My 27 Year Journey to Veganism | Please share your experiences!

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An update on my cruelty free skincare experiment for Stoptober…this is a blog I hadn’t intended to write at all. I planned to review products first and foremost. But something came up! So here goes…

So far I have had mixed results with cruelty free skincare. But a little research into one product and suddenly my motivation for a switch was called into question. Which brought up a lot more questions for my motivation for following a plant based vegan diet.

This may be long…so please bear with me!

This is how it started…for Stoptober I decided to switch to cruelty free skin care. And one of my favourite discoveries was Argan Oil – a truly fantastic moisturiser! I used to love Bio Oil as an all over moisturiser. I tried switching to Jojoba oil at one time because I felt a tad uncomfortable with the idea of Bio Oil being a mineral oil (petrol on my skin???).

However, I have since found Bio Oil is vegan and not tested on animals. In fact a lot of products I have aren’t tested animals. But that doesn’t mean they’re natural at all. And although my guideline was “cruelty free”, I find actually what I consider more important is something more natural and less potentially carcinogenic.

Realising this meant my Stoptober experiment wasn’t so much cruelty free but more natural as well as cruelty free, I realised as a brand I favoured Lush because I could understand the ingredients labels! Most of their products are vegan…some have lanolin (from sheep’s wool) and honey in. These are considered vegetarian but not vegan. But none of them are tested on animals (though sheep would probably attest to the fact lanolin keeps their wooly coats manageable!).

This realisation…cruelty free doesn’t mean natural, made me think about my vegan diet. You can find all kinds of refined carb snacks that are vegan. I think even oreos might be. But I won’t be eating junk food any time soon just because it’s vegan. It would be possible to be a very unhealthy vegan!

Also, I am not actually a vegan because I have honey and apple cider vinegar as an alkalising alternative to wake up to…honey is an animal product. So my diet is actually “plant based vegan with honey”! Some vegans may drop the honey but go for the refined carbs and high fructose corn syrup. So…what was my motivation for eating vegan? How did I arrive at a plant based vegan diet without seeming to do it deliberately? So many people consider it a radical change…but for me, there wasn’t any point of radical change. So how and why did I take this route?

There are 3 main concerns for me & I have watched some great lectures on the health benefits of a plant based vegan diet that convince me, there is absolutely no going back for me now. I am committed to my eating habits…but it took 27 years for me to make this decision! It was a 27 year gradual process…and it all began…

…when I was 15. I saw a video in my biology class at school showing a slaughter house. I was horrified to see pigs stunned with a bolt to the head being attached by one leg to a chain and pulled upwards, and the voice over admitting that sometimes the bolt didn’t kill the pigs and sure enough some were waking up and screaming. Literally screaming. In pain or fear. Some may say, oh it was probably unconscious and having a seizure or something – no one would kill animals in such an inhumane way. I’d recommend some research!

Seeing that at 15 made me vegetarian in one minute. But I ate junk. I didn’t even know gelatin came from cows. So I wasn’t a very educated vegetarian. Later I added fish back…maybe ten years later. And I had free range eggs and didn’t boycott dairy.

That was until I saw what ‘free range’ actually meant!

I don’t want to bash people over the head with the ethics or horror stories. But the fact is, free range means thousands of chickens that have been genetically altered and given special food they wouldn’t usually eat, to make them grow massive “boobs” (as the consumer wants the white meat), crammed into an enormous warehouse/”barn”.

Unfortunately these poor mutated chickens grow so fast and so lopsided some just collapse and die under their own weight. Some can walk a few steps before falling over. They are unlikely to ever see daylight. They have their beaks cut off to stop them attacking  each other. They are not in any way free to range anywhere. And they’ve been bred and fed to be physically disabled.

I felt I’d been scammed and mislead. Because I had been!

Some people may see that as ok. I personally don’t though. So I had an ethical issue with the conditions animals were raised in and also the ways they were killed.

When the fuss over GM crops put organic veg into our supermarkets (so strange…I thought all vet was organic by virtue of the fact it’s veg!), I decided I would eat organic meat. I didn’t buy it v often though. Months could elapse without me having any. Because I don’t know how to prepare meat for a start. I was vegetarian when I learnt to cook. And I had never really liked meat much anyway!

So it meant although I no longer identified as vegetarian, my diet wasn’t a typical Western one. Except in that over a period of years all the veg had been removed and I lived on snacks…raw nuts and seeds, fish, oatcakes, rice cakes and phases of various junk foods. Not at all balanced! I worked nights and never ate a whole meal. I lived on snacks but mostly they were healthy. And for long periods they would be vegan (by default, not design).

Then I found out, organic animals were killed in the same slaughter houses as abused animals. I didn’t need to see Earthlings for that to make me feel uncomfortable eating meat again. So I limited it to Christmas dinners.

I did however, still eat fish. Until I heard about the industrial fishing practices. And I felt uncomfortable subsidising the practice by buying it. So I switched back to nuts as my staple.

I still was eating dairy though. And as my fish intake went down, my dairy went up and suddenly, I found I had a dairy allergy. I thought food allergies upset your digestion. But my allergy made my hands itch and fingers swell. It took a while to work out it was dairy doing it. But once I had, I couldn’t justify eating dairy as my body clearly didn’t consider dairy food – even if my brain did!

This left me down to a v restricted diet because of my habits of snacking. And so, after some research and consideration, I decided I would get a slow cooker and make a big stew each day…full of veg…chickpeas and lentils and v healthy. Then I got a rice cooker to make perfect brown rice to go with my vegan stew.

Being lazy (it only takes half an hour to prepare my stew and leave it slow cooking on a v low setting while I sleep…giving me 4 servings of stew in a day!) this seemed almost miraculously easy! And that may sound like rabbit food to others but it works for me!

Others would think that’s not a varied diet and they would find it too boring to eat raw nuts and seeds and vegan stew with brown rice every day – but I find I have come to redefine food. If you eat something that gives you calories but little to no nutrition, you’re not really eating food. Food would actually be good for you and nutritious…if you consume mostly calorific products that have little value to your body, your body isn’t going to like that.  In the short term it may be ok. But long term you would be malnourished.

Anyway, within weeks I felt amazing on this new plan. Really amazing!

I lost some weight
My skin got very clear
I slept better
I had better energy throughout the night (still nocturnal)
My digestion was better
My nails got stronger
My PMS symptoms went away

I still wasn’t committed to a vegan diet. I didn’t stop to think about it much to be honest. A lot was going on. My dad was ill. And I occasionally didn’t make my stew and ate fast food. A couple of times I ate junk for a few days in a row. I soon realised it only took a few days on nutritionally deficient food products to feel crap on it. I got cravings for stew and rice! I felt sort of ‘poisoned’ by junk food. I wasn’t sure if it was all the salt…or just the lack of actual nutrients. The sugar? Chemicals? Refined carbs? But those experiences convinced me, for my health (and because I felt and looked better on it and had no qualms of conscience about animal abuse on it), I would go vegan and stay vegan.

A vegan diet…not a vegan lifestyle. I watched Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives. I watched Vedgucated and Fed Up. I watched several lectures on YouTube about independent studies into the health benefits of a vegan diet. And I watched Earthlings. Earthlings wasn’t a game changer for me. It was useful for information…as was Cowspiracy. But these only made me sure of the decisions I had made. If I hadn’t given up dairy due to allergy I would have after watching Cowspiracy and Earthlings.

I could go on and on about all the problems with animal abuse, modern farming, the health implications…but these things were things that convinced me I had made a good choice rather than the things that made me change my diet. So for my story, they’re possibly not as relevant as they might be for others.

I do recommend everyone educate themselves and watch those documentaries though. After all, you wouldn’t donate money to a charity for animal rescue if you found out that the rescued animals were all going to be euthanised by being gassed if no one homed them after a month. So, if you choose to eat meat, dairy and eggs, it makes sense to find out where your food comes from and that you don’t have a problem with the way it was treated while alive or how it was killed…and anything that was added to it (flavour enhancers…colouring…various chemicals) before it made it to the supermarket. Because subsidising practices that your conscience takes issue with could lead to a habit of ignoring your conscience in other situations…and living at odds with yourself isn’t conducive to health and happiness!

Maybe it’s a bit like when you were a kid and constantly being told “Don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been” really! You would like to be assured it didn’t go anywhere bad and nothing bad happened simply by virtue of the fact a supermarket bought it and sold it to you. Because, they wouldn’t endorse something unethical eh? They wouldn’t deliberately put sweet food and junk at the eye level of children for example? They have your best interests at heart don’t they? They must do…if you’re dead you won’t be buying food! Right?

Well, unfortunately, these days you can’t rely on the ethics of others. There’s a lot of money to be made in keeping people sick but not dead.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom! You have access power as a consumer you couldn’t have dreamt of just a couple of decades ago! The internet!

The internet has led to quite a revolution in “personal power”…steering changes as people become aware of the resources and information available to them. Nowadays it isn’t considered the action of a paranoid minority if, when the newspapers tell you one thing…like milk is good for you…you go online and read independent clinical trials to see if it’s true and who sponsored the trial!

We have access to information that it would have been impossible to find before. And increasingly people are becoming more confident in trusting their own judgement of the facts than the version they hear in the mainstream.

It’s uncomfortable for some. Shouldn’t someone else be in charge of this stuff? Don’t we pay big organisations to protect us and make sure everything is ok? Isn’t it illegal for a company to mislead you in their advertising? Well, most of us thought so once…but you only have to find out you’ve been deceived once…putting your health and life and that of those you love, in some kind of compromise, to realise, you have your best interests at heart…but massive food and drug companies can make money from you while you eat…and more money from you if you’re sick. They may not have your best interests at heart. In fact, it seems unlikely they do.

This information revolution can seem scary because it means our trust in any ‘authority’ is undermined. Wasn’t that once the domain of crazy conspiracy theorists? Not people like you and me?  Also, it puts a responsibility on the individual that’s new and not necessarily welcome – but you may also see that it empowers the individual to make informed choices about their lives and health; to consider their perspective, morality and ethics, with the facts rather than the spin.

But coming full circle…my journey of incremental change to non radical veganism started because at 15, I saw meat came from animals. Advertising and packaging try to prevent us making that association as much as possible. But it made an impression on me and my very first ethical dilemma was the suffering of innocent beings. My response was natural. I think most people would feel similarly if they met their steak under different circumstances…

I used the example to a friend to illustrate this point, that if a cow ran into my garden one day and it was scared and panicky and upset, my natural reaction (and most people’s…including theirs) would be to try to calm it. To make eye contact. Talk to it. Take out a bowl of water. Try to soothe it with your voice and body language. Try to get closer to it to feed it from your hand. You recognise fear or distress in a cow even if you’re not a cow! And your instinct would be to try to help it and reassure it, it wasn’t alone and it was safe. That you weren’t a threat etc. (I picked a cow since we don’t keep them as pets).

If I phoned an animal rescue centre and they said, oh yes, that cow escaped from a slaughter house. We will come and get it and take it back to be killed. I’d not feel comfortable with that. Personally I would feel a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the cow even though our paths had crossed accidentally. The chances are, I would think, no wonder it ran away and was scared…I don’t want a hand in the slaughter of this animal.

Then, in some crazy gesture to try to protect the cow, I’d probably try to friend with a horse box to help me hide the cow, tell the people it had run away again. And try to find an organisation that would rescue it and allow it to live out its natural life.

Chances are this would break lots of laws. A cow is usually owned by a big company who pays farmers to ‘grow’ their animals for slaughter etc.

But faced with an animal suffering in any way, no matter if it’s one you think of as a pet or a wild animal or a domesticated living food source, most people’s dominant sense would be compassion. And if they thought someone was going to hurt the animal, they would naturally want to protect it.

Or maybe that’s just me? Am I overly empathic?  Am I being sentimental or even childish to think of an animal that way? Is it because 27 years ago I saw that film at school that I look at an animal and see it as an animal with feelings that doesn’t deserve to suffer. As a living being that has certain fundamental rights whatever its species? Am I being controversial, extreme or inflammatory to suggest a cow bred only to be killed for meat is a living being at all?

I said I wouldn’t bash people over the head with politics…or even morality. If you don’t see value or rights in another living being by virtue of its species then eating it regardless of how it was raised or killed wouldn’t tweak your conscience. If you don’t have an issue with eating meat but have an issue with unnecessary abuse of those animals, that does create an ethical dilemma for you and you might want to find out more. The consumer can vote with their wallet. So there is something you can do about it in a practical sense.

What I am saying in summary is…my journey to where I am now will be different to other people’s. My issue was first with the ethics of what I considered animal abuse. Then with the misinformation about ideas such ‘free range’. Then with industrial fishing and oceanic dead zones. Then with health. Later backed by the environmental impact of modern farming. Mostly, I don’t want to subsidise what to me seem immoral practices carried out on my behalf. I don’t want to pay someone to take out a hit on an abused chicken where a machine may or may not cut its throat before it’s head is dunked in boiling water. Not all chickens suffer such an inhumane slaughter…but if I ate them, I couldn’t help but wonder…did my chicken ever see daylight? Could it walk? Which part of the slaughter conveyer finished it off? Was it ever happy or even content? Did it suffer? Was it ever in pain or afraid? And does it taste so good I can turn a blind eye and hope for the best?

I am autistic…I have aspergers which means I sort of don’t have a blind eye. I also tend to whitter on and convey my thoughts and opinions in a stream of consciousness! So please excuse the length and style of this blog!
These are my opinions…and my own thoughts. I don’t expect others to share them. But I am interested to know…what are your thoughts on your food choices? Modern farming? Veganism? Your health? Animal rights…animal wrongs? If you changed your diet at any time, what prompted the change? If you’ve seen Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Forks Over Knives or Vegucated, did they affect the way you ate…or thought about food?

Please join the discussion!

Xxx ALM (Maya)

www.wordpress.annalouisemay.net
www.blog.mayastar.net
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