People don’t tell you about the downside. They talk about the incredible health benefits, and the reduction of risk for heart disease and cancers. They talk about how it supports the planet because animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, species extinction, habitat loss, ocean dead zones and greenhouse gas emissions. They tell you about how you’re no longer contributing to the horrific torture, mutilation and misery in the everyday lives of innocent animals and the horror they endure in the slaughterhouse.
Granted. There’s no denying that.
So then being vegan must be awesome… right?!
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The first thing you need to know about being vegan is that you’ve got to be tough. Mentally. And if you’re not, you’re about to get destroyed. So toughen up, buttercup.
Let me paint a little picture here, to help illustrate. It’s Saturday night, and perhaps you’re about to do one of the following:-
- Some friends have invited you over for dinner at theirs. Michael is cooking his signature dish!
- You’re going on a date, and about to have dinner at a lovely new restaurant in town.
- You’ve been invited to a BBQ with your new colleagues from work.
You’re a little anxious, because at some point you’ve got to drop… the ‘V BOMB’.
Vegan is a dirty word. It would seem. So prepare yourself. There is also a possibility that your new friends/date/colleagues will write you off as soon as they even hear the V word. Not the decent ones, of course, but there are the odd few who will freak out and make a mental note that will allude to: ‘Oh God – not one of those! Won’t invite them out again. Weirdo extremist.’ You’ve got to develop a thick skin, and plenty of humour.
So… dropping the ‘V BOMB’. You have two options here, with four potential outcomes. When you’re asked ‘Why are you vegan?’ (N.B. You WILL be asked this, for the rest of your life, every time you go for dinner. Get used to it.) you can either:-
1) Lie about why you’re vegan, ‘cause it’s easier.
2) Tell the truth, despite it being intimidating more often than not.
When I was vegetarian, I used to lie when I was asked why I didn’t eat animals. I’d say “Oh I just don’t like the taste.” I learned that people were happy with that answer. I dreaded being centre of attention, and was already therefore hugely embarrassed to be vegetarian and not blending in with everybody else. So that answer was the easiest way to quickly get the limelight off of me. I was younger then, I cared too much about what other people thought.
But when you turn vegan, if you’ve done so because you’ve learned that the egg industry grinds up baby male chicks – alive – on day one of their life, simply because they are male… or because you’ve realised that cheese and milk have come from a cow that has been forcibly impregnated by humans shoving what is known as the ‘rape stick’ inside of her, over and over again, to keep her pregnant, so that she continues to produce milk for her baby calf, every one of which is then torn away from her shortly after being born, so that we can steal its milk – and then she collapses at a very young age due to physical exhaustion, and then shot, because she’s no longer of use… well then it’s really hard to lie. You don’t want to turn a blind eye. You want to tell everyone about what is happening to these poor animals. You want to tell the truth. The truth, however, will create wrath, anger and annoyance. It’ll make you a target. But fuck it – do it anyway.
If I’m out for dinner and I don’t want to get into a deep discussion, because I’m with people I don’t know very well, or I’m just hungry and want to crack on with eating my dinner, I’ll say “Well because I love animals and don’t want to support cruelty.” Though my standard response, and all vegans will develop one is: “I went vegan because I discovered that the dairy and egg industry were as horrifically cruel as the meat industry.”
It’s normally met by silence, so you can choose to quickly change the subject before all hell breaks loose, a suggestion would be “Anyway this place looks great – let’s order some wine!” or, you can use the opportunity for a discussion. You can have incredible conversations with people, and it’s a great way to raise awareness and speak up for the voiceless animals. And then other times… there’s no avoiding it – you’re going to be Public Enemy Number One. You’ll be singled out, cornered, and interrogated. Dinner, socially, will be fucking exhausting.
Next up are the jokes. And wow… I mean… the jokes! I’m going to list some of them below, because you’re going to hear all of them, a lot of times, every month, for the rest of your life. I’ve had 28 years of jokes about being vegetarian and then vegan. And the people cracking them will think they’re the first person that’s ever said such a thing. If you’re knackered you can feign a half-hearted ‘comedy sigh’ and this generally placates their perceived delivery of original comical genius.
1) ‘Mmmm Bacon! LOL!’ – This is just said sporadically whenever you mention anything to do with being vegan. Witty and hilarious.
2) ‘How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry they’ll tell you!’ *snort-snigger-snort*
3) ‘What do you eat? Lettuce leaves?! Huh huh!’ – Honestly, my sides are splitting.
4) ‘What’s that? Rabbit food?! Paaaa!’ – That’s a cracker. Well done.
Then there’re the trolls. For anyone not familiar with the term ‘troll’, these are basically sexually frustrated individuals with prepubescent mentalities that are desperate for attention. Unable to obtain this elsewhere, they’ll revert to targeting others online, to make themselves feel in some way more powerful. The reality of this sad situation is that the troll is probably not the happiest of human beings in real life, so you almost have to feel sorry for them. But as this article was entitled ‘the downside they don’t tell you about’ I’ll drop the gracious consideration momentarily and revert to summarising that trolls are just an irritant. Like an allergy you could really do without. Wikipedia defines a ‘troll’ as:-
‘In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement. ‘
The troll says things they more than likely don’t mean, just to cause a reaction. It’s bravado. I have a troll. But I’ve grown quite fond of him. It can be a little stressful at first, so you do need to be prepared for that, but you just learn that like a gremlin… you don’t feed them. You never feed them. My troll just likes my attention. Bless him. Sweet.
As soon as you drop the ‘V BOMB’ and declare you only eat plant-based foods, there are some people who will automatically assume you:-
- are part of a cult
- always wear cardigans
- only eat lettuce
- are anaemic
- hug trees
- read books about grass
- have no strength
- have brittle bones
- only wear tie-dye
- smoke weed
- hate and judge everyone that eats meat
I reckon one of those apply to me, but the rest are completely alien, and yet… this leads me on to an awkward confession…
I thought that too. EVEN AS A VEGAN!
This socially ingrained image of what veganism is, is so strong, that even I was taken in by it. I’ve been vegan for about a year and a half now, and a few months back, having recently moved to a new city, a friend of mine suggested I join the local vegan meet-up group and honestly? I baulked at the idea. My instant reaction was ‘I couldn’t think of anything worse! They’ll all be weird. Oh no, it sounds dreadful. Not my thing.’
About a week later I was in a coffee shop that was offering free oat-milk coffee to anyone that wanted to try it. A girl walked in behind me. She’d come to try the oat-milk coffee too. We got chatting. Turns out she was also vegan. Her name was Alys. I’d not met many other vegans before so I was excited to chat to her. Alys asked me if I’d been to any of the local vegan meet-up groups. ‘Umm…’. She explained they were held on the first Wednesday of every month and that she’d met some really nice girls there and I should go along. She was nice, funny, intelligent, and cool. Who’d have thought it?! A vegan!
I left the coffee shop and walked around the city. About an hour later there were some people handing out leaflets. One was built like a brick shithouse, and he was wearing a black beanie that said ‘VEGAN’ in bold white letters. “Hello!” I said. “Are you vegan?!”. With a massive smile on his face he said “What gave it away?” and then laughed. I was kind of surprised, ‘cause he was so far removed from the stereotypical vegan vision. I mean.. a bodybuilder! Clearly not lacking in protein deficiency! I stopped and chatted to him and his lovely girlfriend and told them I’d just moved to the city. “Do you go to the meet-up groups?” they asked. “They happen on the first Wednesday of the month. Would be cool to see you there!”
What are the probabilities of meeting three vegans (all normal-friendly-funny and not a cardigan in sight), in the same city, on the same day, who all mention the same monthly meet-up that your friend had suggested you go to, just two days previous?! It was clear I was meant to attend. So I did! What it made me realise was that even I had prejudice about the label ‘vegan’, and if that was my perception, as a vegan… then there’s still clearly a long way to go.
In the meantime, check out these vegan weedlings: Ed Bauer, Mac Danzig and Mindy Collette:-
This is the last one, and for me, the toughest. Whether you like it or not, people are going get seriously angry about you saying you don’t want to support animal cruelty. Here are some of the comments you can expect:-
- You think you’re more superior than me?!
- What about lions?!
- We’ve ALWAYS done this!
- I only buy ‘humanely’ murdered animals.
- What about plants? They have feelings!
- We’re omnivores not herbivores! Look at these carnivorous teeth just ready to sink into flesh!
- What if you were on a desert island?
- Yeah I’ll kill my own dog if I was hungry!
- Protein though!
- Manly. Grrrrr. Kill stuff.
- You need to respect my choice.
I’ve heard people I really love make light of animal cruelty – and it kills me. I was listening to the radio a few days ago and someone quoted “To be casual about horrific things is a cover for fear.”
And so… with all of this in mind, the dinner distress, the jokes, the trolls, the prejudice, the anger.. it leads me back to my initial question…
… why the fuck AM I vegan?!
Well, I’ve thought about this, and it’s because there really is no contest. Yes I want to reduce my risk of heart disease and cancer. Yes I care about my health. Yes I want to support saving the one planet that we have to live on. But mostly…
… I’m vegan because I’ve learned and seen what actually happens to animals in the meat, dairy and egg industry. I was oblivious for a long time, but now I’ve seen, I can’t unsee, and I refuse to sit by and watch them suffer. I refuse to make excuses about why it’s okay to cause harm to others just so I can have a snack. I refuse to pretend that bacon from the supermarket didn’t come from a screaming pig that didn’t want to die, didn’t want to be sexually abused, didn’t want to have their babies taken away from them, didn’t want their tail chopped off and their throat slit, didn’t want to be hung to bleed to their mortal demise. I will not stand by and pretend that that is okay. I care more about the suffering of others than I do about my taste buds. I care more about the suffering of others than I do about occasional social awkwardness at the dinner table, cliché vegan jokes, attention-seeking trolls and ignorant prejudice. I will speak out about this unacceptable atrocity for the rest of my life. If I don’t – who will? What chance do they have when they don’t speak our language? Every single night they scream in terror and cry in pain, but unless they start speaking human, no-one will care, no-one will listen. So thank fuck for the vegans that will. If animals could speak our language – what do you think they would be saying?
P.p.s Also, I’d highly recommend this very sweary book. It’s utter genius combined with artistic wizardry and incredible humour! Massive shout out to the Vegan Sidekick! Follow him on Facebook at Vegan Sidekick .
P.p.s Here’s to Nicole: the vegan who inspired me to go vegan. To Chris: who went vegan after we became friends and talked about why the fuck I was vegan, and who then encouraged me to go to the meet-up groups. To Paul and Gemma: for being hench herbivores and magnificent cooking extraordinaires. To Penny: for starting up the vegan meet-up groups. And to Alys: I’m so glad I met you that day. A kindred spirit.
With love x