Looking Back as an Omnivore, Looking Forward as a Vegan

I’ll always remember 2018 for being a year of great change. Some good changes and some bad ones too. But in August this year I was hit with a wave of inspiration, something of an epiphany, that made me want to initiate a major change in my lifestyle that I knew was right for me.

In August, at the age of 28, I decided I was going to go vegan.

The desire to make this change in my life came from multiple directions and several different factors played a part. I wanted to blog about them here and hopefully use this to create a new beginning for this blog and my instagram, to give them both a new lease of life (though I will still always post about my love of home interiors) particularly as life has caused me to take a step away from both of them recently. More on that later.

Growing Up

My parents are both omnivores, though my mum was vegetarian for around 18 months some time before I was born. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters either. Clearly I didn’t have that many people close to me who were vegan, or even vegetarian, so it was never really at the forefront of my mind. Looking back at my life now, however, I think I always had an inner vegan in me. It just took a while for it to come out and shine.

For example, I remember one week in our drama lessons at school, I had to play the part of a meat-eating teenager playing Halo on the Xbox with a friend who is vegetarian. My character suggested taking a break and eating something meaty and then getting offended at my cohort not wanting to join me. We each had to do a monologue in the scene as well and all this was in front of the whole class. I thoroughly hated it. Though we were just acting, I felt like I was being something that was so far removed from my true self that it felt horribly uncomfortable and was worried about people going away having these negative thoughts about me.

On the flip side, however, I remember our biology lessons at the same time and learning about our teeth, and supposedly our canine teeth being about tearing through meat. I then spent the next 14 years of my life thinking that we are clearly meant to be meat eaters. I didn’t really know anyone though my latter school years who was vegetarian and so went through my entire childhood and early twenties as an omnivore.

In a different lesson, however, we watched a depiction of Neolithic humans pushing a boulder off a cliff as a mammoth walked through underneath, killing it for commodities like its tusks. I remember feeling distress over imagining what that animal must have felt. I knew I had a compassion for animals deep down and yet continued to eat them because I always thought we were meant to do it. I was aware of my hypocrisy and, partly because of my extremely turbulent childhood and university years I didn’t really know how to face up to that especially given what I believed about being supposed to eat meat. I thought “we need meat for protein” and all the usual things we were told about meat.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that my first exposure of the word “vegan” was in a French lesson in 2006, where it was in the glossary in the back of a textbook. It had in brackets afterwards, does not eat or otherwise consume anything that comes from an animal. To my 15-year-old self that seemed pretty extreme. I also remember talking about veganism with my mum in my late teens and how she pretty much said that the food must be so boring. And of course, I believed her. Another misconception about vegans I grew up with.

From the Age of 20 to Now

My twenties has been the decade of my life where I have really started to experience the wonderful diversity of the people around me. People of all different races, beliefs, sexualities, genders and so on. That includes vegan people.

However, everything I’d been told about meat and dairy was difficult to override. Back in 2015, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This meant that my immune system was starting to malfunction. It recognised my joints as foreign invaders and started attacking them. I eventually recovered and I’m very happy to say that to this day my condition is very well controlled by the medication I’ll be on for life to regulate my immune system and stop it doing things it shouldn’t. Unfortunately though, one side effect of the meds is being prone to iron deficiencies, which does show up in blood tests. My doctor actually advised me to eat red meat every day in moderation to help with iron levels. I think she even said that we are supposed to eat meat. Of course, I believed her, being my doctor and all.

But something made me reluctant to do this. I always felt unable to kill an animal myself so certainly didn’t like the idea of paying someone else to kill one for me to eat. What was I supposed to do? A few years passed and eventually along came veganism again…

When I started researching veganism properly in August this year, I must have had about five or six vegan people in my life. The lady I used to see for my electrolysis facial hair removal, a trans person I knew from a support group I was once a part of, a colleague, a cousin, a friend round the corner from me who I met via Meetup, an Instagram follower and one of her friends. Over time I was gradually spending more and more time with perfectly everyday people in good health and happiness (come on, let’s face it, how many of us thought vegans were dying of horrible protein deficiencies or something?) and getting to see and appreciate this really made me stop and think about it all this year and reevaluate everything I’d been told about the vegan lifestyle.

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Rushden Lakes shopping centre

On the 3rd of April this year I met the aforementioned Instagram follower in the Rushden Lakes shopping centre in Northamptonshire. We’ve followed each other for some time now and particularly since we met have become good friends. Particularly as this day came at a time when I was going through major depression due to lack of friends, it was a very happy day for me. I’ve been back to Rushden Lakes a few times since and its proximity to nature, coupled with all the great shops, just leaves me instantly energised every time I go. Something about it just makes me feel happier and perked up. I sure wish we had such a place in the town where I live. It became one of my favourite places to shop, the A45 quickly became one of my favourite roads and after I mentioned it to my mum she decided she liked the look of the area too and we went on holiday together nearby the day after my 28th birthday,

The first thing me and my insta friend did was have coffee in the Next store on-site as they have a Costa in there. Being vegan, my friend (and her friend who came with) opted not to have dairy milks in their drinks. I came away from this with a positive thought. I went away that day realising that vegans didn’t have to enjoy something as simple as a cup of coffee with friends in some obscure place – here we were enjoying the experience in a well-known, mainstream coffee shop anyone could access. Having this kind of day with a vegan friend definitely made me stop and think (in a good way).

In my mind, it planted a seed.

Soon afterwards, summer came. The athletic game show Ninja Warrior appeared for its fourth series. I’m a big fan of the show and this season saw a familiar face, Timothy Shieff. He has appeared in all four series and was the winner in this one. Though he didn’t complete the final stage of the final course, he came agonisingly close and made it further than any other contestant in the history of the show. It was mentioned several times in the show that he is vegan and if you’re looking for a healthy, fit and strong vegan role model then you really can’t do much better than Tim. A lot of people think vegans are weak because of the supposed protein deficiencies and such like, but they only have to watch great athletes like Tim to realise that vegans can be just as strong as anyone else. I found more out about Tim and found him to be very inspirational.

The seed germinated.

Later on in the summer I acquired a vegan colleague and often find myself working closely with her. I obviously naturally found a lot out about veganism at this point too. She was just another example of a successful, healthy person leading a normal life. I wanted to find out more and how this lifestyle mapped onto my values and how I felt about the environment, the animals and my own health deep down.

I had a friend over who has soya milk in her tea, so I bought some for myself too, wanting to try it out. I decided that I liked it better. That pull towards veganism was getting stronger by the day and I started googling, finding out whatever I could. Throughout August, I learned a lot about why people are vegan. I also suddenly remembered a family member who has rheumatoid arthritis and is also vegan, and her saying to me some years back that since she became vegan her inflammation markers have never been lower. Ensuring my health in my later years was another big catalyst in my research. I also recently watched Forks Over Knives, which details research suggesting that whole-food plant-based diets can not only be of great benefit to many health issues, but can also reverse them.

Sometimes I think I know too much now. I saw for myself how badly animals are treated in slaughterhouses and the brutal ways in which they are killed. I educated myself in the environmental impacts too. I always thought cows produced milk for no reason – boy was I wrong. They’re made pregnant to obtain the milk and much to their distress, their babies are taken from them and it starts all over again until they are spent and killed for meat. I recently watched a film called Dominion. It covered how different species of animals are treated. It was so hard-hitting it made me cry.

I decided for myself that not only was I going to look after myself by eating a whole-food plant-based diet, I knew too much about what these industries are responsible for and I was not going to put another penny of my hard-earned cash into them. Turns out after reading his ambassador profile on Veganuary that I share a quality with Tim Shieff that has strengthened in recent months. I could never kill an animal myself, so I’ve decided it is not right for me to pay an industry to do it for me.

The seed sprouted.

I resolved to become completely vegan by the end of the year, giving myself four months. All the vegan friends I had acquired in recent times, plus famous people I’d researched, proved to me that you don’t need meat and dairy to be healthy. In fact, the opposite is true. I replaced gradually all the food in my cupboards as I used it up with vegan foodstuffs. Now I’m moving on to toiletries as I’ve got my diet pretty much nailed now, well ahead of the timescale I originally set.

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The kitchen quickly became my favourite part of the house as my love for cooking vegan food blossomed

Though I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of being a vegan and feel immensely proud to be part of such a compassionate community, in the beginning it wasn’t so easy.

My Vegan Transition

I began experimenting with ordering vegan in restaurants. I don’t know why, but requesting vegan options was something I really struggled with. I felt incredibly apologetic and almost embarrassed. I felt like I’m making life difficult for the chefs behind the scenes.

I also felt like I’m part of a community that, unfortunately, has a lot of negative stereotypes associated with it. I worried that people would think “oh, here we go, another preachy vegan”. When I made my first vegan meal I showed a picture to a vegan friend on Facebook who also follows me on Instagram. She suggested that I branch out into cooking on my insta feed and my blog. I thought this was a great idea – since going vegan I have found that I absolutely love cooking, so why not? This does obviously mean talking about it initially in my insta stories, so I did. A few people DMed me afterwards, including the friend from Rushden Lakes in delight that I was making this change, but sure enough I lost a fair few followers. Not that I usually care as I’ve always found building a following hard anyway. This felt different though. I felt like people were shunning me for voicing an interest in this topic and it only increased my anxiety and awkwardness about being vegan.

Coupled with the fact that I had an EXTREMELY busy September, my Instagram page kind of died off. My work commitments were taking me as far away as York, a far cry from the flatlands of Norfolk, plus a visit to my dad over in Staffordshire sparked off fresh rifts between me and my mum, plus between my parents. I was off of Instagram for a long time as I just didn’t have the energy or the mojo given the huge amount of stuff going on in my life at this point, plus the growing anxiety, completely unfounded, that my friends on it would abandon me since I disappeared, causing a vicious cycle (let me say here that I have suffered from social anxiety all my life and it is a very real form of mental illness that is totally debilitating and I am in a very long waiting list to get help with it).

However, as time went on my confidence improved. I felt like could order that vegan Margherita pizza with glowing confidence. I’m a huge fan of Sam Turnbull, author of the It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken blog, where she talks in her intro about initially being “bummed” by being vegan, but then found confidence through remembering what the merits of being vegan are: it saves lives, it’s good for your health and it’s good for the planet – what is there to be embarrassed about? This really gave me the uplift that I needed and I’ve got a friend in my hometown that is making a serious commitment to veganism too and I regularly have coffees and nights out with her. Result!

To Finish…

I honestly think that going vegan is the best decision that I have ever made. Finally I can life my life in line with my morals – I don’t have to harm animals to get the nutrition that I need and there is an alternative. An alternative filled with compassion. And I feel so much healthier too. Everything that I am sustaining myself with is coming from Mother Earth herself and not causing unnecessary cruelty to fellow animals. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I was worried about how my mum would react to me going vegan as I know she gets a lot of comfort out of things like me going for Sunday dinner. I showed her just how easy it is to veganise a Sunday roast. In fact, both of my parents have been thoroughly supportive. My dad is not vegan, and probably never will be, but he does know a lot about nutrition and fitness. He warned me about getting enough vitamin B12 and calcium in my diet. No worries dad, I’ve got it covered!

I’ve said too that I have never found such a friendly, more compassionate group of people as the vegan community. In my short time as a vegan I have met many great people and made some fantastic friends. I’m a happy, proud vegan and I really look forward to sharing my culinary creations on my blog and insta page. On that note…

Particularly after watching Sam Turnbull’s videos and reading her blog, I’ve been seriously inspired to create my own recipes and start blogging and maybe even vlogging myself. I would never get as big as Sam as I wouldn’t be able to afford the time, but I can certainly do the same things on a smaller scale. I really want to use this blog post as an opportunity to get started on this as my skills improve and I find things that work. I honestly can’t put a timescale to it, but I will definitely get stuck in when I can.

And if people unfollow me or block me for talking about something I’m passionate about and something I have a love for, well, maybe it’s time they gave it a go themselves.

Oh, and that seed I mentioned earlier? It blossomed into a really nutritious plant that I really enjoyed eating 🙂

If you made it this far, thank you for reading!

With love,

Laura x

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