Last summer, I stopped eating meat and honey. By Christmas, I had stopped eating all animal products and by-products, and I was trying to buy only products that were vegan and ideally cruelty-free. I was relieved I’d bought a vegan Christmas recipe book rather than a vegetarian one.
I produced a vegan spread that went down well, using seitan to make vegan turkey and pigs-in-blankets. To accompany the not-meat, I did sprouts with ‘bacon’ bits, parsnips, carrots, red cabbage, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and, of course, roast potatoes. Luckily, Colin is happy to eat plant-based at home.
There was also bread sauce, which wasn’t vegan, but it wasn’t for me anyway.
As usual, we were too full for Christmas pudding.
Since then, I’ve been experiencing the highs and lows of being vegan. It’s a constant battle of conscience over what to consume. We already know that organic fruit and vegetables aren’t necessarily vegan, but are better for the environment than those grown with synthetic chemicals. Other possible non-vegan produce includes avocados and almonds, because of the use of migratory beekeeping. Olives are another problematic food. Hand-picked ones are fine, but if they’re machine picked, as many are in the Mediterranean area, the olive harvest can kill off hundreds of migratory birds.
But, generally speaking, fruit and vegetables are readily available and are the obvious choice. Other plant foods include grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, which vegans use to obtain fats and proteins. The range of vegan ready-meals and processed food has increased in the last ten years. In addition to Quorn and Linda McCartney, there is now Vivera, Fry’s, Wicked (exclusive to Tesco) and Violife to name but a few. Other foods brands have also jumped onto the vegan bandwagon, producing vegan versions of their animal-derived products, such as vegan Magnums and vegan Cornettos.
Eating out can be tricky, although I’ve always managed to find something to eat at home, whether in a vegan restaurant or somewhere with vegan options.
Non-food products are a different thing altogether. I’m looking for vegan, cruelty-free products for personal use and for housework. Some of these are independently accredited by the Vegan Society and/or Cruelty Free International and/or similar. Some products self-certify; these are ok, but it would be better if a trusted third party could confirm this.
Another problem comes when a company that tests on animals, whether required to by law or not, has a brand that is vegan and cruelty-free. The dilemma is whether to buy those products or simply blanket-boycott the whole company. I have thought long and hard about this. I have concluded that if I buy only those products which are vegan and, where applicable, cruelty-free, from companies that do animal testing, I will be informing them that there is a demand for these products and less of a demand for the other products. After all, I buy vegan products from supermarkets that sell animal products; I don’t see a practical difference between the two.
Medicine is a tricky category. Animal testing is still used in this field, and many drugs have been tested on animals. Furthermore, some medicines contain animal-derived ingredients. I take a repeat prescription, and request a vegan version; whether this is what I receive or not is unknown to me.
Pet food is also complicated. I have a pet cat; cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat to be healthy. Vegan cat foods have been developed, but whether they contain the right nutrients in the right amounts is a different matter altogether.
So, I know I am not 100 per cent vegan, but I am as vegan as I can be, all things considered. This fits with the definition of veganism given by the Vegan Society:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
So, if I choose to, I can call myself a vegan.