It’s been a little over four years since I made the decision to go vegan. Mine was both strange and typical. It was strange because I went cold turkey: from full-blown woollen suit wearing, milk drinking, meat loving omnivore to vegan overnight. Most vegans make the change incrementally. They become vegetarian first and then after a while find that there is still a discrepancy between their lifestyle and their ideals. They may even change their diet before they give up wool or animal-based products. So you could call me a radical. But at the same time, I’m very much a cliché. I saw a documentary – Cowspiracy – realised that my lifestyle was not sustainable, and that I had to make a change. When I told my mum, she thought it was a phase and asked I wait until after my dad’s birthday. I wouldn’t last a year… But here we are.
Going vegan was not easy, but it also was not particularly hard. The time of having to survive on bland tofu from a health store were long gone, but four years ago veganism was still a bit of a quirky thing. Few restaurants, at least in Groningen where I was doing my PhD, offered vegan options, and you couldn’t find a good recipe in any mainstream cooking or supermarket guide. And besides, my entire life had revolved around meat and potatoes: I had no clue what I should be eating at any time of the day to get a tasty and nutritionally adequate meal. Okay, oatmeal with soy milk for breakfast, but other than that, it was a mystery to me.
Fortunately, there was the Internet, we were already living in the time of food blogs, so I quickly learned of a whole new range of cuisines. Having been raised on Dutch and French cooking (for those wondering, Dutch cuisine is basically limited to “stamppot”), I started making a lot more Asian and African recipes: curries and tajines were my favourite. There’s so much possible, who knew!? It often meant going to special stores, but the Netherlands has a great organic supermarket chain (Ekoplaza), which sold virtually everything a vegan could need – except liquid smoke, I still had to buy that online.
Nowadays, one does not really need the Internet anymore. Vegan cookbooks are all over the place, there’s a vegan cooking show on ITV, and every major and minor chain has vegan options – weirdly, that makes people like Pierce Morgan really angry, but then, it does not seem to take much to make him angry.
And if you’re really lazy, like me, there are even better options. Last year I made the brilliant decision to subscribe to an organic veggie box service (Riverford) that also delivers vegan recipe boxes – gone are the times of figuring out what to cook. Although they had to significantly cut down on what they offer, recipe and fruit boxes continued to be delivered to my home on a weekly basis. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as varied or as healthy as I have in the last couple of months. Okay, I indulge in some regular unhealthy baking (my almond-chocolate cookies are relationship winners), but I love to share and so half ends up with friends and neighbours.
Of course, veganism is not just about food. With everything we buy and use the question is: does this harm animals in some way? And that can be frustrating. Because not only are you suddenly aware that animal products are in a ton of food stuff, but have you ever tried to find a good suit that does not contain wool? And then there is indirect harm. Sure, Oreo cookies are technically vegan, but they contain uncertified palm oil, meaning that it’s from plantations for which rain forests and the habitat of countless species such as orang-utans have been cut down. Veganism really is a philosophy about how to live a moral life – pretentious as that may sound – and that is rarely straightforward.
Despite those challenges, being vegan is easier than it’s ever been. It’s remarkable to think how much the world has changed in just these few years. The world is waking up and has come to realise that you don’t need meat, dairy, or other animal products to have an enjoyable life – at least not all the time. While few people are actually turning vegan, many more are aware of the tremendous impact our lives have on our planet’s ecosystem. Consumers are driving the change towards a more plant-based future. And we all profit from that.