My Vegan Journey was first published in February 2017 and updated in May 2019.
In 2009, after many years of feeling generally sluggish and living with the pain of IBS, I decided to remove meat from the menu. I’d always wanted to become vegetarian but being a fussy eater and growing up in a household that loved a variety of meat, I didn’t think I could do it. “What would I live on?” I often pondered.
Somehow, a lifetime of Linda McCartney veggie sausages didn’t seem to light my fire.
Switching to a Vegetarian Diet
11-years ago at the age of 30, Ian and I decided some lifestyle changes were in order. Reading reports that the saturated fats found in meat could contribute to a variety of illnesses, we wondered what we had to lose. We could lead a healthier lifestyle and help save the animals. Winner, winner, veggie dinner! A few months after we eliminated meat, we also switched from milk to soya milk. This was a bit harder for me because warm milk was something I poured daily onto my morning cereal.
Although now, just writing that sentence makes me want to vomit into my mouth.
After I scrapped the cow puss from my morning routine, the only thing left was the melted cheese I liked on a pizza. I wasn’t even a big fan of cheese. I never ate cheese sandwiches or ate cold cheese in salads. But, melted cheese on a pizza was something I found hard to give up. At the time, turning vegetarian was enough for me. I’d stopped eating meat, eliminated my morning milk fix, and I was feeling healthier than I had in a long time.
I felt satisfied I was contributing to making the world a better place, and I suppose I was to a certain degree.
Switching to Plant-Based Products
Although our journey started out as a way for us to lead a healthier lifestyle, I soon noticed it crossing over into other areas of our lives. I scrapped my Benefit make-up and replaced it with products from The Body Shop. I swapped our clothes detergent for the plant based alternative Ecover, and I started cleaning the bathroom with my own mix of lemon and vinegar. I also stopped accepting household products from relatives, because they no longer met with my ethical values.
If Ian came home with anything, I would give it back to him to return on his next visit. If I was present, I would decline whatever the item was. Although, sometimes this proved more difficult than I thought it would. It wasn’t the act of turning it down that was hard, it was the reaction of the person doing the giving.
To begin with, I was met with sighs and rolls of the eyes, almost like I was a child with a new fad. But over time, it became a little easier. I still don’t think everyone completely understands our lifestyle, but at least they respect our decisions.
Giving up Dairy
In 2016, I became aware of how the dairy industry worked and the unethical treatment of the animals. Through my naivety, I assumed that by not eating meat and by buying products that were bunny friendly, I was making a difference – and I suppose I was. But the more I read about the dairy industry, the more it cut me like a knife.
The overwhelming feeling of sadness bore down deep into my bones, and I knew I had to do more. This step was more difficult than I thought. Cleaning products and beauty products were all locked down, but I still found myself slipping with food.
I was using soya milk in my coffee and on my cereal, but still eating dairy-based cheese. And even though I was more aware of the ingredients in food, I found myself turning a blind eye whenever we went out somewhere. The skinny blueberry muffin at Starbucks, the cupcake from Waitrose with the thick raspberry icing, and the mammoth caramel slice that Ian would bring home from work.
My sweet tooth was slowly becoming a pain my arse because nearly everything I was craving contained milk and butter. There was still the melted cheese on a pizza situation as well. But finally, in October 2016 I managed to kick the habit. I found a vegan cheese I actually liked and stopped with the sweet treats I was turning a blind eye to. I was ecstatic.
I was now officially vegan.
Living a Vegan Lifestyle
Compared to 3-years ago, living a vegan lifestyle is now easier than ever. There’s so much choice available and food manufacturers are constantly stepping up to meet demand. Whether visiting the local supermarket, or eating out at a restaurant, plant-based options are popping up all over the place.
But just because it’s easier, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy. Some people will transition quicker than others, and that’s okay. The main thing is, you’ve decided to change your lifestyle and that’s what counts. Enjoy the process. Enjoy discovering new flavours and new foods and make the transition at a speed that feels right for you.
Tips and Advice When Switching to a Vegan Lifestyle
Vegan and Plant-Based are Not the Same Thing
Remember that vegan and plant-based are two very different things.
Veganism means that you don’t believe in the exploitation of animals or see animals as commodities. Where you have control, you avoid animal products and animal-derived products / materials and are against animals being tested on. You don’t wear leather, wool, fur or anything else that comes from an animal and you buy products that are vegan friendly.
Eating a plant-based diet is just that. Whether for health reasons or something else, you avoid animal products in your diet, but it doesn’t cross over into other areas of your life.
Realise it Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Be kind to yourself and accept that you’re doing the best you can. You can’t change the world overnight, so don’t put pressure on yourself to scrap everything you own and replace them with new, vegan equivalents straight away.
I waited until something ran out and then replaced it with animal-friendly alternatives. Cleaning products, make-up, shampoo, even clothes detergent. Whatever it was, I just had to tell myself I was doing everything I could with the finances I had available. With a little time, patience and research, you’ll get to where you need to be.
Find Your Why
With 540,000 + people in the UK now recognising themselves as vegan, the movement doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. It’s easier than ever before to switch to a vegan lifestyle.
One piece of advice I like to give people is find your why. Once you have this, you have an emotional attachment to your reason for switching. Whether it’s for health, ethical or environmental reasons, if you have a strong connection to why you want to transition, you’ll find it easier to stay on track.
Also, do some research. The internet will be your best friend. Grab yourself a brew, get settled, and fall down the rabbit hole Alice in Wonderland stylee. You’ll find useful information on websites like The Vegan Society, Plant Based News and Live Kindly and also in magazines such as Vegan Life and Vegan Food and Living.
I’m vegan for ethical reasons, so I have a strong emotional attachment to my why.
Making the Connection
It’s only natural some foods are going to be harder to give up than others. I’ve been vegetarian since 2009, but it was only in 2016 that I started to make the effort to move towards a vegan lifestyle.
It took me 7-years to cut out cheese from my diet and I wasn’t even a cheese lover. A small amount melted onto a pizza was the one thing I struggled to give up, and it’s something I used to beat myself up over time and time again.
But once I made a full connection between the foods I was eating, and the impact it was having on the animals, everything changed. I couldn’t turn a blind eye anymore and my emotional attachment to my why grew tenfold.
To begin with, food can feel like a bit of a minefield. But checking the ingredients on labels will become easier, and over time, so will finding vegan alternatives. Sometimes they can be more expensive than non-vegan foods, but because of my why, I don’t have a problem with that.
Supermarkets are adding new plant-based options all the time, which proves it’s easier than ever to make the switch. This month alone, Marks and Spencer and Aldi have added to their vegan ranges and Sainsbury’s is set to follow suit by adding some protein sausages to their shelves. A lot of supermarkets even have a separate vegan section.
Moving to a vegan diet also made me realise how much I love to bake. By making my own desserts, I know exactly what the ingredients are.
With new vegan options being added to restaurants on a regular basis, it’s another area that’s becoming easier to navigate. The question is no longer where can I eat? but rather, where do I want to eat?
Big names like Zizzi, Prezzo, Wagamama, Tampopo, Pizza Hut and Pizza Express all have amazing vegan menus. I always say that Zizzi is my favourite, but then when I eat at Wagamama I start to question myself! You can read my thoughts about vegan options in restaurants here.
But it’s not just restaurants that are accommodating vegans. Places like Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger are all getting in on the act too. So, if you’re out shopping and fancy a quick bite to eat, you can easily find somewhere to meet your needs.
Indian restaurants and takeaways are also a vegan’s best friend. Just have a chat with someone first to discuss your requirements. Some places still use ghee (Indian butter), so request that they cook your food without it. We’ve always found Indian restaurants and takeaways very accommodating. We ask for no ghee and minimal oil, making the dishes vegan and also as healthy as possible.
The most obvious materials to avoid in clothing are leather, wool, and silk. Although unfortunately, it’s a lot more complex than it sounds. Other fabrics under the heading of wool also include cashmere, duffle, damask, felt, tweed and a whole host of other material that I didn’t even know existed!
Clothing was something else I struggled with. I wanted to discard everything straight away and remove anything that might include animal fibres. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to go out and replace everything I owned overnight.
If you have a leather jacket and worry about what to do, wear it until it needs replacing – a lot of people do this. You’ll always find someone who disagrees, but you must be kind to yourself and replace things within your own financial restraints. I only managed to replace my leather jacket in December 2017. But once I did, it felt like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
You can go down the route of making your own mix of cleaner like I first did, or you can look for some bunny friendly, plant-based alternatives. Things have moved on a lot over the past few years, and you’ll find that many supermarkets own brand products are either animal-friendly, or they stock a range of branded animal-friendly products.
Although many supermarkets are moving forward with their own brand products, we always use Ecover. Dishwasher tablets, bathroom cleaner and toilet cleaner; washing up liquid, clothes detergent and softener. We buy everything we need from their plant-based range of products.
Vegan Beauty Products
Some of the most common names for animal-friendly beauty products in the UK are Lush, The Body Shop, Superdrug, and Marks and Spencer. For me, Superdrug doesn’t advertise enough the fact their own brand products are suitable for vegans. I have a whole host of products from Superdrug that I absolutely adore!
Their exclusive make-up range B, is all vegan and other ranges that Superdrug stock, also have vegan options available. Not all GOSH! products are vegan, but those which are, are clearly marked on the stand, making it easy to shop without having to Google something first.
Although The Bodyshop and Lush aren’t completely vegan-friendly – you can navigate to a list of their vegan-friendly products on their websites. Over the past few years, I’ve been using the Liz Earle signature foundation, which I love. If you want to support a fully vegan make-up range, you should check out Kat Von D.
Supermarkets are also stepping up now, and even Sainsbury’s have a massive selection of vegan-friendly hair care products. If you’re uncertain about something, always make sure you check the manufacturers website or the back of the packaging for further details. Remember that not every company is part of the Leaping Bunny logo, but that doesn’t mean their products aren’t vegan.
I know this post doesn’t cover everything, but it was never intended to provide an exhaustive list of vegan products and retailers. There are plenty of other websites where you can find more in-depth information. This is more about sharing my vegan journey and the small steps that got me to where I am today. Something that started out as a healthier way of living has completely transformed my outlook on life and the way I approach things.
If you’re on a similar journey, you’ll find there are always people who don’t understand why you’ve decided to make the choices you have, but that’s just life. There’s always going to be someone who has an opinion, but at the end of the day, it’s your journey. Do what feels right for you.
My journey was a gradual process over several years and it was only when I started writing this post that I realised just how much of an effect it’s had on my life. I set out with the intention of leading a healthier lifestyle and ended up completely changing my life.
Wherever you are on your vegan journey, stick with it. I know you’re doing it for the right reasons.