It recently occurred to me that, despite this blog being about all things vegan and cruelty-free, I hadn’t yet written about how and why I decided to actually go vegan. I’ve really enjoyed this type of content lately – Sarah’s YouTube video and Hannah’s post are two examples – so thought I’d share my own reasons for making, and sticking to, this change.
| HOW IT ALL BEGAN
I’d been a vegetarian for 5 years before transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. A pretty strong-willed veggie friend had left an impression on me, so I decided to give it a try. I hadn’t been a big meat-eater to begin with – I mainly ate chicken, tuna and occasionally beef and bacon – so it was pretty easy to cut meat out, and after a short time I didn’t miss it at all. I started learning about animal testing (particularly within the cosmetics industry) and moved towards cruelty-free products. I’d been motivated by my love for animals, but I wasn’t particularly political or active with my choices whilst I was vegetarian. It was just a way of life I’d fallen into and as much as I believed in it, there wasn’t a whole lot of consciousness behind my lifestyle during that time.
That all changed (as I suspect it did for many) when I first watched Cowspiracy, in May 2015. I could identify closely with the documentary maker – as a vegetarian and someone who cared (albeit quite passively) about animal welfare and the environment, I was plodding along happily, comforted by the feeling that I was doing enough to conserve and to protect. For the record, I think being vegetarian is fantastic and if that’s where you’re at and it’s working for you, stick with it and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not good enough! When I watched Cowspiracy, though, something clicked in me and I felt ready to take it up a notch, committing to start transitioning to a plant-based diet from then on.
I struggled at first. I couldn’t bear the idea of giving up eggs entirely – what would Sunday brunch be without poached eggs? – and, although I’d long been drinking soya and almond milk, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to cut out cheese and milk chocolate straight away. I decided initially to go into veganism slowly and to not give myself too hard a time if I slipped up. But, gradually, the idea of eating animal derived products stopped appealing to me in any way, and no item of food was worth consuming if it meant that I was compromising my morals.
| FOR THE PLANET
The success and power of Cowspiracy, in my opinion, is that it is a very balanced and non-judgemental exposure of the effect of animal agriculture on the environment. Whilst I was veggie, I hadn’t really thought about the impact farming animals has on the planet, but Cowspiracy brought it into awful focus. The facts shocked me completely, and it was as if everything slotted into place. I could no longer imagine contributing to such a devastating future for the environment, and it broke my heart that I had been for so long.
| FOR MY HEALTH
It seems like the health benefits of veganism are a big factor in people’s decisions to switch their diets. However, if I’m honest, this didn’t really sway me much at all. I’ve never made a conscious effort to eat healthily and to this day couldn’t really tell you any concrete statistics about the ill effects of eating animal products. Eating habits and personal dietary needs are topics I approach with extreme caution; I feel uncomfortable about the idea of restrictive diets or the close monitoring of ingredients and calories, and believe that everyone should make dietary decisions based on their individual needs. That being said, there are undeniable links between the over-consumption of animal products and certain diseases, and I for one do feel much better physically and mentally* since cutting them out.
*Again with the caution – I would hesitate to say there is any link between mental wellbeing and vegan eating. Vegans can and do suffer with mental illness, the same way meat-eaters do or don’t. Personally, I have generally felt better mentally in terms of making conscious decisions and knowing my choices have a positive effect on the world and save the lives of animals, but my anxiety hasn’t magically disappeared.
| FOR THE ANIMALS
While the main drive towards my switch to veganism was my desire to lessen the impact of my lifestyle on the environment, another big reason for the change was – of course – the animals. As I mentioned, being vegetarian for so long prior to going vegan meant that I already cared deeply about animal welfare. Cutting out dairy, eggs and honey, and more actively avoiding wool, silk and other animal by-products that can be found in clothing and cosmetics strengthened my beliefs that we are in no way superior to animals, and that all species of animal deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and compassion. Why should we care any more about our beloved pet cats, dogs and rabbits than we do about the thousands of sentient, intelligent farm animals – chickens, cows and pigs – imprisoned in the agriculture system? What makes them any different? I know the idea that humans and animals are equal can be difficult for many to grasp, and I don’t even think it’s a necessary belief to hold to be vegan, but for me it is central to my decision to stop consuming any animal by-products.
Being vegan isn’t without its challenges, on a personal level as well as more widely. Although it is becoming easier to find vegan food in restaurants and supermarkets, and interest in plant-based lifestyle is growing at a rapid rate, there are still small things I struggle with such as grabbing quick convenience food at cafes, or eating well abroad. On a wider scale, I understand that the farming industry is the livelihood of many hundreds of people across the world, and change will not occur overnight. For my part, all I can do is try my best to raise awareness amongst those I know and keep believing that we can build a better future for humanity, the animals and the world.
Have you gone vegan or are you thinking about making the change?