An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life
English chef Amy, the latest contributor to our series, explains how she went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight and what it means to her
I turned 30 this year; my immediate family is now just my brother and my mum. I was brought up in a very traditional family, in which we sat down at the table for meals, we helped cook, and we helped clear it all away. My dad was of the “meat, veg and bread and butter” generation, so meals were typically traditionally English – pies, oxtail, lamb shanks, etc. And I loved that food.
I also loved learning to cook from my mum, who, ironically, is now and was then a vegetarian. Mum was a vegetarian, however, because she didn’t like the taste of meat, so I never questioned the ethics of eating animals. It was genuinely something that I never came across until the last couple of years.
At 21 I fell into the world of chef-ing quite by accident, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. After my first year I was managing a kitchen, and two years into that I received my accreditation. I loved watching Masterchef, and would get really creative with food on my days off, spending all day making dinner.
Most recently I moved to work at a steakhouse. The induction into the job included visiting a slaughterhouse, the farm our cows are raised at, and the “cutting plant” (basically a massive industrial-scale butchers). I still never questioned it.
We all agreed on leaving the slaughterhouse that “it’s not nice to see, but it’s just the way it is, and at least they were calm and it was over quickly for them”. Writing those words now makes me feel cold.
A few of my friends had already gone vegan, and were sharing things on Facebook: videos of the atrocious conditions animals were being kept in; day-old calves being dragged away from their mothers and the mothers chasing after them; messages of “cows’ milk being for baby cows”; videos of male chicks being thrown live into macerators.
I would see them and it would break my heart, but I would think, “that’s awful but I don’t think what I buy comes from there”. It obviously played on my subconscious because my thoughts started to become, “I would go vegan if I could, but I really like cheese”. Then I found out about vegan cheeses. I tried them and thought… hmmm they don’t taste the same, but they’re still good!
I don’t know if there was a eureka moment as such but I went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight about four months ago. The more I read about the myths of “free-range”, and about the unnatural animals we have created through selective, intensive and over-breeding the more I knew I had made the right decision. I mean, I wouldn’t treat my dog, or any dog, like that, so why did I think it was right to treat an animal with just as much sentience, intelligence, emotions, any differently? The hypocrisy of getting so outraged at cultures eating dog suddenly became very apparent.
I think I was more shocked at the egg and dairy industry than I was with the meat industry, although I find both as horrific now.
The fact that hens and dairy cows were going through prolonged suffering, and spending their unnaturally short lives being forced to create something they were not designed to produce so much of or so often, and then died so much earlier than they were meant to because their bodies were exhausted, all so we could eat something that we had been brought up to believe we needed, or something we liked the taste of just seemed ludicrous.
Based on the fact I have made this decision on moral grounds – that we cannot warrant causing harm to others, for sensory pleasure – I honestly cannot imagine a reason I would ever go back to being omnivore. When I see meat and dairy now, I just see everything that goes on behind the scenes to produce it.
When I first went vegan, I ate a lot of meat and dairy substitutes, which I think is quite normal when you’ve first made the decision, as you are still looking for the taste of meat. I would have a smoothie everyday with berries, spinach, and chia and flax seeds, just to make sure I was getting those in my diet at the start of my day.
Obviously you become more aware of what you need and where to get it from as you go, and over time I have realised that meat substitutes are not the best thing to live on, although they definitely have their place. I found my body was craving vegetables, and funnily I started to go off the taste of the vegan ‘meats’.
I am now much more into creating meals with vegetables, pulses, nuts, tofu etc. But being a chef at heart, I am big on flavours and textures so it is important these meals pack both of those in big quantities. Creamy, cheesy pastas, rich smoky mushroom and lentil mince, spicy tangy sticky sauces coating vegetables in Chinese steamed buns… I love cooking and eating things like that.
It has been great for me to experiment with flavours and ingredients, as I certainly could not just live on salads and vegetable curries.
That whole journey encouraged me to look at where I get protein, B12, Omegas and other nutrients from. It’s funny that one of the first things that crops up in discussions with non-vegans is a sudden concern for your wellbeing and where you are getting all your nutrients from, and ironic because more meat eaters are deficient in vitamins, minerals and nutrients than vegans. You do have to think about it more as a vegan, because you are changing everything you were brought up to believe, but I think because of that you actually end up with a more complete and rounded diet.
I still shop at regular supermarkets, and will buy organic where I can, and will buy certain niche products online, like the ‘mozzarella’ that Pizza Express uses, which I love.
It can be incredibly difficult and frustrating at times, and I have found I’ve gone through ups and downs. Some days I feel incredible knowing what I am doing and feeling like things are changing, and some days I just feel a bit deflated as I watch people I care about continue to cause harm to themselves and others.
It’s hard to be accused of “forcing your views down other people’s throats” to then walk or drive down the street and see constant adverts for McDonald’s, KFC, Cravendale, Christmas turkeys and the rest, and you just see the massive cognitive dissonance, as this is not seen by most as anyone forcing views upon them, but it is exactly the same.
It is also difficult to hear people say they are animal lovers, and get very upset about other cultures eating dog meat, yet not make the link between eating dog flesh or any other animal flesh.
I don’t speak out much yet, as I think it’s important to pick your time and people, but it is hard to keep quiet once you know there is not one argument against going vegan that stands up.
I live with my partner who is omni, and there aren’t any issues apart from me feeling a bit upset sometimes when he eats certain things.
He respects my choice, and will also happily eat vegan meals, as I don’t cook two separate meals. He will still make the odd joke about it, but there is no malice behind it. It does bother me that it’s “okay” to make jokes about vegans [putting grass in bread for a vegan sandwich] but if we make jokes about omnis [don’t laugh at people who still believe in Santa, lots of people still think cow’s milk is for humans] it’s a different story; it’s an eye-roll, or a “another extreme vegan” comment.
The double standards can be frustrating. I think the more you come across this, the more you want to speak out, the more you want to raise awareness, and the less you bother about people’s feelings about what you say/share/post because actually you know if it was the other way round lots of people would like and share it and you would be mocked for not seeing the funny side.
A post I saw the other day really struck a chord with me, which said: “If me sitting down with you to eat this dog would make you feel uncomfortable, you can relate to how I feel when others are eating the dead bodies of gentle animals near me. Also, when you make jokes about it to try to – I guess – make me laugh, it only makes me think that you don’t care about the suffering and violence. It makes me want to scream but I try to smile instead.”
You also remember the cause you are on the side of, and being a voice for those who don’t have one, and this definitely strengthens your resolve.
‘You are all on the same side, the side of compassion’
So my lifestyle as a chef with an omni partner does not mean I mix with other vegans, but social media makes a huge difference there; you feel part of a community, you have a place to ask questions and learn new information, a place to vent or share frustrations and this I think helps many people. You automatically have a lot in common with those people, you are all on the same side, the side of compassion and the future of our planet, but it doesn’t take everything away from having things in common who don’t share these beliefs. Being vegan does not define your entire personality, but it does become a massive part of who you are, as it is not just a diet it is a way of life.
I am not currently involved in any form of activism but I am certainly open to it. Unfortunately events tend to happen at the weekends, when I am invariably working. I think they’re so important to raise awareness, and no, people may not like what they see or hear, but that has always been the case when people have protested against morally wrong happenings in the past.
I don’t think veganism is a fad. I’m not sure something that has increased 600% in three years can be classed as a fad, and the growth rate is only increasing. Maybe people like to label it as a trend as they are hoping it will go away.
I can only hope that the meat and dairy industries don’t have a future, and facts would suggest they don’t. A thousand dairy farms have closed in the last three years, and plant milk sales have risen by over 60% in five years. This can only be indicative of a progressive movement.
Lab grown meat is seriously being researched into – something that would fully remove people’s argument of “but it tastes good”.
There are some incredible alternatives out there now, and the more people come round to the idea that eating healthily and enjoying it whilst not harming others is a better way to live that enjoying what you’re eating whilst it harms you and others, the more change we will see.
Letting people see what happens in the industry, alongside letting them see what you can eat and drink as a vegan is my personal preference of raising awareness.
I can only base it on what worked for me, and therefore assume that I am more likely to connect with similar-minded people using the same methods. I do not condone people who are either quiet as a vegan or more in your face, I believe either is fine. I don’t condone violence and abuse, but then I wouldn’t be much of a vegan if I did.
Ironically however, even though vegans are being labelled “extreme” and “militant”, we’re often the ones being abused, with people openly making abusive comments towards us for our choices of compassion. Activists are being arrested for trying to rescue sick and injured animals from farms who were just going to tip them into the ground anyway…I mean the lack of logic is baffling once you step back and look at it.
People do get touchy about vegans being portrayed in a bad light if they are more in-your-face, louder and disruptive about it, but then as someone pointed out to me recently, people who protested for women’s right to vote, or the abolition of slavery were also called crazy for their views, but we thank them now for their actions against something that was so clearly morally wrong.
‘It can be difficult to stay positive’
The graphic, horrific videos of what goes on in slaughter houses and the dairy/egg industries break my heart, day old male chicks being thrown live into macerators, the females having their beaks trimmed without anesthetic, male calves being dragged from their mothers and shot, lambs being restrained and having their tails cut off… they all break me on a daily basis, but I share them because I cannot believe that people can continue to see these things and not feel even a tiny bit of what I do or want to make a difference, especially coupled with the photos of the amazing food I am making these days (I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet!), so they can see that they won’t miss out by not eating these intelligent, loving, fun animals.
I also share the ones of cows playing fetch, pigs running round the field with their piglets seeing freedom for the first time, turkeys and chickens running to greet their human families and jumping into their arms. I share these ones to try and show people that there really is no reason we should view these animals any differently to how we see our pets, apart from the fact that society has brought us up to believe that some animals are raised for food. People can choose to watch or not watch, but I believe that the scrolling past and not watching (as I was that person once), is still powerful, as people start to question the morality of paying for something they don’t want to know about.
I think it can be difficult to stay positive sometimes when you see the horrors that go on on a daily basis, and come across the same weak, mundane arguments but then you look at the sales of Oatly milk with their incredible ad campaign, and the turnout to the Official Animal Rights March which succeeded in a growth from 2,500 participants in London in 2016 to 28,000 participants across the world in 2018, and the increasing availability of vegan cheese and/or vegan menus in huge brands – Pizza Express, Zizzis, pizza hut, Wagamamas, Yo Sushi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron Burgers, Carluccios, Las Iguanas, Giraffe, ASK Italian, the list goes on. I’m not even sure whether the issue of the future of veganism can even be questioned when you look at facts such as these.
For me, being vegan means doing as much as I practically and feasibly can to look after everyone around me. By definition this means humans, animals and the world we live in. It has made me view the world differently and my outlook has changed.
Yes, my job as a steakhouse chef causes huge internal contradictions, but until I find a solution to that, I know that I am doing more for the animals being vegan and working where I do, than I was when I was a meat-eater.
I find it is easier for people to point out what vegans are not doing, than appreciate what they are. I believe I am a much kinder and calmer person, and I will continue to be a voice for those who have none.
I hope reading this can reach out to a few people, and I really do encourage you to research where your food comes from, and please don’t be scared of potentially not wanting to eat it afterwards.
Check out Bosh! to get yourself trying some incredibly tasty vegan food, and see how much better you feel, and try Challenge22 where you will receive loads of help and support if you think you might struggle.
Also watch Land of Hope and Glory, below, or on YouTube, and imagine how much better you could feel knowing you are not contributing to any of that. Look at Joey Carbstrong and Earthling Ed for some great examples of raising awareness in public, with calm and well thought out discussions.
If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in our Everyday Vegans slot, please get in touch and we’ll let you know what to do.