Short answer: I haven’t a bloody clue.
I’m aware that by even bringing the word ‘vegan’ into the online sphere is a death wish so this post may seem like a poor idea. Nevertheless, I’m clearly a maverick and so I enter this topic with reckless and carefree abandon.
I am not vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, paleo, plant-based… I am a plain old omnivore. Growing up in a household that ate fairly simple, traditionally British meals meant that those concepts didn’t even exist to me until I was much older. We’ve always been a meat-and-two-veg kind of family: think roast dinners, sausage and mash, cottage pie and so on.
The first vegetarian I met was a girl in primary school whose family had never eaten meat. This was a foreign concept to me and I thought she was some exotic creature or something. It was baffling to me that she had never had chicken nuggets.
Since then, I obviously came across more people who lived vegetarian lifestyles and the idea became normal to me.
And then in high school, I was introduced to the elusive vegan. No longer a naïve and sheltered four-year-old , I reacted as any intellectual, mature teenager would: I regarded them as an alien.
Now, as a twenty-year-old who spends a lot of time online, I have discovered a diet for every person and nothing seems to surprise me anymore. There seems to be a lifestyle that cuts out every type of food, from meat to all animal products to only eating food that humans would have had in the Neolithic period. There are a lot of great books and online resources that show you how you can still get all your nutrition with substitutes. All good so far.
I would like to put it out there that I have no issue with these. In fact, I think that some of the reasons are entirely valid: factory farming, inhumane killing, and environmental harm caused by agriculture are problems that I am on board with finding solutions for.
What I disagree with is the restrictive nature and the psychological impact this can have. Diets that require you to cut out food groups suggest you can never eat that product again. There are some people in the online communities for these diets (no naming and shaming) who have an almost cult-like attitude to it. I fully acknowledge that this is a minority and not representative at all – please don’t hurt me. They make out that if you are a vegan and you have an egg, you are a disgrace. The guilt is piled on, suggesting you are an awful human being, that you are advocating immoral methods of farming. You are as bad as the factory farms. I’ve seen YouTubers and bloggers inundated with hate if they slip up even slightly. Even if it’s by accident.
And what about if, despite trying to find substitutes, you still aren’t getting the nutrition you need. Is it worth risking your own health to be able to say you follow one diet or another? Some of them don’t seem to allow for discrepancies and the rules are rigid. It feels like you’re all in, or not at all.
I eat meals that are predominantly meat-free. I bake vegan cupcakes and cookies. I make sure I shop for free-range eggs and meat, and I only buy honey when the bees haven’t been harmed in the collection of it. I don’t really fit into any of the diet categories, except I have habits from all of them.
Surely the fact that I eat less meat and I’m mindful of where my food comes from is still a good thing? Just because I can’t label my diet because I don’t eat a certain way 100% of the time, doesn’t mean I agree with the disgusting and barbaric ways that some animals are farmed. Shopping local promotes animal rights. Choosing to reduce my consumption of animal products contributes in even the smallest way towards reducing the carbon emissions from agriculture. What if everyone did that? What if we just opt for the alternative sometimes, without feeling that vegetarianism, veganism and everything in between, are exclusive clubs?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that instead of making it a matter of ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’, we can make small changes to our habits to help the planet. We don’t need to overhaul our entire lives from murderers to eco warriors.
I’m bracing myself for a negative response but I’d just like to finish this post by saying that this is the opinion of one person who is still trying to work out where she stands on this all. I would genuinely be interested to here people’s reasons for sticking to these lifestyles and start a conversation about it. I’m open to persuasion.