The truth about being vegan

A few weeks ago, when I was having a rant on the bus into work – as many vegans and animal rights activists did, judging by my Instagram feed – about the hypocrisy that was the outcry over the Yulin dog slaughter from many of the same people who accept and support the routine slaughter of millions of animals every month without batting an eyelid, Ben asked me if something had gone out on social media asking vegans to become more vocal about their ethical choices.

Yulin dogs

Photo from Telegraph.co.uk

I don’t know if it was the whole Yulin debacle – and now, the Cecil the Lion fury – that brought many of us out of our politely quiet shells, but those sorts of double standards have always frustrated me. I actually find it quite alarming how easily most humans can switch empathy and compassion on and off, turning away from footage of the brutality with which animals are treated in the food industry before tucking into animal products with a shrug, “It just tastes good!“.

I have never been the sort of vegan who shows people videos of animal cruelty, or who feels the need to explain to fellow diners just what the animal on their plate had to endure. I just don’t find that useful or beneficial, and only serves to alienate people who could be tempted into trying a vegan meal here and there.

Just the other week, however, I struck up a conversation with a person I knew to be vegan, in the interests of bonding. Almost immediately they “admitted” to being a “bad vegan” because they just couldn’t resist the non-vegan cake that surrounded them at work. I tried to offer compassionate advice and encouragement but, the truth is, I find it hard to have much sympathy for that sort of predicament.*

*Since initially drafting this post, the person has decided no longer to use the term “vegan”, but they still eat plant-based most of the time. This, I met with heartfelt encouragement and support (and my top-secret tips to make sure you’re not ripped off in mainstream restaurants – i.e. always ask for substitutions rather than omissions, and avocado > cheese), and advised them to seek out and attend vegan meet-up events. Community is key!

Vegan cake

Photo by me, vegan cake by my talented friend Sara

After all, anyone who has been consistently vegan for any length of time has been faced with times when making animal-friendly choices has been harder than they are accustomed to. But the way I see it, we have two choices: we either make the vegan choice, or we don’t. And if we don’t make the vegan choice, then we are not vegan. Simple.

However, I don’t think the all-or-nothing approach is useful to encourage more people to transition towards a more ethical lifestyle. Fact: there is no vegan police. The only person we have to answer to is ourself: have we made a choice that we are comfortable with?

Nagev for the Slamina

Selfie by me (obvs…), t-shirt by EthicsandAntics.com

I am vegan for ethical reasons. My choices are based on what I think causes the least harm to other beings, be they human, non-human, whether we think in the short-term, or the long-term. So I don’t care if that egg is from your happy chicken in your backyard; if I eat that egg, I am promoting the idea that eggs are delicious and/or necessary for health, and that could encourage others to continue eating eggs (also, it can confuse or upset the hen who will keep laying more eggs, which is no easy feat). That’s not something I want to be a part of.

Geese and goslings

Photo by me, geese and goslings by Mother Nature

But if I don’t know the impact of a product, I can’t choose to avoid it. For a long time, for whatever reason, as meticulous as I was about animal ingredients in my food, I didn’t really think about the impact of the ingredients in my cosmetics. But when it finally sunk in, I couldn’t ignore my responsibility to make the right choice. I didn’t collapse in a heap berating myself as a bad vegan, I didn’t renounce the whole thing because I had been doing it wrong; I just accepted the new information and plugged that into any future choices I would have to make. You can only ever make the choice that seems right at the time.

Duke of York market vegan options

Sometimes it’s hard to choose… and sometimes it’s not.

But by extension, if you consciously make choices that you know not to be vegan, then please don’t call yourself vegan. The label “vegan” carries responsibility. Responsibility to the animals and to everyone else calling themselves vegan. You are most likely the only vegan that many people know, and if anyone is the vegan police, ironically, it is them. They will scrutinise and they will critique and they will debate and pick holes. You are a representative of the vegan movement if you choose to use the term, so be prepared to stand up for it.

I have every bit as much respect for the meat-eater who takes part in Meat Free Mondays, or who replaces cow’s milk in their coffee with non-dairy milk, as I do for the fully-fledged vegan animal rights activist. I really, honestly, do. And perhaps more surprisingly, I can also deal with the devout meat eater who will look an animal in the eye before eating it, and doesn’t turn their nose up at eating certain body parts. They might not be the person I would invite to try out the latest vegan hotspot with me, but we can agree to disagree and stick to a coffee and other topics of conversation. Vegan means compassion and respect for all animals, and that includes humans too (oh, it doesn’t mean you have to like them; I don’t particularly enjoy spiders crawling around me, but I can stay out of their space and they are generally happy to give me a wide berth too – and the same applies to many humans).

Beetroot and shadows

The truth about being vegan is that is it not easy. But that’s OK. Is life easy, every day? Is getting out of bed earlier than you’d like to easy? Is running that marathon easy? Is making that phone call easy? No – but sometimes you know that it is the right thing to do.

Omnipresent, omnipotent, OmniSuperfood

One of the things that irritated me the most about being a teenager was how adults wrote everything off as “just a phase”. Of course, that turned out to be mostly true, and I have left many of those behind – thank goodness – but I have definitely taken with me the tendency itself to have phases.

There isn’t really a period that goes by that I am not obsessed with some food or flavour. Recently, I have been craving vanilla-everything, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you where that came from. I remember when any avocado within reach would be promptly devoured; now, three or four can sit in our fridge begging to be folded into a salad. Tahini on everything often still occurs, but whereas a few months ago I couldn’t have conceived of a meal without a drizzle of sesame, many of my meals are now tahini-free. I would love to know what causes certain flavours or textures to stick in our minds and on our palates, but that might be a topic for another day. Continue reading

Don’t sweat it

Wow, London… this is how you do summer!

One of the cool kids now ❄️ #coffee #artisan #simplepleasures

A photo posted by Claire De R (@greatveganexp) on

Luckily for me, with an empty schedule I am free to enjoy today at my leisure and in my underwear, if I so wish. No sweaty backpack back (try saying that three times fast), no empty water bottle, no train delays from people fainting.

Apparently my brain isn’t working today… I went out to pick up some bits and pieces, but what I did was forget to measure the pictures that needed frames, walk around the market three times, buy carrots from the supermarket, peruse bed linen sets in a discount store for way too long, and prowl around the market again to eventually buy two bags of spinach which turned out to be completely wilted* (that would be why the stall-holder shoved those in the bag so quickly, then). Continue reading

Lessons I am learning from yoga

It’s funny how the world works sometimes… With a few free hours between appointments last week, I took myself to a coffee shop eager to put this post together. After a couple of hours of typing and deleting, I was slowly coming to the conclusion that there were no words to describe what was in my head. It must be a Claire thing. Nobody will get it. It’s not even relevant to your post, I told myself; you’re meant to be writing about how yoga has helped you implement everything you believe about fitness and training, how it has given you renewed faith in yourself and respect for your body. I was about ready to trash the personal stuff and just present a list of the benefits of yoga.

Then, just two days later at my friend Viv’s – who I hadn’t seen in three months – we got talking about yoga and fitness, and to my great surprise and excitement, out of her mouth came my thoughts in her words. Continue reading

Bring it on down to Vegan Town!

Sorry, today’s blog post has nothing to do with Justin Timberlake. But it is about chocolate, so I’m hoping maybe you can forgive me.

When I was in university, I was lucky enough to be the friend and housemate of a guy – let’s call him James, because that’s his name – who despite not being much of a vegetable lover himself completely understood and supported and encouraged my plant-based lifestyle. In fact, he confided that he caught himself reading the ingredients on a packet of beef mince to check it was vegan (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), out of habit after having become inquisitive as to all things “accidentally vegan”!

It is true that I, along with all vegans I’m sure, read a lot of labels. It has turned into a subconscious habit, picking up packets of foodstuffs that could potentially be accidentally vegan whether I want to eat them or not – and it is something I have come to enjoy. In the interests of hurrying a shopping trip along, I sometimes have to not read the ingredients of every product that I have no interest in buying… but there is always time to dissect the contents of any new-to-me bar of chocolate.

VeganTown banner Continue reading

Why we need the Body Positive Fitness Alliance

You know when something is on your mind but you can’t quite articulate it? And then you stumble across a website or a blog – or (gasp) a real life person – who says everything you’ve been thinking, so that you end up nodding incessantly like one of those nodding dog toys (whilst resisting the urge to hug said person/computer)? I had that a couple of weeks ago when I discovered the Body Positive Fitness Alliance. And now I have finally found the words to tell you why I am so excited about it. Spoiler alert: #partofthesolution. Seven Pillars of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance Continue reading

Oh, the vegan Duke of York

I am not great at being spontaneous. As much as I love the idea of setting out for a day of unknown adventures exploring the streets and market-stalls of London, sniffing out and picking up vegan treats as I go, it never quite comes together; any hint of spontaneity is stamped out by train timetables, the picking out of changeable weather-appropriate layers, and the realisation that going anywhere or doing anything in London usually requires spending money which, when there’s nothing you have your heart particularly set on, can feel a touch prohibitive. So if I can avoid spending three hours on public transport, getting rained on, only to find myself parting with a week’s worth of grocery money for a substandard falafel wrap… well, I’ll make plans that steer me clear away from that experience.

It may have taken me only just over 24 hours to get myself to the Startisans food market at Duke of York Square when I heard that Vegan Sweet Tooth would be making their debut… But it has taken me weeks months to get my hands (and mouth) on the gorgeous Italian food served up by Sara of Pomodoro e Basilico. Continue reading