Vegans get a load of schtick for wanting to live their own ethical lives.
And nowhere is this more evident than at the dining table on Christmas Day.
There you are, fork poised waiting to tuck into a delicious nut roast when some relative or family friend decides to question why you’ve turned your back on your old omnivorous ways.
‘Of all the people, you’re the last person I’d ever expect to go vegan!’ my neighbour said to me at Christmas.
‘I can’t believe how defensive you’ve become about it.’
And I was only defensive because my dad had just poured all my leftovers into a massive bowl of stuffing, roast pork and crackling, rendering them null and void.
‘It’s not like you’re Jewish – I’m sure you can eat things that have touched meat, what does it matter?’ he sighed as I moaned that Boxing Day would be ruined.
It’s almost as if to be taken seriously as a vegan, you have to earn your stripes.
It’s not enough to wake up one day and vow to stay off the animal products from here on in – you have to have been at it for years if you want to be listened to.
A few days beforehand, I was at a Christmas party with pals I hadn’t seen for ages. We were talking about what had happened to us in the intervening months and somehow, veganism cropped up (queue jokes about vegans talking about veganism LOLOL) and one new-ish friend asked how hard it had been growing up as a vegan.
‘Oh no, I only turned properly vegan this year,’ I replied.
Immediately they seemed disinterested and kind of disappointed.
It made me wonder just how long you have to have been a vegan in order to talk about it with authority and why people seem to have so little respect for the newly converted.
Lisa, a vegan for over a year, says that her family are only starting to take her lifestyle seriously.
‘They used to say that people wouldn’t find out if I ate a bit of cheese, as if some vegan God would come down and smack it out of my hand…as if I wasn’t doing it for me.
‘When I went veggie, my dad thought it was just a phase and was surprised how it lasted. But after a year of subsequently going vegan, my mum seems to have gotten her head around it and this Christmas made me vegan versions of all my favourites!’
My parents, on the other hand, had absolutely no meat-free alternatives prepared because, to quote my dad, ‘I’m not condoning this kind of behaviour’.
Which is fine because I can cook but it did make me wonder just how long it’d have to be until he realises that I never intend to eat a Christmas turkey again, and I’ll never want to eat salmon blinis with sparkling wine as a pre-lunch canape.
‘People can downplay how you feel about it because it’s relatively new – and always seem to have an example of someone they know who tried it and gave up months later,’ says George who’d been a vegan for nearly two months.
‘They insist it’s just a phase. But I don’t particularly care what they think…in fact, when people doubt me I become more stubborn than ever so probably am more likely to follow it through to the bitter end.’
Any dramatic lifestyle change is almost certain to draw a fair amount of concern or criticism.
If an atheist suddenly turned around and announced that they’d found God, you’d probably wonder what had happened to them…or you’d give them a month and hedge your bets that they’d be back to their old sinful ways in no time.
Going vegan, especially if you previously ate meat, is a huge lifestyle change.
You’ve suddenly got to relearn how to cook, how to balance nutrients, how to check labels.
You’ve got to think of alternatives to buying leather and suede.
And most of all, the further into it you go, the more you research about why you’re doing it and the more passionate and distressed you get about animal cruelty/the planet/your own health.
Watch something like Earthlings and you’d be pretty bonkers not to feel a twinge of anger or sadness sitting at a dining table laden with pork and chicken.
And those feelings are real and valid and don’t just become so after a certain time period.
So, if you’re thinking about doing Veganuary next week, don’t go into it apologetic or worried about other people might think.
A few jaw-dropping facts about going vegan
1. While 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by transport (including road, rail, air and marine), a whopping 51% are from livestock and their byproducts.
2. One hamburger takes 660 gallons to make, which is the equivalent of showering for two months.
3. The meat and dairy industries used 1/3 of earth’s fresh water.
4. 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second for animal agriculture.
5. 91% of Amazon destruction is caused by animal agriculture.
6. A vegan diet cuts your carbon footprint by 50%.
7. Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US.
8. Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s TOTAL land.
9. To feed one person for one year, a meat eater needs 18 times as much land as a vegan person.
10. 1.5 acres of land can be used to make 37000 pounds of plant-based food or just 375 pounds of meat.
11. For every 1 pound of fish caught, 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.
12. 110 animal and insect species are lost every day from rainforest destruction.
You’re doing the planet a massive service by even going for a month animal-product-free. And if you start to feel a little more keenly about the plight of animals in the process, that’s only commendable.
You can sign up to Veganuary here.
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