Our resident carnivore, Michelle Williams, goes herbivore for a week to investigate veganism
As a self-confessed dairy addict and staunch carnivore, I have always harboured a niggling fear that my meat-eating lifestyle might not stand up to my own scrutiny, and have always chosen not to look too closely, lest I scupper my taste buds with pesky morals.
With this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I cast my habits aside to embark upon a soul searching week of veganism, discovering along the way how such a diet fits in with a student’s life of limited funds, bad habits and lack of routine. For the benefit of the unenlightened, a good vegan will not eat, wear, or consume any products that take advantage of the death of an animal in any way at all.
Day 1 — The week begins at my parents’ house, and with a resounding lack of support. My mum – unfamiliar with vegan practices – asks if I can eat fish, whilst my brother responds to my offer of a soya milk taster by telling me that he’d rather dehydrate to death thank you very much.
To my dismay, I realise that I only have a pair of leather shoes with me, and am concerned that I’m going to have to wear wellies on the train until I dig out an ancient pair of sequinned pumps. The train back to Glasgow offers a dismal culinary choice given my new requirements, so I rely on my homemade vegetable and hummus sandwich.
Day 2 — I set out to find something tasty for lunch, and spend some time perusing Jordan Valley products in Roots and Fruits. I almost give up after rejecting a “sea cake” made from “vegetables of the sea”, and find myself craving foods I would never ordinarily consider, purely because they’re off limits.
Then I must endure a torturous walk past Greggs on my way home. So far, inexperience means that hunger is dominating my day, and I find my concentration and memory noticeably affected in class. Later that night, in a fit of hypochondria, I’m positive that I’m suffering dairy withdrawal headaches and quite possibly the onset of a vitamin B12 deficiency – my flatmates tell me to pipe down and stop being so melodramatic.
Day 3 — We spend a long afternoon in local supermarkets searching for available substitutes to our normal shopping list, the majority of which is now out of bounds. Half an hour in Somerfield yields a packet of biscuits, a pot noodle and cereal bars that we later discover contain honey. Mainstream shopping is clearly not to be relied upon, and we settle upon Linda McCartney sausages with soya mash for dinner.
The lack of choice available to vegans in an area as diverse as the West End surprises me, and I begin to appreciate the expense involved in stocking a vegan cupboard from delicatessens. Today is world vegetarian day, offering a wealth of eye opening material on the Internet. I’m shocked to learn the world’s livestock population generate 18% of the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions, with world transport contributing a relative 13%; a fact not reflected in the respective media attention paid to each issue.
According to The Vegan Society, animal product based diets also contribute to the over-exploitation of limited fresh water resources, with animal farming diverting grain, cereals and water away from the most undernourished populations of the world toward meat exports for Western nations. These facts are tough for any carnivore to digest.
Day 4 — Midweek, and sick of the sight of my solitary pair of vegan friendly shoes, I crack under the pressure and dash to Primark for something that probably violates a multitude of human rights issues. Joining friends for lunch in a sushi restaurant, I find far more options than I would be faced with in most regular restaurants.
Even so, I find myself longing for the fish on my companions’ plates – although my actions have altered for the week, my tastes are still as I left them. As someone who enjoys most foods, I assumed that I would be happy indulging in the vegan and vegetarian dishes that I already love, but come to realise that what I enjoy above all else is free choice and variation, and I’m struggling to adjust in the face of restrictions.
Day 5 — A trip to vegan café The 78 comes as pleasant respite from having to pick over menus and send enquiries to the kitchen. We enjoy a delicious lunch from a varied menu without getting any obtrusive feeling of being in a vegan establishment. As the university Vegan Society point out, venues like The 78 and Mono are popular locations for everyone, not just vegans, and their menus sit inconspicuously behind the character of the place.
The university’s society have been notably active in promoting vegan provisions across campus, and have helped the Hospitality Services to be the first university catering service to achieve accreditation from the UK Vegan Society. Tonight I opt for a liquid dinner rather than attempting food, only to learn that many wines are not only not vegan, but not even vegetarian. Egg whites, gelatin and even fish bladders can be used as ‘fining agents’ in the production of wine, I turn a blind eye for now.
Day 6 — My regular enthusiasm for cooking has waned, and I feel drastically low on ideas. I speak to a vegan friend to investigate whether she genuinely prefers non-animal products, or whether her tastes are inextricably linked with principles. Having grown up in a farming family, she tells me that the reality that not all farms were like the ones she had known as a child left her disillusioned with modern large scale agriculture, and she gradually phased animal products out of her diet.
She believes this to be more nutritionally sound, citing biological reasons why our bodies seem not to be adapted for regular meat consumption. Touching upon an issue that has plagued me throughout the week, she explained that she finds consuming dairy hypocritical after excluding meat from your diet, as the industries are so linked. Given the apparently endemic exploitation of animals present in dairy farming, I had begun to wonder whether vegetarians draw the line before dairy products due to matters of convenience, or lack of information?
Day 7 — As the week draws to a close, I reflect on how my experience will alter my behaviour beyond this experiment. Certainly, I have uncovered information that I cannot ignore, and wonder whether I might be morally bankrupt for not feeling obliged to convert to veganism given what I now know. Most of the obstacles I have encountered as a vegan would disappear with time and experience, and despite the dreams I had last night about huge steaks, my craving for carving would no doubt fade.
Although I don’t currently feel compelled to make a total switch, I am inclined to follow UN recommendations to live at least one meat free day each week in an effort to tackle climate change. I have learned that in choosing to continue eating meat, I must be honest about my choices, as it is no longer seems acceptable to plead necessity in the consumption of animal products. I must now admit that I eat meat because I want to, not because I need to.