Editor-in-Chief Lucy Dunn explores the all or nothing attitude many have when it comes to animal products.
When I was in my second year of university, I decided, one lent, that I was going to become completely vegan. Being (mostly) vegetarian anyway, it wasn’t the biggest of deals, and after having watched and naively believed everything that Netflix’s What the Health documentary had thrown at me, I was determined not to give in. Equipped with bags of vegan quorn chicken and every single nut milk under the sun, failure, I believed, was never an option.
It’s hard to implement such a restrictive diet in your life straight off the bat, though. Maybe some people manage it but issues soon began to crop up: most wines are technically not vegan if they have been drained through a fish gullet; my non-vegan friends chose to go to TGI Fridays with approximately one plant-based dish on offer; family dinners whenever I returned home; and the issue of making sure you don’t become vitamin-deplete. There are other issues with restrictive diets, too, and with the moral element of veganism eating away at me, I found the guilt at any slips I made almost unbearable.
The price problem is still existent too, and so after a while, I switched over from meat alternatives to focusing more on just making food from the fruit’n’veg aisle of the shop. Easier on the budget it may have been, but I still wasn’t getting all the vitamins I needed. The effects of this can range from iron deficient anaemia, causing tiredness, lack of concentration, and easy bruising, to name a few, to B12 deficiencies that can cause irreversible nerve damage. Going vegan requires a relative understanding of what a balanced and healthy diet consists of, and this knowledge isn’t particularly attainable overnight.
Now, I am generally vegetarian, and don’t usually eat dairy. I do, however, love both seafood and Sauvignon, and on occasion I’ll have a chicken caesar salad. A couple of years ago, I would have felt awful even admitting to that, the “all or nothing” mentality having ground me down. But, hand in hand with sustainable living comes looking after yourself, and it’s not healthy to force yourself into spaces that are too tight.
Phenomena like “meat free Mondays” and “Veganuary” get mixed responses. Whilst only going plant-based for the one month is not as effective as permanently cutting out animal products, where diet is concerned, the method of carrot over stick is definitely better – pardon the pun. “Flexitarian” is a phrase that has been bandied about too, meaning “a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish”, according to Google. It’s non-committal, but I quite like it: encouraging people to make small changes over time, and giving them leeway for exceptions and slip-ups, is a far more palatable approach than expecting everyone to change ingrained habits overnight. It’s like the tortoise and the hare, or any other fable you would rather imagine. Slow and steady wins the race, and if “slow” means incorporating a designated day or month or food swap into your life, then savour the small steps.
With supermarkets like Tesco continuously ramping up their vegan options, the choice is only increasing. It’s a supply and demand thing, and even cutting down once a week equates to less demand. If you’re able to change habits at the snap of your fingers, then I salute you. But if that doesn’t feel feasible to you, for whatever reason, then don’t stress it. In the words of the afore-mentioned supermarket giant: every little helps.