In 2009, after many years of feeling generally sluggish and living with the pain of IBS, I decided to remove meat from the menu. I’d always wanted to become vegetarian, but being a fussy eater and growing up in a household that loved a variety of meat, I didn’t think I could do it. “What would I live on?” I often pondered. Somehow, a lifetime of Linda McCartney veggie sausages didn’t seem to light my fire.
But 8 years ago at the age of 30, Ian and I decided some lifestyle changes were in order. Reading reports that the saturated fats found in meat could contribute to a variety of illnesses, we wondered what we had to lose. We could lead a healthier lifestyle and help save the animals. Winner, winner, veggie dinner! A few months after we eliminated meat we also cut out milk. This was a bit harder for me because warm milk was something I poured daily onto my morning cereal. Although now, just writing that sentence makes me want to vomit into my mouth. So, after I scrapped the cow puss from my morning routine, the only thing left was the melted cheese I liked on a pizza. If you’d have passed me a block of cheese or tried to feed me a cold cheese sandwich, I would have rammed it hard into your face. But to be honest, melted cheese on a pizza was something I found hard to give up and at the time, turning vegetarian was enough for me. I’d stopped eating meat, eliminated my morning milk fix, and I was feeling healthier than I had in a long time. I felt satisfied I was contributing to making the world a better place, and I suppose I was – to a certain degree.
A Healthier Way of Life
Although our journey started out as a way for us to lead a healthier lifestyle, we soon noticed it crossing over into other areas of our lives. I scrapped my Benefit make-up and replaced it with products from The Body Shop. I swapped our clothes detergent for the plant based alternative Ecover, and I started cleaning the bathroom with my own mix of lemon and vinegar. I also stopped accepting cleaning products from our parents because they no longer met with my ethical values. If Ian came home with anything, I would give it back to him to return on his next visit. If I was present, I would decline whatever the item was. Although, this proved more difficult than I thought it would. It wasn’t the act of turning it down that was hard, it was the reaction of the person doing the giving. To begin with, I was met with sighs and rolls of the eyes, almost like I was a child with a new fad. And even though it’s become a little easier over time, I can still almost hear the ‘Oh for God sake’, as I politely decline something. But the thing is, these are my views. This is how I feel. I’ve never tried to force my views onto anyone else, and never would because it’s not my place. I have my way of living, other people have their way of living, and I’m fine with that. The world would be really boring if we were all the same, but unfortunately, the world is also full of people who roll their eyes at things they don’t understand.
Giving Up Dairy
Earlier last year, I became aware of how the dairy industry worked and the unethical treatment of the animals. Through my naivety, I assumed that by not eating meat and by buying products that were bunny friendly, I was making a difference – and I suppose I was. But the more I read about the dairy industry, the more it cut me like a knife. The overwhelming feeling of sadness bore down deep into my bones, and I knew I had to do more. This step was more difficult than I thought. Cleaning products and beauty products were all locked down, and even though I’d started to become more aware of the ingredients in food, I still found myself slipping. The skinny blueberry muffin at Starbucks, the cupcake from Waitrose with the thick raspberry icing and the mammoth caramel slice that Ian would bring home from work. My sweet tooth was slowly becoming a pain my arse because nearly everything I was craving contained milk and butter. There was still the cheese on a pizza situation as well. In fact, I only gave it up about 4 months ago, but the thought of it now makes me want to gag. And it was only a couple of months ago, we realised the rustic Rogan Josh sauce we liked so much also contained milk. I was devastated.
If you’re thinking about turning vegan, here are a few tips that you might find helpful.
It Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Be kind to yourself, and accept that you’re doing the best you can. You can’t change the world overnight, so don’t put pressure on yourself to scrap everything you own and replace them with new, vegan equivalents straight away. I waited until something ran out and then replaced it with animal-friendly alternatives. Cleaning products, make-up, shampoo, even clothes detergent. Whatever it was, I just had to tell myself I was doing everything I could with the finances I had available. With a little time, patience and research, you’ll get to where you need to be.
Research and the internet will be your two best friends. Grab yourself a brew, get settled, and fall down the rabbit hole Alice in Wonderland stylee. You’ll find useful information on The Vegan Society website and also in magazines like Vegan Life and Vegan Lifestyle.
It’s only natural that some foods are going to be harder to give up than others. I’ve been vegetarian since 2009, but it was only last year that I started to make the effort to move towards a vegan lifestyle. It took me 7 years to cut out cheese from my diet and I wasn’t even a cheese lover. A small amount melted onto a pizza was the one thing I struggled to give up, and it’s something I used to beat myself up over time and time again. This became easier once I found an alternative, and since then I haven’t looked back.
Food can be a bit of a minefield, but checking the ingredients on labels will become easier, and over time, so will finding vegan alternatives. Yes, some can be more expensive than non-vegan foods, but when I weigh that up against my conscience, I know I’m okay with it. I’m probably about 98% there with food, but I’m happy with the way things are going because I know I’m doing the best I can under my own personal circumstances. And most of the time, it’s because I’ve ended up eating something while I’ve been out, not realising exactly what the contents were.
I’ve also discovered that I love to bake – at least this way I know exactly what’s in my dessert.
With a myriad of vegan alternatives, milk is probably one of the easiest things to replace. With a variety of soya, almond, rice, coconut, oat, and hemp milk to choose from, there’s something to suit the palate of most people. We started off with soya milk back in 2009, then changed to almond milk earlier last year.
Many supermarkets offer their own brand meat free products, although they are mostly aimed at vegetarians. Quorn and Cauldron still appear to be the main brands in the UK, and they’ve both recently added some vegan products to their range that might be worth looking at. I’ve tried the Quorn spicy burgers and vegan chicken nuggets which can be quick and easy for my lunch when I’m at home. Personally, I’ve always chosen Cauldron over Quorn, but a couple of months ago we discovered Cauldron tofu sausages contained egg. We’d always assumed that tofu automatically meant vegan, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. While we really like cooking with their organic original tofu, we’ve removed their Cumberland and Lincolnshire sausages from the menu and replaced them with Tofurky and Linda McCartney sausages instead. And although Cauldron has recently added vegan sausages to their range, they didn’t do anything for my taste buds except make me gag a little.
A quick search on the internet will help you find out the information you’re looking for, and if you shop at Waitrose, they’ve been good enough to make a list available with full details of their own brand products suitable for vegans.
Eating out can be challenging to start off with, but once you figure out what food is available it becomes a lot easier. Zizzi introduced a vegan menu last year and this is fast becoming one of our favourite go to restaurants to eat at. They do a mean garlic bread and a super nice spaghetti Pomodoro. These are my favourite dishes when we decide to eat out there.
Before we moved house, we were also lucky enough to have two local Indian restaurants that were good at catering for our needs. When we first started asking for our food to be cooked without any ghee (Indian butter), it was a bit hit and miss. But once they got to know us, they were happy to make any adjustments we asked for.
The most obvious materials to avoid in clothing are leather, wool, and silk. Although unfortunately, it’s a lot more complex than it sounds. Other fabrics under the heading of wool also include cashmere, duffle, damask, felt, tweed and a whole host of other material that I didn’t even know existed! Check out this page that gives the lowdown of vegan and non-vegan materials.
Clothing was something else I struggled with. I wanted to discard everything straight away and remove anything that might include animal fibres. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to go out and replace everything I owned overnight.
If you have a leather jacket and worry about what to do, wear it until it needs replacing – a lot of people do this. You’ll always find someone who disagrees, but you must be kind to yourself and replace things within your own financial restraints. I only managed to replace my leather jacket in December, so the last thing I need to replace are my leather winter boots. Unfortunately, I’ve not been in the position to swap them out yet but they’ll be going for sure next winter.
You can go down the route of making your own mix of cleaner like I first did, or you can look for some bunny friendly, plant-based alternatives. Things have moved on a lot over the past few years, and you’ll find that many supermarkets own brand products are either animal-friendly, or they stock a range of branded animal-friendly products.
While supermarkets look like they’re moving forward with their own brand products, we always use Ecover. Dishwasher tablets, bathroom cleaner and toilet cleaner; washing up liquid, clothes detergent and softener. We can buy everything we need from their plant based range of products.
Probably the most common names for animal-friendly beauty products in the UK are Lush, The Body Shop, Superdrug, and Marks and Spencer. For me, Superdrug doesn’t advertise enough the fact their own brand products are suitable for vegans. I have a whole host of products from Superdrug that I absolutely adore! BB creams, body lotion, facial wipes, eyeshadow and nail varnish. The list goes on. I used to use their make-up range B religiously, but then I started to struggle to find the foundation I liked, and whenever I asked about it, it was always being repackaged or rebranded and then the shelves started to resemble a jumble sale. I gave up in the end and went back to The Bodyshop, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a foundation I liked. And although The Bodyshop aren’t completely vegan-friendly – you can find a list of their vegan-friendly products here. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been using Liz Earle and I’ve quickly become a huge fan.
Again, you’ll find some supermarkets own brand range of shampoo, conditioner and moisturisers are vegan-friendly, but always make sure you check their website or the back of the packaging for further details. Remember that not every company is part of the Leaping Bunny logo, but that doesn’t mean their products aren’t vegan.
I know this post doesn’t cover everything, but it was never intended to provide an exhaustive list of vegan products and retailers. There are plenty of other websites where you can find more in-depth information. This is more about sharing my vegan journey and the small steps that got me to where I am today. Something that started out as a healthier way of living has transformed my outlook on life and the way I approach things.
If you’re on a similar journey, you’ll find there are always people who don’t understand why you’ve decided to make the choices you have, but that’s just life. And there’s always going to be someone who tells you you’re not doing it right. But at the end of the day, it’s your journey. Do what feels right for you. For me, the journey has been a gradual process over several years and it was only when I started writing this post that I realised just how much of an effect it’s had on my life. I set out with the intention of leading a healthier lifestyle, which has ended up completely changing my life. Wherever you are on your vegan journey, I wish you all the best. I know you’re doing it for the right reasons.