I’ve Been Vegan For 2 Years — Here’s What I’ve Learned
From cheese-lover to carrot cruncher
There I was, lying in my hospital bed with blood circulation wraps on my feet, each alternating their turn to inflate every few seconds—Cshhh, fffff, Cshhhh, ffffff.
It was maddening. To try distracting myself from the noise, I popped open Netflix and put on the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’. My face scrunched up, and my head whirled from what I saw; I had to see more—cue‘ Forks over Knives’ and ‘What the Health’.
Watching these documentaries didn’t immediately turn me vegan, but they did leave a lasting impression that contributed to my decision later on.
It wasn’t until another two years later, as you’ll see, I actually committed myself to a plant-based diet. And now, two years on from that decision, I can share what I’ve learned along the way with you.
Not cooking meat makes kitchen life much easier
I’ll start with one of the best things I’ve learned in the last two years. When preparing meat, you have to be pretty careful about contamination from bacteria that will make you sick. And of course, undercooking is never usually a good idea either.
Even after cooking, you have to be extra careful about cleaning the chopping boards, any bowls you might have used, the surfaces, knives, etc. It can get pretty cumbersome.
But with plant-based food, you don’t need to worry about that! You’ll still need to rinse your veggies, sure, but it’s nowhere near the level of care you have to have with meat.
In the last two years, I’ve had food poisoning all of one time, which was very early on in my first month. It was because I didn’t cook leftover rice for long enough (thinking the chicken it was with was the reason it had to be cooked for so long before). That’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Don’t make the same mistake.
I’m more careful about what I eat
That may sound a bit obvious because I have to look out for animal products. But as a side effect of reading so many food labels, you know just how unhealthy processed food really is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have a vegan pizza now and then, but it goes to show that even if you give yourself the label ‘vegan,’ it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a healthy eater. You can be plant-based and still eat crappy food, making it about as unhealthy as many other diets.
If you’re considering going plant-based for health reasons, the emphasis should be on eating more whole foods, not just swapping one processed food for another.
As a result, you’ll be far more likely to see me in the fresh fruit and vegetable market (or, in these times, at the vegetable aisle in the store). And this point relates very closely to the next one below.
Eating plant-based can be cheaper
One of the most common worries I’ve seen from people considering a plant-based diet is how ‘expensive’ it is. Sure, if all you do is replace everything you’re currently eating with ‘meat-free substitutes,’ then yes, it will be more expensive.
However, I’m here to tell you that unless you live in a place where animal products are somehow cheaper than beans, vegetables, and grains, that cost worry has little reflection on my experience.
According to NimbleFins, who analyzed data from the National Office of Statistics, the average UK male spends around £203 a month on food for himself (both groceries and eating out). Whereas I’ve consistently held to a budget using YNAB (highly recommend) of £100 pm on groceries and £50 pm on eating out.
Stick to whole foods instead of processed vegan foods, and your wallet will thank you.
Eating out can be difficult at times
Now, something a little more on the negative side. Eating out can be a bit of a pain sometimes. Mainly owing to the social element of trying to find places that my meat-eating friends and I can enjoy together. Admittedly, this barely happened last year, of course, due to external events.
But luckily, I live in a city where there are plenty of options — with most of the restaurants having at least one or two decent vegan options and some with entirely separate vegan menus (shout out to Wagamama).
Though I can understand in smaller, more rural areas eating out can be even more troublesome. In this case, first, I’d recommend using the Happy Cow app to find places that serve vegan food near you. The second is you’ll need to learn to get comfortable with asking for changes on menu items.
Is there a tomato pasta that comes with cheese? Ask for it without the cheese.
Being vegan isn’t just about food
I get it. When people are thinking about veganism these days, they only consider the eating part of it. But it’s also about not buying animal products (or products tested on animals) in other life areas—for example, clothes, bathroom supplies, and kitchen supplies.
You’d be surprised at how many people overlook the aspect of buying leather shoes, a woolen sweater, or a pillow with a feather down in it.
Personally, this area has been the trickiest for me in being able to balance veganism with sustainability, combat fast fashion, and generally reducing plastic or other non-biodegradable materials.
Take my Timberland boots, for instance. I’ve had them for a few years now, and they’ll last years still, but they’re a little beaten up, so no one would want to buy them second-hand. Do I throw them away because I’m supposed to avoid leather? I don’t think that’s the best choice to make. They’re still usable to me, and I’d only be going out to buy a new pair of faux leather boots that won’t last as long, to replace them anyway.
I’ve learned it’s okay to deal with what I’ve currently got but that I just can’t buy more of them.
That being said, for those of you who get a little squeamish about switching your food, consider it a much easier choice to switch cleaning/personal hygiene products to vegan ones.
The question of ethics
After coming home from the hospital I mentioned earlier, now and then, I’d see one of my vegan friends on Facebook share some activism videos (gnarly slaughterhouse stuff). When I started watching, I couldn’t watch until the end. I had to ask myself, why?
The answer, though uncomfortable, was clear. I considered myself an animal lover my whole life, so watching them being killed for my burger, bacon, rack of ribs made me feel guilty. My stomach would lurch at the sight of it.
But I had to dig deeper. Why did I feel guilty? Eventually, I realized it was because I knew I would never be able to do what they were doing with my own hands. I was merely paying someone else to do the dirty work, which in the end, didn’t sit right with me.
Then, why consume animal products? The taste? I won’t be the first person to say that I really loved cheese, but I concluded that “because it tastes good” wasn’t a good enough excuse to justify it all.
Of course, these were my experiences and rationale. You may well come to different conclusions, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from academic life, it’s always to ask questions — particularly the question ‘why.’
Whether you’re a die-hard meat eater or considering lowering your animal product intake, I'd encourage you to ask yourself questions about your eating habits.
You don’t have to reach the same answers as me, but it’s good to be curious and mindful about what you’re eating, wearing, and using, and the consequences of those choices.
Alexander Boswell is a Business Ph.D candidate specialising in Consumer Behaviour and uses this knowledge as a freelance writer in the Content Marketing and B2B SaaS space. Find him on Twitter @alexbboswell or his website alexanderbboswell.com