propaganda, if you will.  Using hidden cameras to look at the myriad ways humans use animals, it is uncompromising and distressing viewing.  I didn’t get very far, and switched off not too far into the film.  I know all this stuff, right?  I know we kill animals to make our lives easier.  I know we violate their bodies in painful ways to further our own ends.  I know this, and I don’t want to have it shoved in my face.  And that’s just it.  I don’t want to face up to the reality of what it means to be a human and at the top of the food chain.  If I did, I would have to do something about it, accept responsibility for my actions, grow up, stop being a child in the great cosmic laboratory and realise that what I do has consequences.  It seems like a heavy burden to take on.  A large part of me would like to keep my mind’s eye closed.

If you’d like to watch the film, it’s freely available on the internet.  It is an unflinching look at sickening, real violence.  www.earthlings.com

If you search through internet forums and discussion groups about the ethics of eating or not eating animals, you’ll find plenty of ranters on both sides, and one of the most common rants in favour of eating meat is that we’ve earned our position at the top of the food chain by virtue of our intelligence, and opposable thumbs, and shouldn’t have any qualms about this.  I don’t really buy this argument.  The way I see it, humanity is in a constant state of evolution.  That’s not a positive or negative term, it simply means things keep changing.  We’ve gone from struggling to survive and having to gather and hunt our own food, to becoming a fantastically successful species who have evolved to such a level that many (although certainly not all) humans have the luxury of choice about how to live their lives.  This leisure has been achieved through us using our ingenuity to invent things to do work for us.  We are now at a stage where we have knowledge, technology, and the capacity to industrialize almost any aspect of life.  That doesn’t mean that it is healthy to apply this indiscriminately.   I am just as horrified and upset by what I see of the way humans behave towards other humans.  It doesn’t surprise me that we have the capacity to be so unaffected by animal suffering when we are capable turning a blind eye to so much that happens to other members of our own species.  I regularly chat with people who think it’s great to get clothes really cheaply, and don’t seem to care what may have happened to make the clothes so cheap.  I wouldn’t be without my mobile phone (despite the fact that I’m of the pre-mobile generation and was in my mid-twenties before mobile phone use became common). The last time I renewed my contract and got a new phone, I ignored the knowledge I’d acquired from watching an arts performance by some asylum seekers in Manchester, that my handy little communications device uses rare minerals, the mining of which is one of the root causes of the brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where people are raped, mutilated and murdered every day.

One of the things I want most is to belong.  I want to exist, without too much bother, in the group of humans I happen to have been born into.  It is an inconvenience to me to have to spend my time, thinking, reflecting, choosing, and acting a certain way, if it goes against the grain of what the majority of those around me are doing.  Yet, the conscience-voice is there.  Part of our humanity is this: our capacity to reflect and to choose, which suggests to me that what we do after reflecting is significant, our actions matter as one of the ingredients of the universe.  That is why we have this faculty.  That is what morality is.  If some people hadn’t ‘gone against the grain’ in various societies throughout history, we’d still kill humans for entertainment like the Ancient Romans did, and still use humans as slaves.  Oh, but we still do that, even though we think we’ve stopped.  It’s an on-going task to bring about change, and it boils down to the will of the human heart.

I think being non-violent is the hardest thing to be.  It doesn’t come easily.  Eating Vegan isn’t turning me into someone who is can joyfully and positively choose not to use animals, it all feels a bit overwhelming, and a bit of an effort.  Watching films like ‘Earthlings’ makes me feel despairing about the nature of the human, and plenty of people would say it is counter-intuitive to not accept your own nature.

A question I’ve been asked regularly is, “What would we do with all the animals if we didn’t farm them?  Would you like a countryside that looked very different?”  I don’t have a clear answer for that.  I wouldn’t like a countryside full of fields of vegetables if their mass-production resulted in poor working conditions for humans and degradation of the natural environment.  I’d miss seeing cows and pigs around in the fields.  I don’t know that it would be such a bad change, however.  Like many things, if it could be managed sustainably, then it could be great.  I’m very much in favour of the use of scientific knowledge for sustainable development.  Just because I can’t quite imagine how the ‘brave new world’ might be, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring.

Sometimes in my life I’ve met people who have filled me with optimism and a buzz of creative joy, the idea that you can live counter-culturally and contribute to your society.  The doom-sayers and cynics haven’t stayed with me, but I’m bit pessimistic myself.  I think what I need right now if to live in the (Vegan) moment and not worry too much about the ‘big picture’.  I need an injection of positivity and can-do inspiration.

I’d like to end the week by sharing this page from a blog I’ve been following.  I’m not 100% sure I don’t sense the essence of Photoshop here, but it did make me think, warm my heart, and smile.

Would you like a side of Love with your Humane?.

From Forty With Love

Being real, being heard, being whole

Dr. Will Tuttle PhD & The World Peace Diet

Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony

Gentle World

One month with The Vegan Pledge

Beth Creedon

Abundance Coach

Maintenantman's Blog

Ted Eames writes.....

St Chrysostom's Church News and Views

The Blog of St Chrysostom's Church, Manchester UK

Here I Go Vegan

One month with The Vegan Pledge

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.