Veganism – An Inside Look At A Plant-Based Lifestyle

Veganism is a massively growing trend in the UK right now. Ethical beauty products, plant-based diets and the reduction of plastic waste are all really hot topics at the moment, and so I wanted to explore some of these issues further.

To do this I decided that the best way to learn about veganism was to actually talk to someone who understood it personally, so I reached out to my Twitter friend Davina to get the inside scoop.

As a former vegetarian and then pescatarian, I’ve tried a vegan lifestyle myself and found it challenging. So I was really interested to find out how Davina got started with it and how she’s found the transition from vegetarianism to veganism. 

My diet still excludes red meat entirely, but I had to go back to eating poultry last year when I started playing rugby as I found that I just needed the extra protein to be able to keep playing. I’d love to get back into full time a vegetarian/pescatarian diet one day though, so was keen to find out more from Davina.

Read on to discover some firsthand insight into what veganism is really like, the challenges that it can present and the benefits it can also bring with it.

Can you tell us who you are and a little bit of background about yourself?

I’m Davina. I live in North Yorkshire with my husband, two boys, two cats and four rescue hens. I used to blog about parenting, but more recently I’ve been writing about mental health as I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and depression a few months ago. I am also, as this post may suggest, a passionate vegan.

Today we’re talking about veganism. Can you tell me how long you’ve had a vegan lifestyle for and what made you think about veganism in the first place?

I’ve been vegan since December last year. Before that, I was vegetarian for ten 10 years. The thing that turned me away from eating meat was actually a documentary about chicken farming. I’m not quite sure what happened, but something seemed to connect in my brain as I watched a farmer interacting with one of his birds and I realised that I couldn’t think of any good reason why I was ignoring my gut feeling that eating animals was not the right thing for me.

The next day I overhauled my fridge and my cupboards and I haven’t looked back since. Becoming a vegan seemed like a natural progression, and after I’d watched a few documentaries – What The Health, Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives to name a few – I knew that I had to make the change. Once you know – you KNOW.

Has it been easy to become vegan (if you weren’t before)?

Easier than I expected, although eating out has become a bit of challenge. I haven’t personally struggled with the transition, though. Once I’ve decided to do something, I don’t tend to back out, and becoming vegan has been no different.

Are the rest of your family supportive of your vegan lifestyle?

100%, and I think I’m very lucky in that respect. My husband also decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle around the same time I did. He had been a vegetarian for around five years by that point and was beginning to feel uncomfortable about eggs and dairy. Our children are omnivorous, though. They eat a vegetarian diet at home because it wouldn’t make financial sense to cook something different for them, but they’re free to eat whatever they want when they’re at school and when we go out.

I don’t know if they will ever decide to become vegetarian or vegan, but I feel very strongly that that choice must be theirs and not ours.

What are your thoughts on the general public’s attitude towards veganism? Have you encountered any problems as a result of being vegan?

The truth is that a lot of people don’t like vegans, but what’s also true is that I can understand why. Some vegans are preachy and obnoxious. I’ve even seen vegans fighting amongst themselves on social media, so I can see where this general feeling of unease comes from. For my part, the only real issues I’ve had have come about on Twitter, and people tend to be pretty unfiltered on twitter anyway, so it hasn’t really affected me.

My work colleagues have been really accepting and have even asked me questions about veganism. So aside from a few eye-rolls if I ask about a vegan alternative when I go out to eat, I really haven’t encountered any problems in the real world.

What would you say to people who say that vegans ‘have a boring diet/live off lettuce’ etc?

That they must be really lacking in imagination if they can’t come up with a tasty way to make a meal without meat! Before adopting a plant-based diet, I was a pretty picky eater. Now I eat EVERYTHING – except meat, fish and dairy. A lot of the time I experiment with food, and nine times out of ten it turns out just fine!

Do you think that veganism is growing in popularity?

Absolutely. There are more cookery books and blogs and brands geared towards a vegan lifestyle than ever before. Even people who aren’t vegans are becoming more interested in trying vegan food, and supermarket ranges are expanding on an almost weekly basis. It’s so much easier to be vegan now than it was even just five years ago.

Do you find it expensive to maintain a vegan lifestyle? 

Amazingly, no. We buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, but we also have a lot of canned foods, rice and lentils. The milks can be expensive – and some of them, like almond, aren’t very environmentally friendly,  but we’ve now settled on Alpro oat milk at £1.40 a litre. Obviously it’s more expensive than cows milk, but you can actually make your own oat milk and it costs virtually nothing. We spend an average of £80 a week on shopping – not just food – for a family of four, and most of our food is vegan.

Do you think there’s enough understanding or education about veganism and vegan lifestyles out there?

Understanding, no. The most common question I am asked is, “Where do you get your protein from?” Its become a bit of a running joke in the vegan world because beans, lentils and things like chia seeds are packed with protein and nobody seems to be aware of it!

As far as education goes, I think there is a lot more in the media about veganism and the benefits of a plant-based diet, but there will always be people who simply switch off as soon as the V word is mentioned.

What’s been the best thing about becoming a vegan?

This is probably going to sound really sanctimonious – and I’m sorry for that -, but my conscience is clear, and that feels really good. It’s wonderful to know that my lifestyle choices are literally saving the lives of animals, because that’s why I decided to do this in the first place; I love animals and I don’t want to hurt them.

What’s been the hardest thing?

Cheese. God, I miss cheese. And the vegan alternatives are okay, but dairy cheeses are literally addictive and it’s a very hard habit to break.

How could someone get started with a vegan lifestyle? Can you do it gradually, like having a vegan day a week or something?

I would absolutely recommend a gradual shift, especially if you think you might struggle to go all in. But I’m also a great advocate of education when it comes to choosing a plant-based diet, from both a nurtional and ethical standpoint.

I’ve learnt about plant-based nutrition as I’ve gone along, but once I knew what was really going on in the meat and dairy industry, I couldn’t unknow it. For me and for a lot of other vegans I know, that knowledge has been the real starting point.

How do you deal with any hostility or mocking you might encounter as a result of your vegan lifestyle?

Honestly? I ignore it. I’m happy with my choices; how anyone else perceives me is up to them. I’m just doing what I feel is necessary to feel okay with myself.

Are there health benefits to veganism?

Purportedly, yes. A vegan diet is widely reported to reduce the risk of certain cancers, lowering of cholesterol, heart disease and even diabetes. I’ll let you know if make it to 100!

What about the ethical benefits? Why might someone choose to try veganism?

As a child, I really had to disassociate animals from food in order to feel okay about eating them. I had to tell myself that it was just the food chain. But the truth is that I never really felt right about it. I loved animals, and yet I still ate them. I viewed cats and dogs as pets, but I considered pigs, cows and sheep to be food.

As I got older, that made less and less sense to me. I felt a real affinity with animals, and knowing that my diet doesn’t harm them has been good for my soul. I think the same would be true for a lot of people who are self-confessed animal lovers.

Can you recommend any good sources of information to get started with a vegan diet?

The Veganuary website is full of recipes and places to eat out where you can get a good vegan meal.

What’s the most important message you’d like to get across about veganism?

I think it’s important for us all to realise and acknowledge that we are all travelling our own journeys in this life. What a lot of people forget about vegans is that most of them didn’t start life this way. Most of us have eaten meat and have decided that the ends don’t justify the means. But what vegans also need to remember is that name-calling will never change anyone’s heart or mind. Some people will never choose a plant-based lifestyle and that is okay because if our whole ethos is to live and let live, we must also apply that to people whose opinions and lifestyles we don’t agree with.

I don’t know about you but I really enjoyed reading about Davina’s journey into veganism and it’s got me thinking about my own lifestyle choices. Perhaps swapping something simple might be a good place to start, or even just having a look into vegan options once a week. 

Either way it’s been fascinating to get an insight into a different lifestyle choice, so massive thank you to Davina for taking part in this interview!

If you’ve been inspired to take up veganism or have any personal experience of the issues Davina’s discussed then please do let me know in the comments. You can also catch up with me on Facebook or Twitter.

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