Aside

Becoming a Vega…

Becoming a Vegan is easy for some, they instantly turn their backs on dairy products, will not eat meat or fish and refuse to buy or wear any article made from skin, fur or wool. Vegans will not use any products containing animal derivatives. For others, like me it has been a longer journey.

I had been a vegetarian /some-time *pescetarian for over 25 years and my lifestyle choice has been questioned by meat-eaters on many occasions. Many wanted to know where vegetarians get their *protein and in their ignorance they will also quickly pointed out I was wearing suede dessert boots, my lovely, faithful dessert boots.

Once upon a time, in my ignorance, I viewed Vegans as pasty-faced extremists. But after a year on Facebook, meeting a group of people brought together by* Brian May, of Queen fame. I began to see the animals I have always professed to love, really do suffer. *Paul McCartney has always said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls it would change eating habits of many.

The first time I ventured into a supermarket, trying to do a vegan shop I was not prepared for the total alienation I felt from the rest of the shoppers. As I slowly trawled the aisles it began to dawn on me the high percentage of foodstuffs on sale were from animals. Even some products proudly showing vegetarian labels contained egg, milk, and/or butter. I left empty-handed totally over-whelmed by the experience.

I gave that shopping trip a lot of thought and it occurred to me it would probably better to change things slowly. I could not afford to throw out my leather/suede shoes immediately, and replace them with *alternative footwear, but I did become very aware of what I was wearing. Curiously I had not bought a leather/suede jacket or belt or bag for a very long time, maybe subconsciously feeling it wasn’t the right thing to do?

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to an article about *milk, about the pus in it. About how the calves are taken from their mothers so very young, how the mother cries out loud, how the male calf then often spends the rest of his life in a crate, reared for veal. It made for uncomfortable reading. I decided there and then it was the first thing I could change. Returning to the supermarket I looked along the shelves at all the *alternatives. There were many; rice, hemp, soya and almond milk. I tried them all. Some were too sweet or too thin or a taste I didn’t care for, some separated in my coffee. I finally settled on soya-light and have not bought a bottle of milk since. I did not need to find an alternative to butter, as I had already switched to a soya or an olive oil spread for a long time before, anyway.

It is back to the 70’s I would need to go to remember the last time I wore fur. I was a hippy, it’s what we did. I hadn’t been educated to the horror of *fur farms and the sheer cruelty within. I did not know it is common practice to skin the animals alive.

My eyes were opened a little during the 80’s when an anti-fur campaign run by *Lynx, showed models dragging fur coats along the catwalk, trailing red paint to represent the blood of the animals skinned. In July 2012 such barbarism was *shown on primetime TV.  An investigative journalist for the BBC was watching some undercover footage from inside a fur farm in China. The viewers couldn’t see the images for themselves, but what we could witness was the man’s reaction. He was mortified, visibly shaken, as he slowly told us the animals were clearly still conscious as they writhed on the floor, struggling to cope with the pain of being skinned alive. I hope the viewers were paying attention and we not only dismayed but angry this is allowed to happen.

A few months ago there was a *photograph posted on Facebook, across the picture were some facts that shocked me. It read ‘Annually 750,000,000 tons of grain is fed to farmed animals and if that was given to the 1.4 billion humans living in abject poverty, each would be provided with over 3ibs of grain each per day. Twice the quantity they need. No one need die of starvation. It has concerned and puzzled me for as the longest time that people are left to die because they are hungry or thirsty. How can that be? Shouldn’t world leaders be responsible for the citizens of our planet? How can they expect our respect and forelock tugging, when they clearly do not have their priorities right?

This naturally led me to consider the facts about *water. There are 1,500,000 deaths annually, caused by contaminated water and 2.5 billion live without basic sanitation. One in 6 worldwide does not have access to clean water. And the rest of the world waste and pollute it. Madness.

I had considered myself a vegetarian for over twenty years before it occurred to me I was in fact a pescetarian, eating fish on a regular basis. The first time I began to wonder if that was such a good idea was during a documentary on TV about a *fish farm in Thailand. It made for grim viewing and made me think about my diet. I finally sat up and took notice after reading about *mercury poisoning from fish and how common it is.

I lived on bean burgers, veggie sausages and nut cutlets for a long time whilst I morphed into a vegan. I had my soya milk sorted and a wide choice of alternatives to butter. But cheeses became a tough one to give up. Vegan cheese is notoriously strange. I found the mozzarella -substitute was fine sandwiched between bread and a burger, but I struggled with the cream cheeses for a time. Eventually I just added some chives or celery salt, to give it some oomph. Whoever said a vegan diet was boring needs to think again. The challenges are there when you are new at it, but the food is tasty and it’s wholesome. It makes eating an experience and not something which needs to be done and forgotten. In the end giving up hard cheese came easily after a seriously nasty attack from my gallstones. I had eaten too much and I paid for it with possibly the most physically painful episode in my life.

So, a trip to the supermarket became less stressful and I no longer felt alienated from the shoppers around me. I would stop and buy some fruit and veg and then head for the frozen cabinets to see what vegan delights were on offer. I picked up soya milk, my regular cereals, tasty bread and either soy or olive oil spread. Then it was off to Holland & Barret for my cheesey options and fake turkey for my sandwiches. I scanned the labels on many vegetarian products to see if they contained any dairy. I was surprised when I first picked up some Quorn, it contains egg and/or milk powder.

After some time eating convenience frozen vegan food I embraced the world of vegan cooking and invested in some of the books recommended by friends. That opened up another world entirely and now I can cook for non-vegans friends and know they will be well fed and satisfied.

It did not cross my mind for the longest time the *wine I was drinking contained anything other than grapes. It was simply a light bulb moment that led me to research online how wine was made. The

*fish guts and filtering through egg, made it not an option. I either had to stop enjoying a glass or two or find an alternative. My first stop was a very smart wine shop in my local town. I approached the young man behind the counter and asked if I they sold vegan and vegetarian wines. I have no doubt he was very knowledgeable in his own field, but my question had flummoxed him. He told me they stocked seven hundred and fifty varieties, but he couldn’t tell me if any of them where vegan or not. Seemed to me he had a bit of learning curve to master yet. I checked out some supermarket websites and they all boasted a fine array of suitable wines for me, but when I got there and asked the assistants for help they struggled. Even armed with a little catalogue they took a long while to find a vegetarian option, let alone a vegan one. Some listed as veggie didn’t have the regulatory green V on the back and it caused much confusion. When I emailed the head offices they were similarly vague about what they had to offer, suggesting I ask in-store. I asked instead on Facebook and within moments was given a link to a *list that is kept updated, I now use this.

So, I am getting sorted. In my own little world I have begun to embrace veganism and can live my life alone accordingly, but I find it harder with others. Most of my friends are veggie anyway; my family aren’t, so how do I tell them I no longer want to eat some of the things they have kindly offered?  If we went out to eat instead, I would still struggle to find anything on a menu. Some may be quick to say that if they were my friends they would accept my lifestyle choice and act accordingly, but why should they? I would never want to put them in a position where they had to compromise. This area will slow my progress into Veganism down, I know that, but eventually it will come good. If said friends suddenly took up fox-hunting or participated in dog-fighting I would not hesitate to sever ties with them, or report them to the police, but this is something else.

I do have one friend that I needed to join me on this quest to do the right thing; my dog. Someone I had met in the ‘Save Me’ days on Facebook had sent him some vegan chews shaped into toothbrushes. My dog loved them. Now if I give him the choice of two snacks he always chose the Vegan option. So, that was easy. I searched the shelves for alternatives to the food he has eaten for the last 7 years and I found some complete vegetarian biscuits. I bought a bag and began giving them simply as treats. He always wanted more. I haven’t totally weaned him off his tins yet, but it is only a matter of time. As he was gazing up at me recently in his usual adoring fashion the little bones printed on his collar made me think. Bones; always associated with dogs, but bones from what? Oh dear. The road to Veganism is a long one.

The use of bones in Bone China was something I had never considered until I was packing up my house for a move. I was looking at some mugs, reading the writing on the bottom. I stopped what I was doing and confess I had to check on the internet that bone china was made with bones. It is. I remember doing the same for ‘pony skin’. I couldn’t really believe someone would want a handbag made from that. There again, people wear crocodile and snakeskin and have rugs on their floor made from the whole skin/hide of an exotic animal. Something I have always found repulsive. It took me a while longer to add cows, pigs and sheep to that, I don’t know why.

The last area to cover now is one that probably planted the seed; Make-up, cosmetics and toiletries. Many moons ago as a teenager I remember being startled to learn the lipstick I was using probably contained an ingredient extracted from a whale. Obviously I was not startled enough as it was some years later that this issue disgusted me enough to switch to *brands containing neither animal nor fish. I look for the *Leaping Bunny emblem to tell me it has not been tested on animals either. I also buy all my shampoos/conditions/etc and household cleaning products from retailers and outlets I trust are trying their hardest to do the right thing.

As a true Vegan I know I need to rid my home and life of every last piece of dead animal. I still need to learn more about wool and how it is obtained and why I should be wearing cotton instead. I have come distance down the road to veganism, but I still have quite a way to go.

to be continued…..

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