I'd love to know how everyone who reads this blog became a vegan, a vegetarian, a raw foodist, or simply why you choose to eat the way you do (I'd even like to hear from you if you're an omnivore and maybe choose to eat meat and dairy from a traceable source).
I first heard about veganism through music. I was into a lot of hardcore and straightedge bands during my postgrad degree in Bristol university (many of which I can't even remember the names of now seeing as that was about 10-11 years ago!) and through that way of life I began to research more and more into the vegan lifestyle. My current partner at that time was a vegetarian, and we decided to go vegan together, not just for the animals and the environment, but for our health.
Being a vegan in Bristol was great - it was a very vegan friendly city, with lots of good health food shops and options for eating out and even veggie and vegan fairs (see below). It was also handy that my partner was a pretty good cook and enjoyed making anything from caramelized onion tarts, to sushi, to curries, to salsa dips. Back then I had absolutely no interest in cooking, so he did almost everything... not that I was lazy or took him for granted, I think he just enjoyed it, and when he was vegetarian I used to do all the cooking, so it was a welcome change of roles.
This lasted nearly two years, then I moved to Ireland. Back in 2003, "vegan" was not very well understood or catered for here in Dublin. I went from having copious amounts of health food shops with a wide range of dairy alternatives, to virtually having nothing. Even the local supermarkets didn't stock soya milk or butter back in those days. I was also so busy all the time that I had no time to search for ingredients and cook from scratch, so my diet slipped back into vegetarianism, then eventually pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish)... and finally... omnivore. This continued for a while. I was constantly on my bike, riding, travelling, and eating on the go.
However, in January 2008 I decided I had to do something about my diet. I was larger than I wanted to be, and although still very fit and energetic, I knew I could do a lot better for myself. This is when I began researching more into organic, low fat and vegan foods again. I was never really thin as a vegan the first time around - just because you adopt a vegan diet doesn't mean you will lose weight as there's a lot of vegan junk food out there, and you can still overlook portion sizes - so I didn't do it to become skinny, but more because I knew it was better for everyone and everything on this planet as well as for myself.
Dublin was also beginning to recognise vegetarian and vegan diets more and more, and there were health food shops springing up all over the place, as well as eateries to cater for people with coeliac diets, lactose intolerance, etc. Supermarkets now also had dairy free sections, so replacements and other ingredients were so much easier to come by, without having to go to a huge effort to travel somewhere further afield and haul everything back with you.
... So, I began by cutting down my dairy and my meat slowly. I didn't miss milk or butter or eggs at all, but I found I still wanted to eat cheese. I cut out meat until all I was really eating was raw fish (in sushi and salad) and cured ham. Eventually I managed to cut out cheese, fish and ham completely but can definitely say that it was much easier to cut out dairy from my life than it was to cut out meat. For most people, it's the other way around, but believe it or not, eating dairy always made me feel strange seeing as we're the only species that takes the milk from another animal, and the only species that drinks it after infancy. I always thought that was a bit strange, and then realised that when I did actually eat too much dairy I felt a bit sick, bloated, heavy and often had a stomach ache. It took me a while to become vegan again, so much so that I have no idea of the exact date of when I became vegan. It was a gradual process that involved a lot of research into animal cruelty, a great deal of learning about cooking from scratch, and re-discovering the benefits of the lifestyle. I think this is maybe why my choice to be a vegan is working this time: instead of going head-on into a hardcore vegan way of life, I've taken the time to educate myself about it and my body has thanked me for it. I've re-adjusted my tastebuds and no longer desire to go back to eating the way I used to. And, as a nice beneficial side-effect to becoming vegan and eating healthily (AND exercising) I am now a size 6-8, rather than a size 14-16, and have, at last, found my natural, comfortable body shape.
I am the first person to admit though, that I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, I slip up. Sometimes knowingly, other times totally obliviously. For example if a friend goes to a special effort to cook something for me and hasn't understood fully what my diet entails, and includes a small bit of dairy, I won't ever throw that back into someone's face. I'd still eat it (as long as it wasn't covered in dairy!) and would inform them for the next time what to do differently. Then there are times when I'll be out somewhere and I'll see something and I'll crave it, especially if there is nothing else around, and I'll very occasionally allow myself to have it. I don't see the point in denying yourself something all the time. I would, of course, not want to eat a steak or an egg or a lump of cheese, but if something you really have always loved has some small amount dairy in it, I have no problem with treating myself, if it's something I cannot make myself or get an alternative to elsewhere. I'm not sure what other vegans will think of this, as everyone has a different approach to veganism and where to draw the line. I know that I do my best 99% of the time with my diet, I don't buy leather, and don't wear or use animal products (unless they are old items of my own, or sometimes recycled from a charity shop), do not use any cosmetics tested on animals or with any animal ingredients, and I cycle everywhere. I know that I do my part for the environment, animals and my health, and I think that if everyone does their best then that is what counts. There's no point in having a go at someone for something they don't do... we should appreciate people for what they do do.
So, go out and have fun with your food. Experiment, learn how to cook, explore new ingredients. Make little adjustments one at a time. A vegan lifestyle is definitely very healthy - don't listen to peoples' bullshit about how you need to eat meat and dairy in order to survive, because you don't! If you even just adjust your lifestyle to eating organic and free range products, including more fruits, vegetables and pulses, and trying a few different types of milk it will all make a bit of a difference. If everyone just changed a couple of things in their lifestyle, the world, its inhabitants and your own bodies would be so much better off. You don't need to become a full-blown vegan to make a difference.