Life after cheese, 6 months in

I’ve been a vegan for more than half a year now. It’s going great. At first I was hesitant to talk about it, because everyone hates smug vegans. But I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it recently, and it’s actually something I feel very strongly about. So screw it – let’s talk about why and how I became a herbivore.

For years, going vegan was something that I had a vague sense I should be doing, but could not be bothered to do. I’d been vegetarian since I was an animal-loving kid, but couldn’t bring myself to take the next step. “I love cheese,” I said. “If I don’t eat cheese, my life will be barren and I will literally die.”

Then I read this article:

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

The study in the article was enormous, covering 40,000 farms in 119 countries. And it showed that animal agriculture’s impact on the environment was massive. My love of cheese was contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation of the Amazon, and water and air pollution.

Climate change regularly keeps me up at night. I stare at my bedroom ceiling, thinking about famines, rising sea levels, mass extinctions. The fact that we humans are not doing enough to stop this future from happening fills me with deep fear and frustration. I see my friends having kids and worry about the state of the planet we’re leaving them. Suddenly the cheese did not seem worth it.

“Well, shit,” I thought. “I’d better get on with it.”

Cutting down, then cutting it out

Going cold turkey on all animal products seemed intimidating, so I decided to commit myself to having 3 “vegan days” every week. This was back in April 2018.

Dinner was the easiest thing to change. Many of the meals I was making were already made entirely from plants, or could be if I stopped grating so much damn cheese on top. Taking leftovers for lunch gave me a double victory.

Breakfast took a little longer, but once I nailed my weekday porridge toppings and my weekend fry-up combo (Heck vegan sausages, these baked beans, garlicky spinach and toast), I was good to go.

As I got more comfortable with avoiding certain ingredients and learned new recipes, my number of vegan days shot up. Soon I was down to one or two non-vegan meals a week.

At the same time, my motivation for cutting down animal products was changing. I began reading more and more about the ethical side of veganism. I saw a horrifying clip of newborn male chicks in a macerator (basically a woodchipper) and learned that 7 billion chicks are culled worldwide every year just because they’ll never lay eggs. I read about how dairy calves are torn away from their mothers when they’re less than a day old, so humans can drink their milk instead. It became impossible for me to enjoy my increasingly rare “cheat” meals – all I could think of was the suffering behind them.

In October, I realised I hadn’t eaten any animal products for 10 days. I decided to keep the streak going.

So, did I die?

I am pleased to report that so far, I have not died. My muscles have not rotted away and left me a feeble skeleton.

There were a few mild health benefits. My skin got clearer, which was a nice surprise. My digestion improved. My weight dropped by a few kilograms initially (guess that cheese was making a difference) and then stabilised at a healthy level.

I don’t feel like I’m going to live to 120 years old or anything (it’s amazing how much junk food you can still eat as a vegan) but overall, I feel healthier than before. I’m even training for a half marathon.

I did start taking B12 and iron supplements, which I probably should been doing anyways, as lots of vegetarians and omnivores are also deficient in them.

Eating in, eating out and eating with others

Home cooking as a vegan has been straightforward and tasty. Beans and lentils are an absolute staple for me now: they’re super cheap, endlessly adaptable and packed with protein and fibre. Having a well-stocked spice rack is also key. I make a lot of recipes from Budget Bytes, Cookie & Kate and Minimalist Baker.

Baking has become a little more complicated, but I’ve had good results adapting some of my old favourite recipes to use plant-based ingredients. And I’ve found some new vegan recipes which I love making (like this amazing banana bread).

At restaurants, my years of vegetarianism meant I was already used to having limited options on the menu. But eating out as a vegan is actually a lot easier than I thought it’d be. Veganism has shot up in popularity in the UK over the last year or so, and many places have jumped on the bandwagon. It’s easy to go out for brunch or get a takeaway curry. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many all-vegan eateries have sprung up near my home and my office, from street food stalls to fancy restaurants.

My biggest source of anxiety was eating with others. Is it inconvenient to ask a friend if we can go to a different restaurant when the one they suggest has no vegan options? If I visit someone and they cook, will they resent having to make something ‘special’ for me? My mum is an incredible baker – if I stop eating her cookies, am I going to hurt her feelings?

The approach to Christmas was especially nerve-wracking. There were a lot of food-based traditions with family and friends that I didn’t want to lose. But it turned out I didn’t miss out at all – I still met my friends for a roast, decorated Christmas cookies, and enjoyed Christmas Day lunch with my family. My awesome mum even made some vegan mince pies (and they were delicious).

Beyond the food

Veganism isn’t just about food, so I’ve made changes elsewhere in my life. Animal products kept popping up in unexpected places, like lanolin in my lip balm.

A few months before fully vegan, I’d made a separate decision to start buying all my clothes secondhand. (The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the planet’s carbon emissions.) Right now, I’m okay with wearing old clothes made with animal materials. I’d rather be buying used leather boots than new ones made of plastic. There’s nothing I can do to un-kill that cow.

I’m not living a faultlessly vegan lifestyle – for example, I don’t think it’s feasible for me to never use a £10 note ever again. But I’ve been trying my best and I hope that’s better than nothing.

I’m not judging you (but for god’s sake do something)

Most people I know still eat meat. You probably eat meat. Or you’re a vegetarian. It’s OK, I still like you.

However, the fact is that going vegan is one of the best things that you, as an individual, can do to reduce your impact on the planet and save us all from the godawful apocalypse that we apparently have less than 12 years to avert. Many of my friends and family have recently told me that they’re cutting down on their meat consumption. That’s a start, but we’re in dire straits, and frankly Meatless Mondays isn’t gonna cut it.

I often hear people say the exactly the same thing about veganism I said until last year – “I admire it, but I could never do it”. What I’m trying to say with this post is actually, yes, you can do it. And while it does take a little work, it’s also easier to be a vegan now than ever before, especially in the UK. It is not going to be a huge hassle and ruin your life. You can even still eat a Greggs sausage roll or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s (I certainly do).

There is life after cheese. Give it a try.

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