Hey buddy. For the next instalment in my ‘how to go vegan series’ I thought I’d share with you some of the books, films, charities, bloggers and instagrammers who all helped me embrace the wonderful vegan lifestyle I’m now enjoying a heck of a lot. Cheers to Veganism!
Going vegan can leave you with a buttload of questions. You might wonder, or be asked, about profound ethical quandries, the best-value vitamins, what to do with old leather shoes, cruelty-free shampoos, how to deal with pubic lice (I’m not making that up!) and where the heck vegans get their protein. To answer these conundrums in your own noggin, let alone to equip you in dealing with hostile – or even just curious – friends, family and people on the internet I’ve found reading up on the subject, and then listening to how YOU FEEL to be really important.
Ultimately, I’ve come to realise, being vegan is the thing about myself of which I’m most proud. More than anything else, acting every single day in a way that is gentler to the earth and that sticks up for some of the most abused animals on the planet gives me a deep comfort I can’t imagine living without. The strapline on this blog – nothing tastes as good as vegan feels – is true dagnammit. I’ve often heard of vegans being called ‘smug’ (and by “often” I mean that people say this below-the-line on every damn article on veganism I’ve ever read, whilst professing their love for bacon, amiright) but I’m not sure if smug is exactly what I feel, it’s more of a grounding and a sense of satisfaction that comes from having aligned my morals and actions. And I want every single person, including you, yes YOU, to explore this topic, at your leisure. These resources might help you on your veggie/vegan journey or entertain and inform you if you’re already a member of the V-Gang:
Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer. In this book Jonathan Safran Foer, on becoming a father, decides to take a no-holds-barred look into how the meat he could feed his family is produced. He carefully investigated the miserable lives and deaths of chickens, pigs, fish, and cattle raised in factory farms, shines a light on agricultural pollution and how factory farming engenders species-leaping flu pandemics. Jonathan Safran Foer asks us to think rationally and morally about why we eat some animals and not others. He reflects on how food is interwoven into our social and family histories and interviews farmers, slaughterhouse workers and animal rights activists. When I read Eating Animals I had to put the book down a number of times because I was so overcome with sadness. But I really appreciated how clever it was visually (the pages of the book show how much space a typical egg-laying chicken has whether caged or “free-range”, for example) and that he let people speak for themselves. I’ve spoken to people for whom this book was genuinely life-changing. I can’t recommend it enough.
The Pig Who Sang To The Moon – Jeffrey Mason. A book on the emotional world of farm animals, it dedicates each chapter to a different farmed animal who most people interact with not as living, breathing, thinking being but as a food they consume. Jeffrey Mason describes how pigs are curious, intelligent and self-reliant, who also dream and know their names when called. Mother cows mourn when their calves are taken away. Given a choice between food that is nutritious or lacking in minerals, sheep will select the former, balancing their diet and correcting the deficiency. Goats display quite a sense of humor, dignity and fearlessness. Chickens are naturally sociable – they will gather around a human companion and preen themselves beside someone they trust. This is a beautiful and fascinating tribute to chronically misunderstood and mistreated animals.
Animal Liberation – Peter Singer. I’ll be honest, I’ve not managed to read all of this book yet. It made me so distressed that I’m now taking it verrrrry slowly. Peter Singer exposes the chilling realities of factory farms and product-testing procedures: dismantling the spurious justifications behind them, and offering alternatives to what has become a profound environmental, social as well as moral issue. I’ve been vegan for over a year and a half and read and watched loads on the topic and there were still startling, horrific revelations about how we (mis)treat animals in Animal Liberation that left me reeling. The devious cruelty involved in animal-testing is like something from a horror film – but is real and happening right now in staggering numbers. This book is a classic, teaming with urgent, rational and incisive writing.
Swallow This – Joanna Blythman. This is not a book promoting a vegan lifestyle whatsoever, instead it’s an investigation into “the food industry’s darkest secrets”. It looks at modern processed food and asks if it really is as fresh, natural and healthy as it purports to be. The book gives an insight into how water is added to meat to bulk its volume, details what really happens in slaughterhouses, outlines how meat is treated to make it appear fresher than it really is and details how dairy cows can be injected with enzymes immediately before slaughter to make their meat tenderer. Gruesome but important insight into how and what we eat today.
This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein. This incredible book’s subtitle: “Capitalism v. the Climate” gives you a clue as to it’s direction of travel. Although not directly related to veganism, many people upon researching animal agriculture and discovering how inefficient and polluting it is experience a new or renewed interest in climate change and how best to avert – or at least minimise – a climate disaster. Reading about the projected effects of climate change upon the globe is terrifying- especially when they’re playing out with killer hurricanes, floods and fires across the planet as I type – but Naomi Klein insists that climate change can be a catalyst for more equitable, fair and sustainable societies. A must-read, truly.
Carnage – Simon Amstell’s pro-vegan sci-fi features JME, Joanna Lumley, Martin Freeman and Vanessa Feltz and was commissioned and streamed by the BBC. How cool is that? Set in 2067, the residents of this utopian future are struggling with the past – a past when people weren’t vegan. With a familiar feel to the work of Chris Morris or Black Mirror it’s wry and satirical, and blends real footage with dramatized situations. Whilst learning about the origins of veganism we look back at the marketing of meat – how McDonald’s Happy Meals were sold to kids who’d just been to see Finding Nemo and Babe at the cinema – and how in the twentieth century meat products became steadily unrecognisable from the living breathing creatures they once were: instead formed into nuggets, strips and burgers. As well as showcasing the monstrous Fanny Craddock – who actually filled the Royal Albert Hall so she could dismember a cooked suckling pig – it’s clear how macabre Nigella Lawson would appear to a person from the depicted future – smushing the carcass of a chicken and revelling in the noise it makes whilst professing her love for the bird. The film depicts the environmental horrors of meat and dairy as well as the cruelty in these industries but it’s not heavy-handed. It takes the piss out of vegans too, so it doesn’t feel like a full-on assault on non-vegans. In fact, Carnage reminds us all to be honest, funny and approachable when advocating for change – whether that’s for veganism or anything else. I want to live in the 2067 vegan paradise of Carnage now, very very much.
Vegucated – A 2011 documentary which follows three “meat-and cheese-loving New Yorkers” who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. I liked how funny and positive the documentary was. It goes easy on brutal animal agriculture footage and instead shows how regular people can adopt new, easy ways of living which is lighter on the environment, kinder to their health and to animal’s lives.
Cowpiracy – This 2014 documentary film explored the impact of animal agriculture on the environment: including global warming, water-use, deforestation, and ocean dead zones. It also challenged the policies of environmental organizations such as Greenpeace; who appeared reticent to take on the meat, egg and dairy industries and afraid of promoting a vegetarian/vegan diet in case it would result in upsetting donors/supporters. Some of the statistics in Cowspiracy – about exactly how big an impact animal agriculture has on the environment – continue to be challenged, but the basic fact, as noted by UN in 2006, that “the livestock sector is ‘one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global” is generally accepted now. This is a genuinely eye-opening, shocking and thought-provoking film that invites us all to think about how we can reduce our footprint on the earth and call on NGOs, Governments and companies to behave more ethically too.
Earthlings – OK, real-talk. Whilst this 2005 documentary was probably THE greatest catalyst in the fundamental shift I have made towards non-human animals, it is extraordinarily upsetting. I am not sure if I could watch it again and I barely got through the first viewing. The violence it shows perpetrated on animals for food, experimentation, clothing and entertainment is unrelenting. There are some scenes which I know I’ll never forget and which I can’t think about without having a visceral reaction. But, by the end of this film I knew that I had changed and that I would never want to hurt an animal- or pay another person to hunt, skin, capture, bait or kill one – ever again. I realised that I had been complicit in sustaining practices which, when I viewed them unflinchingly, were totally disgusting. Through the beautiful score from Moby and Joaquin Phoenix’s narration this film, though harrowing, invites viewers to ask themselves whether hurting another sentient animal for profit is morally defensible. It is one of the roughest, but most important, films I’ve ever seen.
Forks Over Knives – This 2011 American documentary notes that in the US cases of diabetes are exploding, major medical operations or taking at least one prescription drug has become routine and heart disease, cancer and stroke are the country’s three leading causes of death. It suggests that most, if not all, of the so-called “diseases of affluence” that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. The film interweaves interviews from medical professionals with case-studies of regular people who change their lifestyles and notice a marked improvement to their health. Although, like Super Size Me, much of what the film tells you is common sense; it’s always helpful to be reminded that the standard Western diet is not optimal for our health and that those of us who are able to buy our own food are able to make powerful decisions for our own benefit.
Blackfish – This astounding American documentary film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, explores the life of Tilikum, an orca held by SeaWorld, whilst investigating the controversy over captive killer whales. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary. This passionate and potent film probing whether these wild, intelligent and sentient animals should be kept in captivity has changed SeaWorld forever. SeaWorld’s shares have dropped by half since 2013. Celebrities have publicly boycotted SeaWorld and California’s Representative Adam Schiff has been campaigning against the parks for some time, more recently introducing the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act bill. It has forever changed the way I view animals in captivity and I’m so grateful that it exists.
Okja – oh Okja. You made me do an ugly-cry! This Netflix film featuring Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal, released earlier this year, is like an E.T. which also invites viewers to reflect on the food they eat. You meet Mija, a young South Korean girl who has spent a decade hanging out in her idyllic mountain village with Okja; a super-pig created by the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation. As the Mirando Corporation’s plans for Okja, and the other super-pigs they’ve created (to taste “fucking good”) become clear to Mija she launches herself into a mission to rescue her friend, hooking up with the Animal Liberation Front along the way. It’s weird, it’s zany at times, the vegans are often ridiculous in the movie and certainly not perfect, and there’s a devastatingly-realistic scene at the end of the movie that stimulated my aforementioned ugly-cry. But I love how it celebrated the intense, beautiful relationships that humans can develop with an animal. Anatole France said that ‘until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened’ and I totally dig that. There’s something really peculiar but utterly magical about having a pal who you can’t speak to but with whom you share affection, trust and happiness. When I’m with Betty and Chester and we’re cuddling and they’re drooling on me because they’re so content I’m content (if not drooling) too! It’s so pure and uncomplicated. What I wouldn’t give for an Okja in my life…
Blogs , Twitter and Instagram Accounts:
There are more blogs and Instagram accounts than I can possibly outline here right now but wow talk about SIZZLING HOT CONTENT. I read so much from online vegans who knock my socks off. Bloggers who looks at human rights, race, gender, sustainability, animal liberation and nutrition. Instagrammers who make beautiful/ trashy/ inventive/ sloppy/ healthy/ junky meals dishes that have me wanting to lick the screen.
They include: The Dodo, Pig Out Zine, Sareta Puri, Win Friends With Salad, Yes It’s All Vegan, Guac and Roll, Ugly Vegan, Kate Powell, Vegan Burd, Floral Frosting, The Vegan Twist, london_afro_vegan, rocknrollvegandad, James Aspey, Vegan Sidekick, vegan_bob, single ginger vegan peaceloveandpompoms, convo_pieces, thatkatecreates, tapeparade Hot For Food, Not So Quiet Girl, Pretty Good LDN, Something Brighter, quarrygirl and so SO many more!
Vegan Society – a registered charity and the oldest vegan society in the world, was founded in the UK in November 1944. A dude called Donald Watson called a meeting with five other non-dairy vegetarians to discuss non-dairy vegetarian diets and lifestyles. The group felt a new word was required to describe them and considered, but rejected the words: ‘dairyban’, ‘vitan’, and ‘benevore’. They settled on ‘vegan’, containing the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’. In the words of Donald Watson, it marked “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” Would it be weird to be a Dairybanner? Yes, yes it would. The Vegan Society today helps people to go and stay vegan. They run campaigns on issues such as improved hospital catering and encouraging farmers to switch to plant protein. As well as their 30 Day Vegan Pledge – where people who sign up for 30 days receive advice on all aspects of a vegan diet – they have a really fun podcast too.
Veganuary – Veganuary is a charity that launched in 2014 and is dedicated to changing public attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible. It provides people with a tailored support package. It offers practical skills, recipes, guides to eating vegan meals on the high street, nutritional advice, support and local vegan social groups. Although it especially encourages people try veganism in January, you can sign up at any point and receive helpful tips and support. Last December Veganuary pioneered a tube poster campaign which saw over 2,000 posters on London Underground. I love them.
Esther the Wonder Pig – In the summer of 2012, Steve Jenkins was contacted by an old friend about adopting a micro piglet. Though he knew his partner Derek wouldn’t be enthusiastic, he agreed to take the adorable little pig anyway, thinking he could care for her himself. Well… it turned out there was nothing “micro” about Esther, and Steve and Derek had actually adopted a full-sized commercial pig. Within three years, tiny Esther grew to a whopping 600 pounds. After some real growing pains and a lot of pig-sized messes, it became clear that Esther needed much more space than the regular-sized apartment she was living in with her family, so Steve and Derek made another life-changing decision: they bought a farm and opened the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, where they could care for Esther and other animals in need. Thanks to Esther Steve and Derek went from regular guys to reluctant pig parents to farm-owning advocates for animals. They have a glorious, funny and joy-filled Instagram and facebook account, as well as a book which details their story. A book for children is on it’s way too. I love Esther so much and love that so many people have re-assessed their diets because of her. If you’ve seen Okja (and if you’re anything like me, ugly-cried your butt off at it) then you may be surprised/delighted to learn that Esther was one of the inspirations for Okja. Go Esther you queen!
Rancho Relaxo – is a small, non-profit rescue farm in New Jersey, home to rescued goats, horses, pigs and more. I follow the founder Caitlin Cimini – @Boochaces – on Instagram and am inspired every single day by her strength, her compassion and all that she does for the animals she rescues. The story of Alba – a 4-month-old piglet who had come from a laboratory, where she’d undergone experimentation resulting in 18 burn marks in three neat rows along her back – to Rancho Relaxo and is now living in safety and with love is typical of Caitlin’s work. Utterly amazing.
This is only a teeny selection from the wealth of resources on the internet, in libraries and book stores. Read and watch what you can, visit animal sanctuaries and hang out with some IRL animals, and reflect on how you want to live. I know that what you eat and what you wear are profoundly personal decisions. If you have any questions – seriously none too large, small, daft, odd – then do know you can always drop me a line and I’ll help if I can. Peace out.