Veganism is vogue. Democracy is de rigueur. So was it just the feeling that being pescatarian was simply not cutting edge enough that prompted me to let readers of The Ecologist vote on whether I should go vegan for January?
The fact that there is no substantive difference between animals that live in the sea and those that live on the land had, after all, not been enough to get me over the line. I gave up squid immediately on seeing the extraordinary intelligence and playfulness of the sea creature that appeared on Blue Planet II. My empathy for salmon took longer to finally manifest itself in a full-on fish-fast.
I became pescatarian when I was 14 years old, and vegetarian some six months later. More recently, I realised I was both lactose and gluten intolerant and decided to add fish and seafood back to my diet. Giving up cheese was so much easier than I expected, but North Devon haddock and chips, and Whitstable oysters had seemed impossible to forgo.
Until now. The Ecologist has been publishing more and more stories about veganism since I have been editor.
Louise Davies and her colleagues at the Vegan Society publish articles regularly, and we’ve also been promoting Veganuary - 14,000 signed up to the vegan pledge on Saturday alone. I read every word with interest and compassion. I started to feel that to publish such powerful arguments, but then essentially to ignore them was inconsistent at best.
But I also felt that my edginess was blunt, I was behind the times. That younger versions of me had come to expect a higher level of commitment to animal welfare and climate change action. Claiming the moral high ground of a non-meat diet while contributing to the dramatic decline in sea populations just didn’t cut it any more. I believe completely that Simon Amstell’s Carnage is the future.
So I wanted to reach out and speak to the readers of The Ecologist directly. I gave the subscribers to our newsletter the chance to vote on my diet, on what is for many a solely personal choice. Hundreds of people voted. Democracy in action, on a one-human scale. The results were quite close, but decisive nonetheless. 62.8 percent have so far voted in favour of my going 100 percent vegan.
That’s me committed for Veganuary. If my health and happiness is maintained, I will carry on from there. I feel well prepared. I have a cupboard stuffed with tins of various types of beans, and another brimming with fresh spices. The challenge is to make sure you get enough protein and nutrients, and some nice treats of course.
Over to you
To help me on this culinary journey I turned again to readers of The Ecologist and asked them for their advice on how best to change my diet in a way which was conscious and also fulfilling. I have been overwhelmed by the response and now share the very best advice with you all.
Focus on gradual reduction in animal products first rather than going completely vegan. It’s more sustainable, gentler on the body and has more overall benefit for animals and the environment than lots of people trying a crash course in veganism and quickly abandoning it because it’s too hard. - Kirsten Campbell, 40, a Pesca-vegan who works in education in Southend.
Get into the habit of viewing every product as the impact it has, not just as the food you see in front of you. For example, I can't see anything beef-related without seeing images of deforestation. - Benjamin Wragg, 19, a vegan student from York.
For lazy / treat nights - the most delicious ready made frozen meals (especially their amazing macaroni cheese) from a vegan company called allplants.com. - Louise Lumb, 49, a ‘very happy vegan’ from Hertford who works in mental health.
Cook everything you eat yourself from scratch - as much as possible. You will notice how much more time and money it consumes to actually prepare meat dishes that can at all be considered healthy enough to eat. Or the other way around, you will notice how easy it is to cook vegan (and how much money you have left over!) if you set your minimum requirement to fair and healthy already before going vegan. - Suule Soo, 30, a freegan student.
I always tell people I'm 90 percent vegan. This usually gets a question: what does that mean? I'm vegan, but not puritanically so. If I can't find anything else to eat, or if someone gives me a meal and there's fish or dairy in it, I'll eat it because they gave it to me. Oh, and I don't preach about being vegan, because it's so tedious to be preached to... - Lucy Weir, 52, a residential support worker and writer from Enniskerry.
Find a good source of omega-3 fatty acids: chia seeds, brussels sprouts, algal oil, hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, perilla oil. Spend the money you save on eating meat on good quality chocolate. - Angie Burke, 51, a vegan and the trust manager at Resurgence Trust, owner and publisher of The Ecologist.
Fry everything possible in homemade vegan butter before adding to soup, stew, pudding, etc - or eat straight from frying-pan! Fried mashed potato superb delicacy - from Humberside. - Edith Crowther, 64, a secretary from Carlton-on-Trent.
Shopping, a chore at the best of times, is so much easier and quicker when you get to leave out the meat, fish and dairy isles in the supermarket.- Mark Bevis, 55, a writer and doomosphere walker from Burnley.
I tend to like health shop vegan food better than supermarket versions - although I've found some products I really enjoy like Tesco veggie bacon, which surprised me. Good old fashioned TVP is my veggie mince of choice, rehydrated with stock or passata. A bag from the local health food shop for about £1 lasts ages. Wild mushrooms have high vitamin D if you are confident in picking them. I've found thinly sliced mushrooms that are really well-fried, almost to the point of over-frying, taste very bacony. The best vegan cheese spread I've found is Sheese by Bute Island. I shop around and have even found vegan products in Poundstretcher recently at a fraction of the price of health-food stores. Good flavoured firm tofu can be found in Chinese supermarkets. - Lauren Foster, 44, a recent MA graduate from Loughborough.
Addicted to cheese?
Be gentle with yourself and adventurous with your new food discoveries. - Diana van Eyk, 61, a self-employed vegan from Nelson.
Stop looking at meat as chop/burger/nugget and think instead of the innocent lamb, cow, pig, chicken herbivore flesh/body part that once served the same functions as your own but was then slaughtered to feed you: we are all animals. - Stella Lee, a vegetarian.
Like many people, I was addicted to cheese, and giving it up was my biggest worry. When I found myself craving it or being offered it I focused my mind on the mother/child bond being violently broken, and how much emotional and physical pain it causes both cows and calves. Within a couple of weeks of not eating dairy I wasn't craving cheese any more. - Michelle Waters, an artist and vegan from Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
Spend a week or three watching Youtube vegan video travelogues - especially of London vegan cooks. As for The Ecologist editor's love for fish - why not visit some of the best vegan Vish and Chip places in London recommended by Youtubers. By Chloe looks very tasty and Hackney Downs vegan market/eateries have real street cred and fairly low prices. - Paul Govan, 43, an electric vehicle campaigner from Gloucester.
Always keep in mind the reason you are doing it. For me it was to contribute to creating a world free as far as possible of intentional harm committed by humans to other animal species. I found it helpful to remember veganism is not about perfection but about living more kindly and mindfully. Be patient with yourself while transitioning, be prepared for trial and error in finding new animal free substitutes that you like. Joining local online vegan communities can help give feedback about decent vegan food and products in your area. The free-from aisles and vegetarian freezer sections in your local supermarkets have an increasing number of good options. Be prepared to shop around if you do not like cooking from scratch. The food can be both expensive and inexpensive - depending on if you purchase ready made meals or cook from scratch. There are low budget options. It is getting easier all the time. Fiona Farrell, who works in purchasing in Edinburgh.
Go vegan for a while, and then notice how it feels and how your body reacts to it! I tried vegan myself but discovered that I feel much better on a “vegan-ish” diet - meaning that I eat mostly veggies but incorporate good fats, some eggs and a little bit of organic meat. Going vegan gave me brain-fog and fatigue, and it made me realise that what works for some might not work for everybody. There are tons of ways of supporting a healthier planet and animal welfare while still having a bit of animal protein. And if we can make everybody cut their animal protein consumption and choose organic and C02 friendly products when they do eat animal protein, then it will have a huge impact. But most of all, it’s up to each of us individually to take some responsibility for what we eat and look at how our food was produced. The great thing about going vegan is that it forces you to reconsider what you eat. So trying it is a great thing. But if a 100 percent vegan diet doesn’t work for you, tweak it until it does. - Hannah Geismar, 47, an independent Krusaa and a ‘vegan-ish paleo flexitarian with a twist of LCHF’.
Find an experience or image of farmed animal cruelty that appals you, and keep this to hand for every time you start to waiver. The first time I went vegan - in the mid 80s to the mid 90s - it was the experience of waiting for a herd of Devon dairy cows to pass me that were being driven by one man and his bad temper and a stick. He frequently hit the cows at the back of the queue who couldn't move forward fast enough because of the crush of bodies in front, and one cow in particular who was rolling her eyes in fear, and kicking herself in the udder when she tried to run, causing even more pain. She had been bred to produce so much milk that her teats were nearly scraping the ground. She was trapped by her man made biology and trapped by a man and his beatings of her. I thought of her every time I wanted a Snickers bar, and thought, ‘not in my name’. - Ama Menec, 53, a vegan and sculptor from Totnes.
Eating dhal. Pulses generally are healthy, filling and a good source of protein, and there are so many ways of preparing them, eastern and western. Dhal is pretty easy to whip up, and with rice and salad or other vegetable makes a tasty meal. For minimal prep try the Spice Sailor brand.- Shehana Gomez, a flexitarian law tutor from Bath.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague. The photograph above is of an art installation at the Unity Diner in Hoxton by @tallys_art.