To mark World Vegan Day (1st November) and World Vegan month during the whole of November, Sadie Cable and Jack Barber, current co-chairs of the Vegan Network, share what being vegan means for them.
When did I go vegan?
I went vegan in January 2017 after watching Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives on Netflix. I took part in Veganuary and never looked back!
What does being vegan mean for you?
Originally veganism was mostly about diet for me. A cholesterol check at a pharmacy showed me to have high cholesterol, despite what I thought was a healthy lifestyle. So I went on a journey to find how I could take control of my health, as I was terrified of developing some kind of serious illness.
After meeting lots of like minded people through becoming vegan my understanding grew and it developed into a much wider belief system based around protecting the environment and animals, as well as improving my health.
I’m on a journey, I’m trying to reduce my impact more and more and I’m still learning, as we all are.
Have you had any uncomfortable experiences since becoming vegan?
Since becoming a vegan I’ve had some interesting conversations and questions, mostly in the early stages and mostly about what I can and can’t eat. These kinds of conversations don’t bother me, and it tends to be people who are curious and want to understand more, so I’m happy to talk, even though it can feel repetitive and tedious. I know that me answering a few questions could be the start of another person’s journey to reducing their impact on the planet, improving their diet and protecting animals from abuse.
Anything that annoys you?
I don’t mind where people disagree with my beliefs, so long as they are respectful. The conversations that I’m not so tolerant of are those where people think because you are vegan you must be perfect in all your choices that effect the environment or animals. People will criticise me for using a car or for using some single use plastic, even though they do this themselves. I do my best to make the best choices I can to minimise my impact on the environment and animal welfare but I’m not perfect and nobody is! I’m on a journey, I’m trying to reduce my impact more and more and I’m still learning, as we all are.
I’ve also had a few testing moments where others have overly criticised vegan options or insisted there should be meat on offer when eating out. We all have our dietary preferences and regardless of your choice I would not expect someone to have to suffer abuse for what they choose to eat.
What does it feel like to be vegan for you?
Being vegan can often feel like you know something that others haven’t realised yet and you must do something to wake everyone up. This feeling is especially strong when you first learn some facts about nutrition, the food industry and the causes of climate breakdown. But most vegans learn that challenging people’s beliefs is not a positive action and is unlikely to lead to people making positive changes. I’m respectful that everyone is on a journey and I have to remind myself that 3 years ago I wasn’t vegan and my choices were much different.
Veganism means different things to different people, the same as any protected characteristic. People usually become vegan because they either love animals, want better health, or they care about the planet (or a combination of them all).
For me, going vegan was all about the animals. Once I realised I couldn’t love an animal and at the same time be responsible for it’s death for my food, I decided to go vegan. It was a transition for me, like a re-education of everything I knew. Recipes had to be tweaked, labels on everything had to be read (you become a pro at this), and milk powder becomes your arch nemesis.
I actually ended up learning more about nutrition than before I was vegan. Before, I didn’t give a passing thought to where I got my protein or iron from. But because of the questions from intrigued family and friends, you end up brushing up on all this stuff just so you can answer their questions.
It was a transition for me, like a re-education of everything I knew.
Educating myself in order to educate those around me I found was actually one of the biggest parts of going vegan. You wouldn’t believe how many derogatory or offensive comments you get, even now. Below are just a few, and next to them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those comments. I wanted to add this in because I genuinely don’t think many people say these things from a place of malice, but on the receiving end of them with the beliefs I have, they really can offend, or sometimes just be a bit tiring!
- Veganism is extreme – Being considered an extremist is really tough. When you come from a place of peace and compassion, and feel like you are fighting against a system that causes billions of living beings to die needlessly every year, and is contributing to the decline of our health and our planet, just eating plants doesn’t feel like the extreme side of the table.
- I only eat a little bit of meat – This one is a tricky one. On one hand you’re like amazing, someone’s reducing their meat intake and this is great, lets celebrate with them, but in the back of your mind you can also be thinking oh, that’s okay then, I’ll just let the cow know that’s only a little bit dead.
- Animals are here for us to eat – Says who? As humans we are conscious beings, and it can be hard to hear that some may believe that sentient, living beings are here for us to hurt
- just have a bacon sandwich and get over it – no words needed here
The other part of being vegan for me is being active. Activism in veganism is often portrayed by mainstream media as extreme action, or worst case, forms of terrorism. Do not be fooled by the ‘activist’ term. It can mean so much more than that. Being active for me and so many others is basically sharing learning and knowledge with others in order for them to make informed choices.
One of my forms of activism is volunteering as a trained Educational Speaker for an organisation called Animal Aid. I go into high schools at their request to talk to students about what veganism is, or do cookery demos, linking it all to the curriculum and making it relevant for them.
Another thing I do is write articles or blogs. I think that many different forms of activism have a place in the animal rights movement (see one of my articles about different forms here), these are just two of the things I choose to do using my best skills to be a voice for animals.
I hope this shines a bit of light on what it can be like to be a vegan, and give a more personal perspective on language used and activism.
I’m always open to conversations and would love it if anyone wanted to contact me to discuss more about what I’ve written, or to talk to me about their own journeys or stories. Just drop me an email at Sadie.firstname.lastname@example.org
In the 11 years that I’ve been Vegan a lot has changed. Attitudes of people I meet, the conversations that people are having, media articles, awareness and most definitely the products available.
At the age of 16, I started to question where my food was coming from and if I could continue to consume meat once I learned the processes involved. I decided to try to remove myself from feeding into the demand for meat as much as possible by becoming vegetarian when I was about 17.
After about 3 years I started to question whether if all of the products I used and were paying for aligned with my belief of not harming animals for my own gain. It is then, at the age of 21 that I decided to start 2009 finding replacements for the products that were animal based in my diet and lifestyle. I never actually intended on being ‘Vegan’ but once I had switched products out and got used to not having cheese (there wasn’t much choice back then!) I just couldn’t go back.
I think that’s all we can ask of people; to inform themselves and live as close to their beliefs as possible.
Since then I’ve learned some valuable lessons. I’ve learned not to judge people on their decisions too much and think that what comes easy for me may not come easy for others. I’ve also been learning about the privilege attached to dietary choices, being able to cook and prepare food and why some people may find it particularly challenging to become Vegan. I’ll also answer any questions people have but sometimes I just want to eat my salad in peace; I’ve learned that there is a time and a place for ‘discussions’ and that being Vegan doesn’t mean you think the same way as other vegans.
I think that being approachable and leading by example are how I would best explain my approach to being Vegan. In my experience when people feel threatened or their choices are questioned then barriers automatically go up and usually anger follows. I like to think I’ve found an approach to discussing Veganism which is inclusive, supportive and understanding.
It took me months, maybe years of slowly replacing items I had and getting used to new products for it to become a new normal. I still slip up now and forget to read the ingredients on a pack of crisps or buy the wrong deodorant. I’m not perfect but I’m trying my absolute best within my limitations of money and time. I think that’s all we can ask of people; to inform themselves and live as close to their beliefs as possible.