If I’ve been asked one question more than any other – by friends and strangers – who learn that I’m vegan it would be “oh right, what do you miss?” Occasionally I’m asked why I went vegan or if I’ve lost weight, but mostly people want to know what I miss from my pre-vegan days. People who’ve known me a long time know how much I loved eating fried chicken, mac’n’cheese, pulled pork and Lindt chocolate eggs and I can see why they’re intrigued as to how I can go from eating like Miss Piggy to campaigning for the piggies.
And I’m pretty sure I’m fumbling my answer. As a vegan I often feel a bit of pressure to talk about veganism to non-vegans in a calm, cool, fun and relaxed way. I am awkward as heck so this is naaaaht always easy. I’m hoping that with this blog-post I’ll get my answers to ‘what do you miss’ down. Maybe I can turn this post into an expandable business card that I cover in rad stickers and hand out to people at weddings and parties. That’s calm, cool fun and relaxed, right? RIGHT?!
This is what I tend to say: “oh erm, well I am loving being vegan and I’m amazed by how much I don’t miss” or “really not very much, occasionally I miss popping into a newsagents and seeing loads of chocolate bars I can eat, but there is loads of tasty vegan chocolate out there and it’s getting better all the time” or sometimes “I thought I would miss cheese, you know when my vegan friend told me she didn’t miss cheese before I went vegan I thought “you’re a bloody liar” but here I am and I really don’t miss cheese, it’s nuts!” or garbled variations of all of the above. People sometimes follow-up by saying things like “yeah but what about halloumi” or “I’d miss the convenience most I think” and I’m busy analysing what I already said and feeling like I flunked my single chance to give a compelling answer that would get people thinking veganism might be worth a try.
The flawless C.J. Cregg, in the West Wing, said “if you don’t like what they’re asking, you don’t accept the premise of the question” and part of me wants to throw the question open “what would YOU miss about being vegan” or reply with a peppy – if not slightly intense – “being vegan is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I realise now that spending my days speaking up for animals is my life’s calling”. But I don’t really think that’s what people are after.
Speaking honestly I can say that sometimes I do walk past a supermarket and as I hit a blast of warm air and smell rotisserie chicken before I know it my mouth starts to water and my tummy will rumble enthusiastically. Sometimes I do see a bag of my husband’s Hotel Chocolat Pecan Pralines lying around my kitchen and imagine biting into it and feeling it melt on my tongue. Sometimes I do remember how fun it was eating a margarita pizza that was aching with gooey mozzarella. Sometimes I miss cramming pizza crusts into pots of Domino’s Garlic and Herb dip. Sometimes I miss being able to drive up to greasy, skeezy American diners on roadtrips and order a milkshake and fries drowning in American Cheez. It genuinely makes me sad that sometimes Josh and I eat separate meals so that we both get to eat the thing we’re after without compromising.
But, it’s not like losing my vision – where I now long for the days when I could shave my legs in the shower and actually see what the hell I was doing. It’s not like being on a restrictive weight-loss diet where I would spend every day feeling a bit hollow and very hungry and obscurely guilty. It’s not like someone gave me a shiny expensive prize and then stole it back from me whilst I wasn’t looking. I have been overwhelmed by how much I have gained. My body feels light and strong and well. I eat the rainbow now. Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle would be impressed with how I treat myself, every dang day. When I see news reports about the clearing of the amazon rainforest, the bleaching of corals, or the poisoning of lakes and streams I don’t arrogantly sit back, buy myself a scotch and say ‘not me guv’ but I do take comfort in knowing that every day I am making small but meaningful positive changes for our planet because of my diet.
Speaking even more honestly though is hard and really not wedding breakfast, Hen Do or birthday party fodder. Joaquin Phoenix was once asked this question and replied “my faith in humanity.” Yep. There it is. This is still the hardest part of being vegan. Vegan food is getting better all the time. High street restaurants and supermarkets are embracing plant-based food with gusto. The environmental arguments are cutting through. But realising that every single latte being chugged by your colleagues is the product of suffering and cruelty? Gutting. Realising that the bacon sarnie the café at your train station are punting out to customers is the product of suffering and cruelty? Horrific. Realising that when people buy a dog it makes it more likely a shelter dog will be put down? Heartbreaking.
When I first opened my eyes to the animal abuse that is commodified everywhere around me my first instinct was to snap them back shut. When I opened my eyes to what actually happens at slaughterhouses – how many chickens are boiled alive instead of being stunned first, how even humane methods struggle with the problem of the “last pig” – the last pig in the pen at the slaughterhouse can be so frantic and have become so mad under the strain of their psychological distress that they will hurt themselves – this unrelenting horror made (and I’ll be honest continues to make) me want to scream.
Who sold us this lie that eating meat and eggs and dairy products is humane. It’s bullshit. Those foods are tasty I cannot deny that, but humane? Would you like it to happen to your cat or dog? Would you trade places with a pig – either in a factory or an organic farm? And spend your short life behind bars before being killed in an abattoir? OH HELL NO. Get the hell out of here. Why do we love some animals and treat other animals like garbage? And in some cases literally feed them garbage. And even skittles. This is like the “you feed beefburgers to swans” Alan Partridge skit In Real Life.
So yeah, at first I did really miss that ignorance. That delightful, comforting ignorance. The myth I’d bought into that let me pretend you could love all animals, whilst eating some of them. The way I used to glide through life eating what I wanted, when I wanted without any consequences. Some people have called me, upon learning that I’m vegan, ‘smug’. Smug feels like the one thing I’m not. I’m horrified at the world I see – the wanton cruelty, the greed, the waste. The lives snubbed out carelessly. Smug? I’m broken-hearted. I’m mad as hell. I’ll be smug when this no longer happens. But there is something we can ALL do to stop this from happening. It’s simple, it’s good for you, it’s tasty. Yep. It’s…. drum-roll…. being vegan. You might miss stilton now and again, chowing down on a juicy hamburger, or scoffing a kit-kat with your tea but – in my experience at least – I’ve gained a feeling of being on the right side of history, of living every day being compassionate, and of not filling my body with the seriously dubious food I used to inhale on the regular.
Most of the time I do now feel calm, cool, fun and relaxed. Ok not cool, but y’know calm. And maybe the current political climate’s not helping with my feelings of relaxation.. but y’know gimme a break. But anyway, I get that veganism might not be for everyone right now. That some people are struggling to make ends meet and can barely cope with everything that life’s throwing their way. But if you are like I am – able to pop to the shops/restaurants and buy pretty much whatever you fancy for dinner, then why not try making a vegan dinner. If you like it try another. And another, and another after that. And then once you’re vegan I can ask you, “what do you miss now that you’re vegan?” Aight.