As January comes to an end, the paths we paved to good intentions merely four weeks ago become harder to follow. The image of our summer bodies and Instagram perfect lifestyles become clouded by the reality of work, classes and our 2018 habits that refuse to die. The annual fad that is “Veganuary” is over just as suddenly as it began, but does it have to be? I want to give my thoughts on the very topical “vegan lifestyle” and what that means to me, and I challenge anyone reading to keep an open mind.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “VEGAN”?
If I was asked this question one year ago, a gory image of intense PETA protests displaying the horrors of a skinned lab bunny, overbearing animal rights activists and “tree huggers” forcing their beliefs down passerbyers’ throats, automatically would fill my head, did you have similar thoughts? I want to help plant a seed in those minds who are open enough to consider simple lifestyle changes for a cause that will benefit personal health as well as having a lasting impact on the world we inhabit.
For me, my journey began with my sister, a vegetarian of two years (at the time), challenged me to try out “Veganuary” with her in 2018, to which I surprisingly agreed. Bearing in mind I had no previous restrictions with my diet whatsoever (except for a peanut allergy lol), I considered myself a true foodie. However, it was a fun concept to me and with a love for animals I was interested in becoming educated in the industry that I was previously so ignorant too. I always claimed that I had an adoration for animals but when it really mattered, I turned a blind eye and ignored the major ramifications that my choices had on the environment.
To kickstart these revelations and find out the truth regarding my food, I began binge watching documentaries on Netflix; “What the Health” and “Cowspiracy” are two that stick in my mind and I recommend for anyone curious enough. It was fascinating to me that what products we purchase and consume can have such a direct effect on the environment and in most cases a detrimental impact on our health. I won’t bore you all with major statistics and facts that may very well fall onto deaf ears, with the likes of…’the water usage to produce ONE burger is the same as taking one hundred days’ worth of showers’, (that was the only one I promise.) One thing that really resonated with me was the simple statement, that cow’s milk is just that. Its purpose is to nourish a calf, humans were not designed to digest this produce. I am not a baby cow, I don’t think anyone reading this is a baby cow, so what human being decided to milk a cow for the first time and what did they think they were doing? Clearly, I had many unresolved questions and as these thoughts marinated in my brain, the more I found the transition to reducing my dairy intake to be easier. Key word being “REDUCING”. I know this will only resonate with very few people, but I personally don’t need to cause the death of a life, in whatever form, for simply the pleasure of my taste buds. It doesn’t make sense to me.
The Bad Rep
The stigma that we attach to the label “vegan” is something that I personally prefer not to associate my diet or lifestyle with, as I definitely don’t follow a strict plant-based diet 24/7. I choose not to use labels because in my experience it gives people free rein with the belief that I validate their opinion on MY eating habits. Over this past year I have seen more “concern” for my protein intake than I care to acknowledge, questions like “So what can you actually eat?” “You’ll have some bacon still though?” Frankly these labels carry too much backlash if some-day I fancy some halloumi sticks or some cheesy pasta. My point is, I want to remove the pressure that people feel when they are just trying to do their own bit and to try and diminish the scrutiny we put each other through.
Shaming someone for dietary habits whatever they may be, isn’t okay and I disagree with the approach some activists choose, although I do believe it is a truth that needs to be told. The importance of showing the gritty reality behind mass consumerism is something we all should be exposed to.
So what can you do?
Simple changes that I made in the beginning was delving into the cosmetic industry, which I appreciate is easy to overlook as I took for granted that we can trust our favourite lipstick can go from production to hand bag ethically. But unfortunately keeping up with the latest makeup gurus and trends, causes major unnecessary suffering to animals. So currently, I only purchase makeup that I know is cruelty free, and that goes for skincare products too. It sounds alarming but genuinely as a make-up lover myself, I can tell you it is easier than it sounds and is beyond worth it. (Although say goodbye to MAC makeup, they really need to step up their game in that department.) Cruelty free is a huge growing market and more and more brands are jumping on board which will include some of your favourites i.e. Nyx, Too Faced, Charlotte Tilburry, Dove etc. The options continue to surprise me, and it will only improve, so if you are considering making the switch there really is no better time than the present.
A vegan diet shouldn’t be thought of as a chore or something that you resent, if this sort of lifestyle is intriguing to you why not begin with baby steps? For me personally, I no longer include any form of meat/fish in my diet and I have switched from dairy milk to alternative milks (preferably almond or oat) for my morning coffee or cereal.
I try to make my weekly meals at home rather than eating out, that way it is easier to keep track of what is going into your food and will ultimately be more beneficial for your health. A good idea to cut down your animal produce intake would be to designate a day of the week when you will plan meat free meals. It sounds daunting, but no your only option is not rice and beans. A favourite for me is Quorn “chicken” nuggets, I am happy to say that they taste identical to McNuggets, I have four of my housemates who will back me up with this if you don’t believe me. The variety of vegan friendly food on the market continues to surprise me, and if interested, I recommend Instagram accounts “AccidentallyVegan” and “TheVeganKind” to help your exploration.
I hope this little insight will inspire the small few of you who may be interested, to educate yourselves further and become more compassionate consumers. Don’t let the labels scare you off, everyone is trying their best and the smallest change can make a huge difference.
Bronagh Carey is a second year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram: bronaghcarey_ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bronagh.carey.1