I have so much extra energy now! Some of the customers at the pub I worked at in Brighton nicknamed me ‘Bouncy’ because I’d practically knock people out from sprinting around the place, even when it was nearly empty and there weren’t any jobs that needed doing. Unless I eat an entire watermelon in one sitting, I don’t get bloated anymore.
This month marks my one year anniversary since turning vegan – my veganniversary, if you will. I usually write a blog post once a month, but this time I’ve decided to mix it up a little and write a three-part series to mark this occasion. I’m going to be exploring different FAQs in the hope of shattering the stereotype that vegans are all left-wing, hemp-wearing, tree-hugging, Kumbaya-singing, new-age freaks… Although, admittedly, I probably fall somewhere in that spectrum myself.
This is Part One.
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As I begin to write this first part, I’m sat up in bed with a punnet of grapes, a plate full of chocolate chip cookies and a hot mug of red bush tea surrounding me. It’s 12.30am – I usually do my self-proclaimed ‘best writing’ when I should be asleep and I’d hoped that these Free From cookies were also going to mean my bed would be free from crumbs, but you can’t get everything you want in life. This is my idea of heaven for a night in. Cheap date, eh?
The first question I’ve decided to rhetorically ask myself is:
Why vegan? (A.K.A Why don’t you just be a vegetarian if you love animals so much, you stupid hippy?)
A lot of people look at veganism like it’s some kind of fussy diet chosen to put loved ones off ever wanting to cook for, or eat with, us ever again. “There’s a vegetarian coming to the dinner party? We’ll just stuff a roasted [insert vegetable here] and shove loads of cheese on it… What? Oh my god, WHAT?! They’ve turned VEGAN?! What the fuck do we do now?! Bread? Do they eat bread? What about rice? Oh for the love of Christ, just tell them we’ve canceled. We’ll turn the lights off and hide under the table if they turn up anyway.”
Most vegetarians aren’t questioned about why they don’t want to eat meat, but there seems to be a grey area surrounding the harm caused in the production of animal ‘by-products’… and I completely get it. Although it’s becoming a lot more openly spoken about, and the range of vegan options are booming, to some it just seems like a faddy way of seeming ‘superior’. I’m not going to spout out a load of facts during this series of posts to try and scare you, but I will briefly speak about the reason why I made the change to a plant-based diet (I love how twatty plant-based sounds) because no one story is exactly the same… plus this is my blog so I can do what I like. So, here it is:
I loved meat. You name it, I ate it. Except bacon… I never got the hype. Probably just far too mainstream for my liking *hair-flick*. Growing up with an Iraqi father who loved his food, we ate a lot of lamb, lots of chicken, and plenty of fish on Wednesdays. I never questioned it. When we would watch David Attenborough documentaries I would cover my eyes and hide behind my knees when a shark was gnawing on a seal cub, but I never once bat an eyelid at the baby sheep that was hacked up and on the plate right in front of me. It wasn’t until my third year at drama school that the cogs started to turn.
Sat on the same long table in the library that we’d dragged ourselves to every day for a month, we each sat staring at our laptops, praying for our dissertations to write themselves. I was a particularly good procrastinator. I’d like to think that I enabled my peers to reach their full procrastination-potential too, but they probably wished I would piss off and annoy someone else. I was half an hour into my Facebook trawl when I stumbled across a video that one of my classmates had shared, showing people dressed mainly in black running into a building and shouting “Here! Here! Here!” on the subtitles.Not knowing what to expect, (but hoping it would be more interesting than writing ten-thousand very slow and painful words) I plugged my headphones in and folded my legs up on my wheely-chair in anticipation.
The video showed animal activists storming an egg factory in Israel. They had turned off the machines that were grinding up day-old male chicks, with those yet to be shredded-alive chirping away on a now-static conveyer-belt. Now, maybe I had been particularly sheltered from these things when I was growing up but I never knew, or had ever considered, that male chicks weren’t ‘needed’ or ‘used’. You’d assume that maybe they’d be sent off to be raised for meat, but – and maybe I was just super naïve – I’d honestly just never contemplated them playing any part at all in the egg industry. Chickens lay eggs. Most kids will tell you that an egg used to have a chick in it, or something along those lines, but they’re just the same thing that women produce once a month: ovulation. Anyway, this whole ‘male chicks not being needed’ thing was completely new to me and I was stumped.
I’m not really sure why it was that video that got to me so much because I’d never really considered going vegetarian before. I’d always considered myself an animal-lover, (even though I’d eaten them for twenty-one years) but this awakened something in me. I went home that night and vowed to myself that I’d stop buying eggs. Over the next few days, I began paying closer attention to everything I was eating and scrutinising it all in my head: “Yeah, this lamb chop tastes amazing but what has this animal gone through in order for me to have it sat on my plate right now?” I was starting to see no difference between Attenborough’s seal cubs and what I’d just cooked for dinner, and I was now driving myself a little insane by constantly questioning everything I’d ever known to be ‘tasty’ or ‘normal’.
A few days later, I went back home to Brighton to spend some much-needed time away from the library. When we went out for lunch, I told my friend Katie (yes, the same Katie from the MoonCup blog) about the video I’d seen and she – having just turned vegan a few months prior – recommended I watched 101 Reasons To Go Vegan on YouTube. So, that night I sat down with my brother, Joe, (who had also been thinking about ditching the meat-focused lifestyle we’d been brought up on) and watched the video. Seventy-eight minutes later, I turned to him, shook his hand and said, “I’m never eating meat again”
… and I haven’t. I said right there and then that I would go vegan and I was pretty excited about this mammoth challenge ahead of me. I watched a few more short videos that night, including one about why vegans don’t eat honey, and ordered three recipe books online – if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.
I think it was about 36 hours later that the veganism went straight out the window. I’d gone back to Sidcup for some friends’ final party at their flat and the hangover the next day was screaming at me for a cheesy pizza, so I caved. Less than two days. Well done, Leila. I gorged on mozzarella then hopped straight back on the vegan’dwagon the day after that and – apart from finishing the food that I had left in my cupboards, and having had the occasional jam-doughnut-or-Yorkshire-pudding-shaped slip ups since then – I’ve gone a year, and I don’t think I’ll be turning back any time soon.
But, Leila – what about your health? Surely your bones snap all the time now because you need milk from a cow’s boob to make your bones grow strongerer??
… Not really. I honestly feel a million times healthier now. Here’s a bullet-point list to prove it:
After the first few weeks of my bowel having a small nervous breakdown about all of the additional fibre and forcing me to plop at least five times a day, my poos are now super regular, quick and smell like heaven.
You know that crippling, very “Western” level of fullness that most people feel after a huge Sunday dinner when you just want to fall head-first into a week-long nap? I haven’t had that for a year. Don’t get me wrong: I can eat a lot and get really full-up, but not to the point where it’s uncomfortable. When you get a cramp from eating, that’s when you should know that something isn’t right.
So, that was my story. It’s not a particularly crazy one and I assume that you didn’t fall off your chair at any point. Most vegans were vegetarian or pescatarian beforehand, but I decided to give it all up more or less cold turkey (pardon the pun). It’s better to take it slow, and cut out one thing at a time so your body has time to adjust but I’m far too stubborn and my body knows that by now. It didn’t take long for it to all become habit, and I can honestly say that it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In Part Two, I’ll be answering the ever-popular "but what do you eat?", whilst debunking some protein-related myths and providing some quick, easy and delicious recipes in the process.
End of Part One.