Monday, 17 January 2011

Why Vegan?

Taken from Ploppy Pants issue #11. - still available for £1.50 post paid e-mail dirty_little_punk (@) hotmail (.) com

“Welcome to the moral high ground” is how one friend responded when I asked them for dietary advice after deciding to go back to a vegan diet after 6 years of vegetarianism, and I have to say it made me feel a little uncomfortable. Now I’m sure my friend was having a wee bit of a laugh in her e-mail, but there was probably more than a grain of truth in the words, and this sort of ghetto attitude had definitely been one of the factors that had pushed me away from veganism all those years ago.
For me the decision to follow a vegan diet has to be something very personal and not looked at like a ticket to some kind of ‘righteous’ club. I think for me my main reason for making the commitment to a vegan diet was being in frequent contact with ‘vegetarians’ who were eating fish and arguing with me that it was ok to be a ‘vegetarian’ and eat fish. This kind of fucked up reasoning of course got me thinking about my own ethics, if its wrong to eat an animals flesh, why is it ok to drink its milk? The next logical step of this is of course to look at the dairy industry, and yeah it’s easily as barbaric as the meat industry, and if I don’t support the meat industry why would I want to support the dairy industry? This logic seems pretty black and white to me now, but I had other reasons (excuses?) why I was only following a vegetarian diet. I’d like to talk about some of them here and hopefully any of you pant ploppers out there who have been having similar trials of the conscience can find something that will help you reach your own conclusions.
Probably my main argument to myself against veganism was distance or isolation, that it would be too difficult to get all the things I need to follow a varied and healthy vegan diet, living as I do 15 miles from the nearest shop and an 80 mile round trip from the nearest wholefoods shop. Well as I have proven to myself over the last few months this was of course absolute bollocks. Now obviously I’m not in a situation where I can nip down the shops and pick up engevita flakes or tofu wieners for me dinner on a whim, but as long as I make sure I know what I need when I go to the shop and buy enough to last me a while then there really is no problem. One thing that perhaps works in my favour here is that my local shop is a Coop, and upon closer inspection I found that they have pretty much everything that you would need to follow a vegan diet, perhaps not at the cheapest prices (we’ll come to that in a minute) but the selection of wholefoods and dairy free products is definitely far better than what you would find in a similarly sized Tesco or Asda shop. By going to the shop once a week I have no problem getting all my veg and vegan staples like soy milk, the distance argument was a non starter.
Of course not everything I would want is available in the local shop, and the prices of some things are very high, like £5 a kilo for organic brown rice or the nuts and seeds which are only available in expensive ‘snack packs’, and this was another argument I used with myself, that it would be too expensive to follow a vegan diet. This argument at least has a little more backbone to it, if I didn’t physically have the cash to support this change in diet then it would be extremely difficult to make the change. The fact that I was also getting heavily subsidised meals in the college canteen through a scholarship also weighed in this decision, by choosing to buy and cook my own food I would effectively be turning free food away. Well it seems this argument had a lot more basis in truth than that of distance. The simple fact is that while the college would give me vegetarian slop for ¾ of the price in the college canteen, they weren’t ready to bank roll my new vegan diet. I had to face up to the fact that I was gonna have to spend some spondoolies to make this happen.
It didn’t take much brain power however to figure out how I was gonna get round the Coop’s high prices on basic stuff like rice, nuts, muesli etc – bulk buying. By buying stuff from wholefood suppliers I can get the same stuff that’s in the Coop at a much cheaper price and enjoy the full vegan diet I’m after without running me ploppy pants into the red. To do this so far however has involved carrying 30+ kilos of stuff several hundred miles on public transport, which is of course not very practical or comfortable. Apparently though, if I make a large enough order I can receive a free delivery, so I just need to team up with a few locally like minded souls to get stocked up for next term – remember the immortal words of Active Minds here kids ‘Cooperation is the Key.’
I think I should mention here something which was not really a reason why I wasn’t vegan, but that ties in with the factors about distance and price already mentioned. As I had followed a vegan diet for 2 years in my early 20’s, I was well aware of the fact that a full and varied vegan diet is not only cheaper but healthier than a the typical UK processed food diet, but also that part of this saving/benefit came from the preparation of your own food. For example preparing your own humus allows you to create something much healthier and a hell of a lot cheaper than any shop bought version. I think the preparation of your own food is a very important part of veganism, basing a diet around pre made stuff like veggie sausages and shop bought humus is not only unhealthy and expensive but also boring. The myths about cooking being difficulty are entirely unsubstantiated. If your lucky enough that you have a friend who can teach you go for it, but if not there are a million websites and cook books out there which will show you the way.
So yeah, while the monetary cost to myself is undoubtedly higher than when I was following a vegetarian diet, that is entirely down to my circumstance, not the actual cost of the food and through a bit of creative purchasing and effort (something which was worryingly absent in my previous diet) I can easily follow a healthy and varied vegan diet despite my isolated location.
I think the thing that’s most upsetting to me looking back at this report is that my choice for not being vegan seems to have revolved entirely around the fact that I couldn’t be arsed and worries about money. To see that I was putting apathy and capitalistic concerns before the unnecessary suffering of thousands of animals has been a pretty sharp wake up call to me.
One further factor I should mention here I should mention here is definitely peer support. I cant argue that the main wake up call for me was a vegan friend moving to the local area and showing me that the possibilities were there. Choosing to do something that is completely at odds with what the mainstream shoves down your throat daily is always going to be difficult. If your considering following a vegan diet see if you can find some vegans in your local area, their support and advice will be invaluable.

For more information on veganism check out these links: