On this day last year, I made the conscious choice to stop eating meat, dairy, eggs and every other foodstuff derived from animals. My decision was inspired by two of my greatest friends, Tessa and Nicole, both vegan and both incredible. I’ve been very close with Tessa and Nicole for a few years and I regularly hang out at their house, so eating vegan wasn’t entirely new to me. However, since I had always eaten meat and been raised in a non-vegan household, I hadn’t ever considered making the switch myself.
My road to veganism was relatively short, in the sense that it didn’t take long for me to decide it was what I wanted to do. At the beginning of September 2013, I stumbled upon the documentary Earthlings, an exposé of animal cruelty at the hands of human kind. By mid September, I had sworn off meat for good.
I am a big believer in the notion that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. In this analogy, I was the horse and I had finally decided, on my own, to take a sip of veganism. Remember, you are also a horse and nobody but you can make you drink. After watching Earthlings, I knew it was inevitable. I don’t believe I would have clicked on the link to watch it had I not been prepared for what it would show me. Suddenly, eating meat was uncomfortable, drinking milk was uncomfortable and the only way I knew how to stop feeling at war with myself was to give it up.
At first, I felt like I had been let in on the biggest secret in the world and it was a huge responsibility. I didn’t know where to begin. Many resources I read suggested phasing out animal products one by one, first red meat, then poultry, then dairy, then eggs, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
I won’t beat about the bush. Going vegan overnight was tough. I made the mistake of thinking every replacement would be just like ‘the real thing’. I got spooked by some soy yoghurt and tried to throw in the towel, telling myself that just being gluten free was hard enough. Who would be able to accommodate me if I didn’t eat gluten or animal products? Did I really want to restrict myself so much? This rationality didn’t work as Nicole, one of my aforementioned vegan besties, also has Coeliac disease and she manages the two just fine. After a few days tossing everything up, I just decided that I was the only person living in my body and I was the only person who should influence what I put into it. To hell with it if other people felt I was a burden, I shouldn’t have to compromise for fear of being an inconvenience.
After this realisation, going vegan became much easier. It was just something I wanted to do for myself. I adapted quickly, which I think came from already knowing how to read food labels. Like I said before, going vegan overnight is tough, but it’s not impossible. What helped me the most was keeping my reasons at the front of my mind, researching the benefits of veganism and knowing that Tessa and Nicole were there if I had any questions.
Throughout all of this, my mum has been my biggest supporter. She never tried to talk me out of it, accepted that we didn’t see eye to eye on this and stood strongly by my side, understanding that it mattered to me. I remember after the soy yoghurt incident, she told me it was okay that I didn’t have all the answers right away. That it was okay if I ate nothing but rice and beans and vegetables for a few weeks, that I didn’t have to become a vegan cooking sensation instantly. Since then, she’s worked to adapt recipes, baking me gluten free vegan cookies and buying me new products to try. I feel very loved that my entire non-vegan family has gone out of their way to accommodate and respect my choice.
Tessa gave me the best advice a few weeks ago when I voiced my concerns about being an au pair in England to her and Nicole. I was worried that having dietary requirements would tarnish my chances of anyone wanting to host me. She told me that she never wanted her being a vegan to get in the way of doing what she wanted and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I count Tessa and Nicole as my vegan role models, as they are so cool, calm and collected about the whole thing. They lead by example, rarely discussing their motivation for living vegan, instead just going about their business and believing that actions speak so much louder than words. I admire this so deeply and even when I told them I was joining their team, as we walked to get potato fritters and pineapple rings from their local fish and chip shop, they reacted so calmly. I am forever grateful for their understated support.
These days, I’m more confident about my veganism. I’m still eliminating animal products from my skincare and beauty products and I only just got rid of the last of my wool cardigans. I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as the perfect vegan and I’m better at forgiving myself if I slip up. I still don’t like soy yoghurt and I struggled through months of eating soggy tofu before I learned you have to press the moisture out before cooking it. Calling myself a vegan still sounds strange and foreign to me because I don’t see myself any differently. I hope nobody else does either.
It is the most beautiful feeling knowing I have saved nearly 200 animals in the past year and I am confident that going vegan is the best decision I have ever made.
Originally published on Rachel is Elsewhere, 2014.