Today I’m one of THOSE Vegans…..

Yesterday I touched on the fact that I would rather list everything that I don’t eat then call myself a Vegan, in my article ‘Oh so you’re a Vegan…’. It makes sense, because my journey into Veganism did not begin with the desire and intention to save the world.

The reality is outside of the Vegan community, it is others that give me the Vegan label. I really did just list everything that I don’t eat for the longest time.

According to the Collins dictionary, Veganism is “the adherence to a vegan diet“. So if I was to base my classification off of that, I am at least following Veganism. However, others may argue that its bigger than just what you consume. According to Merriam-Webster, “ a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals also : one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)”. This requires a little more of a person then just what they eat. It goes into the lifestyle choices that one makes. So do I adhere to that? The short answer is yes. In recent years I have made a conscious effort to check the labels of products I use. What may have started out as necessity for health and quality of life has expanded to mean more to me. It matters to me now that if i’m using a product, it has the Vegan trademark and that products are therefore free from animal ingredients and animal testing.

My issues with Vegans, and why I’ll often distance myself from being labelled as one is their desire to police other Vegans and the militance they use to Police those that don’t adhere to the same diet and lifestyle as them. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t force it on anyone. You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink and I fully follow that practise. If anyone asks my opinion on it, I’ll share where my thoughts lie but you won’t find me trying to force anyone into it. It has been wonderful to see my friends reduce their meat consumption over the years and also approach me for Vegan recipes of their own accord. You can do more with love then you can ever do with hate. Would I prefer all my loved ones to be Vegan? Certainly. My brother knew whenever he came to my flat that he was getting a Vegan meal because that’s what I eat. I can remember watching episodes of shows like Come Dine with Me, where when the host has been Vegan, they’ve cooked meat to make their guests more ‘comfortable’. You won’t catch me doing that. The other month I proclaimed to my friends that I can’t marry a meat-eater, I was called extra, and I can see why it would seem that way until you take into consideration all my reasons around it. I won’t list them here but its a big part of my life and I would like whoever I end up with to share that part of my life with me.

According to the Vegan society ‘Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’ Thats right, ‘as far as is possible and practicable’, this is a definition that definitely applies to me. 

When I first gave up the consumption of all animal products, I was ignorant to much of the food practises involved in the preparation. I was aware of battery farms, was adamant that animal milk is for animals and not Humans. It’s strange that Humans are the only mammals that consume the milk from species not their own. The more I would learn the more it would confirm in my mind that I was on the right course for both myself and the planet. I always say that if one thing doesn’t change, then nothing will. I might only be one person, but all of those singular people doing their bit eventually adds up when numbers are combined.

I am not an animal person, in all honesty, they scare me. Whilst fear is irrational, I have always been wary of animals due to my inability to communicate with them and know what they are thinking. In my youth a friend got bitten by a dog intent on attacking me after he stepped in front of me. My fear of dogs is therefore less irrational and more based on experience. Before you make any further assumptions about me, you should know that I am no less wary of humans. While I am not an animal person, I am equally not a human person either. I do not agree with the idea of having pets, especially if you live in flat or don’t have the means to make that animals life as spectacular as can be. They can’t tell you if they are unhappy though, so its up to you as their owner to ensure you are doing the most. Many people fall in love with the idea of having a pet, and when faced with the reality not matching the dream, send their pets off to pounds. I’d rather no-one keep pets than that, but if you are a potential future pet owner, I would suggest not heading for a breeder but getting your animal from a rescue centre instead.

By that same measure I am not a fan of Zoos unless they are actively contributing to the conservation effort. I hate that the new norm for many holidays is to be pictured with a declawed tiger, on the back of an elephant or something similar. I love animals in the wild, I believe the only interference that should come from humans is ensuring that we don’t lose any more species to extinction. Like many of you I watched the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. I would have liked to have seen these ‘zoo owners’ prosecuted for their crimes to animals, illegal breeding of tigers and full on animal cruelty. You won’t catch me signing a petition to free Joe Exotic and I genuinely hope that they lock Carole Baskin and all the other big cat owners up soon too.

Back to the Vegan society’s definition of Veganism, and we look at the line to ‘all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’ As I said before, I love all animals in the wild. A few years ago, on one of my annual Easter trips to Grenada, I told my dad I wanted to take a trip up to Grand Etang to see the monkeys. These monkeys are wild. They roam free in the rain forrest unencumbered and are protected by local laws. There’s not guarantee that they will come out of the trees and see you but some give in to the lure of an easy dinner, an offering of some bananas. Looking back, I question if this was exploitation but the monkeys are wild and free to come and go as they please. I was probably more scared then the monkey that decided it wanted to sit on my head to eat the banana that I gave it.

I love all animals in the wild. I hope that future generations understand the importance of them getting to stay in their own natural habitats, with minimal to no interference from humans. So whilst I abhor animal cruelty I must speak up when I see people hunting and killing endangered animals for sport. Last years winter love island over on ITV saw a contestant named Ollie Williams outed for being a trophy hunter. If there’s anything I hate more its the hunting of animals for trophy. Ollie’s twitter bio states that he is a staunch conservative, I miss-classified him as a racist because of this, and with no proof I retracted that statement and apologised. But given that I now had his attention, I felt it was important to address his status as a trophy hunter despite papers like The Sun printing article where Ollie claimed not to be. The Mirror also published an article on this entitled ‘Love Island’s Ollie Williams denies trophy hunting in defiant statement’. However, pictures don’t lie, and Ollie deleting the evidence of his trophy hunting actions from his instagram did not make them disappear all together. Once on the internet always on the internet. 

My Twitter argument with Ollie saw him attempt to threaten me with the notion that I will get my ‘fingers burnt’, and I would like to take this opportunity to remind him that he courted fame when he went on a national television show. 

My argument with Ollie fast saw him changing his tune to state that hunting is important to ‘the survival of many African species’. It made me wonder what did Africa do before Ollie was born and embarked onto the continent as a white saviour.

I would have been more inclined to believe Ollie’s sentiment that by killing and posing with the bodies of animals he was acting on the greater good had he not been exposed by the metro newspaper in March 2020 in the article, ‘Love Islands Ollie Williams shoots venison after denying Trophy hunting claims‘. In an instagram post captioned ‘Hunting wild venison: my kind of stockpiling’ Ollie can be seen hunting Deer. In todays climate, you do not need to hunt for food, with the exception of indigenous tribes who live off the land, it is not necessary. The Guardian newspaper reported that ‘UK householders throw away 34,000 tonnes of beef every year’  in their article, UK households wasting 34,000 tonnes of beef each year. That article is now 4 years old and I imagine we waste even more food per annum now than we did then. 

I will always actively confront those that I see practising animal cruelty. Hunting of animals is not needed today and those that do it, do it for sport alone. Activities such as clay pigeon shooting can be done instead to tackle those desires. To conclude, whilst I may not have started out as a person concerned with the right of animals, know that I care. I will not sit by blind to the practices of animal cruelty. If you ever thought that I would then you should know this: Today I’m one of THOSE Vegans!

Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

Me: I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it.

Them: Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

My relationship with Veganism is a strange and tense one. I did not become a Vegan by choice, nor do I profess to be a perfect one. My relationship with food in general is a complex one and one that I wont be fully getting into with this article. I am a Vegan. A Vegan by circumstance and force. Here’s how.

Growing up I was a fussy eater. I would go through cycles with food. I hated eggs. Didn’t like the look. Didn’t like the taste. I’d flip between refusing to eat the yoke and refusing to eat the white, my mother cutting away which ever I was refusing at the time leaving me with either a fried yoke or fried white. When I left home at 18, I stopped actively eating eggs. If I could request a version of something with no eggs I did. 

Milk, was a next battle. It had always left me with an unsettled stomach. At a young age I recognised that I didn’t like the taste of milk. My frequent and firm refusal to drink it during refreshments time in Reception, resulted in the school calling my parents in for a discussion. This was the remnants of the free school milk era that Margaret Thatcher had tried to end in order to  cut spending so that they were able to honour the tax pledges they had made during the 1970 election. The free school milk had been around since the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act, but the combination of the taste and the upset it gave my stomach, I was never a fan. 

By the time I reached university I was consuming alternatives to animal dairy products. I relied heavily on substitutes such as the Soy and Almond milk by ALPRO. This meant that I was now not eating eggs and the only dairy product that I was eating was Cheese, because, well Cheese!

So thats a fairly easy thing to recite when eating out. No eggs. No dairy, but I don’t mind cheese. 

So how did everything else fall out of my diet?

I have touched on my very West Indian upbringing in previous articles. So to see where it all began to go wrong with meat, I need to take another trip back into my childhood. 

The 1980s and 1990s saw the UK witness an outbreak of  bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or as it became more commonly known, Mad Cows Disease. Over four million cows were destroyed in an effort to contain the outbreak, and 177 people died after contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) through eating infected beef. The outbreak of this disease and its ability to pass from infected meat and onto humans meant that it quickly disappeared from my childhood home. To be honest, while I can think back and remember the mass panic, I have no recollection of actively missing the presence of beef in my diet. In the mid 2000s I started university and like with most students, all semblance of a balanced diet went out the window. I am the first to admit that I survived on fast food, take out and junk food. I developed an unhealthy addiction to cheese burgers, McDonald’s ones if we are being honest here. Over time I began to find that eating them was making me ill. I was physically struggling to digest them and would often end up vomiting out of control requiring trips to A&E and medical intervention. It wasn’t just beef burgers that was doing this, I couldn’t eat mince in spaghetti bolognese, or have a steak and chips either. It was on my third or fourth trip to A&E when a consultant who had already treated me a couple times said “We have told you that you are allergic to beef. You have an intolerance to an enzyme in it. Stop eating it or we will stop treating you!” And so I stopped eating beef. 

If you’re paying attention to the list we have now dropped Eggs, Dairy (still clasping cheese), and no beef because i’m allergic to it. Still a fairly simple list to recite when dining out.  For a few years things were great. My digestive issues were no longer ruining my life thanks to the adjustments that I had made. Then one day lamb decided to ask ‘Hey, What about me?. I had only managed to cut beef out of my diet by heavily substituting it with the meats we get from sheep. I used minced lamb in bolognese sauce, in my homemade curry patties and I used lamb chunks in my stir fry. Not to mention the occasional lamb shank or lamp chops for a Sunday roast. 

Lamb began to give me the same issues that beef had been giving me and a discussion with my Dr drew the conclusion that all red meat was a no no for me, due to certain enzymes found in it.

So now its, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no red meat. Still simple enough, although choose foods when eating out was starting to get a little more complex for me.

I know you’re looking at the dietary progression and wondering how I jumped from No red meat to  no meat. The reason is very simple. I was out eating on a business lunch and had specifically checked with the restaurant to make sure there was no red meat in the food that I had ordered. It was a pan-asian restaurant but our waitress was adamant that the items I ordered were fine. At face value none of the items had red meat. By the time I returned to the office my stomach was doing somersaults. I was frantically thinking through everything that I had consumed that day, wondering if at some point I had decided to relax on my rules and eat something any way. I hadn’t. A quick phone call to the restaurant and a lot of insistence on my part led to the confession that a meat stock had been in one of the items that I had ordered and eaten. I left the office early that day, no longer able to function and adamant that my journey with all meat had ended.

So now we had, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat all all. I admit that this black out on all meat was a struggle for me mentally. Whilst I didn’t eat much pork due to a large portion of my family being Seventh Day Adventists, I lived for chicken wings. If I wasn’t eating cheeseburgers in uni, you would often catch me with a serving of hot wings from KFC or Sams. I can happily admit I was addicted to them. It was my go to order whenever I had to eat anywhere and they were on the menu. As an adult I would often stop off in the chicken shop near to my London flat on the way home and grab a portion fo wings and chips. Boss man was generous and with me being such a loyal customer her would always gift me with extra free wings. I can still hear how hard he laughed when I went into his shop and he automatically began to prepare my wings only for me to tell him I’d given up meat and could I just get a large chips with  hot sauce instead. He gave me the chips for free and told me he was wishing me luck because I looked like I needed it. 

With all of the above now cut out of my diet, I was left with fish. I love fish. Growing up in a West Indian household it was always present. I can recall my dad stating it “wasn’t a proper” meal if it didn’t include fish. I love Tuna steak, and smoked salmon, steamed fish and fish and Chips. There were very few fishes that I didn’t like to eat, even though I never liked nor ate seafood (my older sister told me as a child that prawns scream in your mouth as you eat them). 

The Caribbean is the cause of fish falling from my diet. My annual trips home for easter to visit my parents, saw me spoilt with getting to eat the fish the same day it had been caught. I never got to eat the fish that fresh in England and my taste buds mounted a revolt over it. I decided I wouldn’t eat fish unless I was in the Caribbean, but once a year is not enough and I lost the taste and desire for it.

So thats no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat and no fish. I was a vegetarian. Years of chipping away at my diet had left me with that reality. I was convinced that I couldn’t give up cheese, and even though it affected my digestive system as much as its cousin milk did, I just really liked the taste. The discovery of Vegan cheeses such as Violife, allowed me to finally give up cheese. I was super delighted to see that brands such as Pizza Hut and Papa Johns  offered Vegan Pizza options. I didn’t feel I was missing out by dropping cheese any more.

But Vegans don’t have the best reputations and I resented that my diet choices left me as part of that designation.  They are judge, holier than thou, militant for their cause and have garnered many negative stereotypes as a result.

Knowing all that, please act normal when I say  I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it. I’ll call myself a VEGAN but only by force.