Archives for category: Living 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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After the initial excitement of the first month, and keeping myself motivated by blogging about it, I had some struggles, but now I feel like I’m really getting into the swing of it and I’m feeling well.

This week I’ve had some blood test results back from my GP.  I’d told them that I’d been eating a Vegan diet for 2 months and that I’d like them to check my nutrient levels and anything else relevant.  The bloods results have come back absolutely fine.  It’s great to know that I’m nourishing myself properly.  The same is true in my acupuncture appointments as well: there were a couple of weeks when my acupuncturist said I was a bit ‘blood-deficient’, but that has now passed and I’m back to showing healthy signs.

I had some issues with stomach pain that felt like bad indigestion pain, and that, coupled with a significant mood slump during the second month had got me feeling quite worried.  These are the things I’ve learned which are helping me to take better care of myself and which have alleviated the problems:-

  • I’m really taking care to eat a varied diet and not repeat foods over several days.  I can’t eat beans 2 days in a row without feeling some kind of bad consequence!  So, I don’t do it anymore.  I really mix it up with the legumes, having as wide a variety of beans and peanuts as possible, and make sure that I have tofu meals on days in between, and sometimes have days where I just make a really good salad with some nuts and seeds for the protein.  I find I really like, and eat quite a lot of Tahini.  I also find that lentils and peas are much gentler on my digestive system.  I eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, and also plenty of carbs, mostly whole grains.   I seem to need more bread/pasta/couscous etc. to soak things up than I did when I was an omnivore.
  • Although I’m eating a lot, I’ve learned to eat in smaller meals and to space meals out regularly without large intervals in between.  It turned out that whenever I had stomach pain it was usually because I’d over-eaten, or eaten too fast, and on a very empty stomach.
  • I’ve worked on my Omega 3-6-9s, eating a variety of seeds, oils and fortified soya milk, and I’m also taking a Vegan omega oil supplement.
  • I’m taking a Vegan multivitamin to take care of vitamins B12 and D among others.
  • I’m trying to eat dark foods: dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale, dark beans, seaweed, dried figs, dark red fruits, to help ‘build blood’ (in Chinese medicine terms) and also boost nutrients like calcium and iodine.
  • I’m eating plenty of fruit, something fresh every day and lots of delicious dried fruits, and crystalized ginger.
  • I’m exercising regularly and riding my bike all over the place now that spring is here and it’s more pleasant to be outside.
  • I’m drinking plenty of water, and have reduced caffeine, as this also seemed to be contributing to the problems I was having with stomach pain and low mood.  It was kind of like, when I’d cut out all the dairy products that were clogging my system, I felt the other problems more, but now they are starting to heal.  I find that although I still enjoy the experience of drinking coffee, the after-effects of it are not so nice, and so I only have it occasionally now.
  • I’ve been having fun with Vegan baking.  The best result so far is the lemon cake pictured in the previous post, but the use-up-the-going-off-bananas cake came a close second 🙂

All these things have helped.  I’d also say, there has probably been a strong link between my emotions and my digestive system during this time, and, as I’ve started to assimilate the changes I’m making and to relax more, I’ve started to feel well again.  In the early weeks I don’t think I’d taken account of what a significant change this is, not only in terms of eating habits, but in what it means philosophically, and this was actually quite a shock to the system – in the fullest possible senses of that idiom.

Two books have helped me a lot.  The first has been great in helping me get nutritional things sorted out, because it makes clear, helpful suggestions and even includes some daily eating plans, which have helped to show me I’m on the right track.  It’s an American book, but I still found it quite readable as a Brit.  I just need to find out what a ‘Sloppy Joe’ is and I’ll be quite conversant!  (Doesn’t sound very nice, ‘Sloppy Joe’….  What is it?)  Here’s a link:-

http://www.veganoutreach.org/veganforlife.html

The second book is ‘The World Peace Diet’ by Will Tuttle.

http://worldpeacediet.org/

This is a philosophical book which deconstructs the way we live now and have lived historically, and makes a very convincing plea for a worldwide revolution in attitudes towards other species and the way we have used them.  It addressed a lot of the things that I had started to think and feel prior to reading the book, and reading it has re-assured me that I’m not going barmy in feeling the way I feel.  There are plenty of others around who would like to see a change to gentler, more co-operative living, both between humans and with animals.  Read it.  It’s well-argued and sincere.  It makes a lot of sense to me and has strengthened my belief that our planet desperately needs some big changes and, if we have the insight and courage to make them, humans will be healthier, happier, and have a future.

Another thing happened which cheered me enormously, in an odd way.  It was that I set out to go to The Northern Vegan Festival, which was being held in Manchester.  When I got to the venue, the crowds were queuing round the block. In the end I never got in, because I couldn’t be bothered to wait, but it made me realise that I’m definitely not alone!  How exciting that so many people are making, or at least exploring, Veganism as a way of life!

I’ve been eating a Vegan diet for 11 weeks now and I’m feeling good.

Here are some pictures of meals I’ve enjoyed recently.

1.  A falafel, mushroom, spinach and houmous burger.

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2.  Tofu/veggie scramble, fried polenta slices and steamed savoy cabbageImage

3.  ‘Green Museli’ – I chuck in lots of pumpkin seeds as an extra and add chopped kiwi fruit. This one was served with almond milk.

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4. And finally, a luscious lemon cake I made at Easter

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I’ve also been enjoying trying out some great bodycare products from ‘Lush’ and am completely bowled over by their shower gel called ‘The Olive Branch’.  It’s wonderful.  Here’s a link:-

https://www.lush.co.uk/product/416/100g-The-Olive-Branch-Shower-Gel

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.

I went on retreat in a convent over the weekend.  It was a good time, with lots of space for letting life percolate and renewing relationships.  Over the course of the weekend, the whole Vegan ‘thing’ popped up regularly in the conversation.

Now, going on retreat in a convent is not like going on a Buddhist retreat, where Vegan, or at least Vegetarian, food would be par for the course.  Those of you who’ve had any kind of contact with Christianity (in the UK at least) will know that adherents to this faith (with some truly amazing exceptions) tend to be of a conservative nature, and when it comes to eating, are likely to be ‘meat and potatoes’ types.  This despite the fact that early in the first, and possibly most famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) book of the bible we find the words “… and God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”  (Interestingly, nothing is said about eating animals until after the flood…).  I’m not a literalist bible reader, and I think we have a conscience for a reason and need to exercise it daily, so I’m not going to start justifying Veganism with bible quotes, but I will say that I’m happy to see (out here on the internet) that there are plenty of Christians who are coming around to the perspective that a number of Eastern faith traditions have embraced for a long time, that we need to tread lightly on the earth.  After all, even though I don’t know the bible that well, I can categorically tell you that God definitely didn’t say “you shall enslave animals in mass industrial production systems, subjecting them to pain, violation and terror on a mass scale never imagined by the wandering Israelites when they ate their manna from heaven.”

To be honest, things were not looking promising before we arrived at the convent.  My Vegan co-conspirator had been told on first enquiry that, “We can look after the Vegetarians, but the Vegans will have to eat beans on toast.”  He responded with a helpful list of things Vegans DO eat and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  (Well, I actually went prepared with a box of things to snack on  if it turned out there was no protein to be had.  I’ve got a way to go before I can “consider the lilies of the field” and not worry about how I’m going to come by food…  although I do believe in seeking that elusive thing ‘the Kingdom of God’.  In respect of that, I’ll be much better at contributing to that Kingdom if I’m not stroppy because my blood sugar is low.)

We need not have worried.  Being a Vegan guest in a retreat house was just like being a Vegan guest anywhere else; I have so far found that if you equip your hosts with a bit of knowledge they will willingly rise to the occasion, even if they do feel a bit anxious about it.  We were taken very good care of, following the diet of the Vegetarian sisters (of which there were four in residence that weekend) who had all agreed to go Vegan for the time we were there.  I am quietly impressed by this, as most of the sisters are advanced in years and probably used to their routine.  I was certainly touched by their kindness.  They also supplied us with some Vegan nibbles in the cottage: lots of houmous, some cornbread, and a ‘Vegan’ kitemarked ‘sausage’ which I hadn’t tried before and was an interesting experience (if you want to know my ‘Thoughts on Imitation Foods’, please see the earlier post from 19th February under that name).  We certainly didn’t go hungry.  Our final meal with the sisters was Sunday lunch, for which we had a lovely lentil pie, gorgeous greens (spring cabbage and curly kale) and roast potatoes, followed by stewed apple with raisins and spices.  It was a delicious meal in good company.

At that meal (the only one not taken in silence) I sat across from one of the sisters, whose beautiful spirit was infectious.  She is Vegetarian and she arrived late for lunch because she had been out at a church service in the local community.  As she tucked into her lentil pie, she said, “I’m so glad we’re eating Vegan this weekend. If I’m ever in hospital, I always ask for Vegan food because it’s always the tastiest and best.”  She was an elderly woman, bright-eyed, curious, talkative, full of gratitude and very much ‘alive’.  We talked about Samosas, Fiji, and music. 

With food anxieties put to one side, there was plenty of time on retreat for noticing other things.  Things like how, if you do things with a deliberate intention, they can become more vivid; how, if you frame your day in a structure of prayer or meditation, it’s like having regular time to ‘breathe’, to ‘check in’ and see how things are; how a group of people living together in a committed way has a different kind of texture to the kind of reality I’m used to.  Being ‘monastic’ made me think about rules.  It was certainly the case that when I first heard of Veganism it seemed like a very strict rule to live by.  Having chosen it voluntarily and started doing it, renewing that commitment on a day-to-day basis, my perception is different;  I actually find the rule helpful to me.  In narrowing down my choices, it frees me to focus more clearly on specific things, like on how to make tasty, colourful, healthy meals out of what is allowed to me, and on being grateful for the abundance that’s available.

Living Vegan has enriched the way I think about living in faith.  For a long time I didn’t practice the faith I was raised in, it seemed like an affront to my liberty to have to adhere to rules which encroached on personal areas of my life.  Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself wanting to re-commit to living under rules which seek to govern the heart.  It’s important that this is something I’m choosing freely.  It feels positive for that reason.  Life tastes better when you focus on what you CAN do with commitment, creativity and joy. 

It’s not like there’s been any massive revolution, and you might not notice anything different on the outside, but it’s like my compass has been re-set or something.  When I say I’m evolving into  a ‘Christian, Vegan Bicyclist’, Dan jokes that I should get a t-shirt printed with the slogan “Hell For Leather”.  Well, I don’t want to push my slogans on anyone else, but I do want to share them.  Maybe there’s something in common here too between practising Veganism and practising a faith; when you find something good you want to tell everyone about it.

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