According to the Vegan Society, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
I went vegan at the beginning of 2016. My reason for doing so was plain old curiosity and experimentation. I wanted to understand why people choose not to eat meat and dairy. I later found out that being vegan is more than just a diet but a political and ethical movement that includes boycotting the use and exploitation of animals in all facets of life including cosmetics (animal testing etc), fashion (leather, fur, wool etc), medication (animal testing etc) and entertainment (zoos, aquariums etc). I had only planned on staying vegan for a year to gain a full understanding of the lifestyle and community but within that year I had learnt so much about the movement and experienced such positive reactions from my body with this new diet that I decided that I would stay vegan for what I planned to be the rest of my life.
Fast forward to February 2017. I moved to Cape Town to become a chef. I figured that seeing as I would be cooking with meat and dairy it wouldn’t be logical for me to stay vegan, so for the months of February and March, I decided to take a break from veganism. Then one lovely Saturday afternoon, I visited a raw vegan restaurant in the city. I was so astounded by how the chefs managed to impart so much flavour into raw veggies that I was reinspired to go vegan. Everything worked out well for most of the year. Then came December 2017…
I started working at a gorgeous fine dining restaurant of a well-established wine farm in Cape Town. It was a truly amazing working experience but I found it close to impossible to remain vegan in that environment. I had to taste so many purees, sauces, and mayos not only to make sure they were still fresh and tasted fine but to differentiate between them. Because if I used sesame mayo when I should’ve used plain mayo (which looked identical) I was fucked. Moreover, because my hours were such that I went to work at 09:30 and I came back home at 23:00, I had zero time to make myself food. I did try, on my off days, to make lunch for work because although we were provided with staff food it wasn’t vegetarian (unless I kindly asked whoever is in charge of feeding us that day to reserve a small bowl of meatless food for me) let alone vegan. So when I was offered a bowl of veggies drenched in bechamel sauce (that’s white sauce for those of you who don’t know the official terminology), I ate it. From December 2017 until January 2018 I was vegetarian.
Then February rolled around and I must admit that in a couple of moments of weakness I dabbled with meat a little. I do believe that I tried eating meat because once I started eating dairy at work and realised that I didn’t immediately explode after tasting goat’s cheese, it was okay. Nobody died when I ate these foods, except of course the cows, chickens, and pigs these foods came from. But then again, I didn’t become vegan for the cows, chickens, and pigs. I can’t say that as I tucked into those chicken wangs I didn’t feel a semblance of guilt because I did. However, my guilt did not stem from the animals that were harmed to provide me with the meal, it stemmed from the fact that I was calling myself vegan when I wasn’t. I was being a hypocrite.
I went vegan because I wanted to gain an understanding. Now that my initial reason for going vegan no longer serves me, I struggle to find the motivation to stay vegan. When it comes to doing anything in life you have to have a motivation. You have to have a reason for doing something otherwise, you’ll never stick to it and it’ll never last.
This brings us to the present day. I’m fighting the beginnings of a nasty cold as I type this post and I wonder whether my immune system is weak because of the reintroduction of animal products into my diet or because all my weekend birthday partying and late nights are finally catching up with me? I can’t truly say… All I can say is that as it stands, I don’t know where I stand as a vegan. I do know that I won’t be eating meat again because that was a mistake (one I don’t regret but a mistake nonethless.) As for dairy… I’m not so sure.
I’m beginning to experiment with replacing the word “vegan” with “plant-based.” According to Wikipedia, the definition of plant-based is, “A diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.” The key phrase here being “few or no animal products.” That means if I want to eat a bowl of plain greek yoghurt with fruit, I can. Not only is the main difference between plant-based and vegan the fact that plant-based includes vegetarianism but also the fact that it includes the use of animal products in other goods such as clothes, cosmetics, and medication, unlike veganism, which is something I can realistically manage. (Because finding vegan shoes is hard.)
Before I close, I must also mention the whole food plant-based diet which is exactly like a plant-based diet except that it excludes the consumption of processed products such as refined oils, white flour, and refined sugar (that’s normal white sugar to you and me.) I am not going to be following a whole food plant-based diet because I can’t afford it and I love bread too much. Maybe one day, but not now.
In conclusion, I am no longer vegan, I just follow a plant-based diet. I won’t eat meat but if they accidentally put parmesan on my pasta, I won’t be mad. I will, however, still limit my consumption of dairy and eggs.
(This also means that I might start baking again. “Might” being the key word here.)