A series in which ordinary people talk about living a plant-based life
Our latest contributor is Ekaterina, a Russian physics student who believes that veganism is a cornerstone of sustainable living
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 24 and currently finishing my master’s degree in physics in Moscow, Russia. I moved away from home two years ago and now I live with my boyfriend. In my free time I like to volunteer at various events, mostly focused on being more sustainable; my favourite is helping out with recycling at a vegan market every month. I also really enjoy vegan activism and recently I tried drawing chalk messages, which I’ll keep doing from time to time.
You’re vegan now; were you vegetarian before?
No, but I guess I was a flexitarian for a few months. What I mean is I knew I was going vegan, that it was the right thing to do, but I needed some time to adjust and learn to stand up for my decisions. During that time I never bought anything non-vegan myself, but I ate animal products at parties and other people’s places a few times. I tried to justify it by telling myself that I wasn’t creating demand in these situations, but I stopped doing that as soon as I realised how messed up what we do to animals is. I can’t consume products of violence, it doesn’t matter who paid for them.
What led to that?
I’ve been trying to live as sustainably as I can for about four years now. I seek out new eco-friendly habits, and look at what I can improve in my lifestyle, and this was how I came across the zero-waste movement. I started watching some videos about it and one of the vloggers kept mentioning that she was vegan because she cared about the environment, and that you couldn’t be zero-waste if you consumed animal products. I looked up how bad animal agriculture was in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use, and energy consumption, and felt I couldn’t consciously contribute to something so terrible.
I knew that the end goal for me was being vegan, but, sadly, I couldn’t switch overnight. During that time the environmental arguments were the most important to me and I didn’t really think about ethics.When I finally let the ethical side of things sink in, I couldn’t possibly delay going vegan any longer. If you only care about the environment, an occasional piece of non-vegan cake is not that big a deal I think, but when you know of all the suffering that went into making it, you can’t possibly eat it.
How long have you been vegan?
It will be a year soon! About nine months at this point.
Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
No, absolutely not. I cannot imagine what would have to happen to make me stop caring. How could I consume animal products being aware what it means? How could I consciously choose to contribute to animal abuse?
Are you a ‘healthy’ vegan? Often people assume we’re all fitness-obsessed, when the reality is that we come in many flavours and for many people life is an eternal hunt for vegan cake. What makes up your diet?
It depends. When I’m not too lazy and cook for myself at home, it’s usually very healthy. I never liked using a lot of oil, and, because I strive to live without producing any waste, I cook mostly wholefoods – that’s all you can buy without packaging. But when I go out to eat I don’t really care how healthy it is. I like an occasional greasy vegan burger or some vegan cake.
Where do you shop?
I go to regular shops for bulk fruits and vegetables, and vegan junk food once in a while. I buy my grains and legumes at a zero-waste shop, sometimes I get spices there, too. And when I want something special like vegan cheese or yoghurt I have to go to a vegan shop – regular supermarkets either don’t carry them over here, or they are ridiculously overpriced.
Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
Not really. I used to track what I eat in Cronometer, but after I was sure my diet is balanced enough I stopped doing it. Now I only check it maybe once a month, just for fun.
For many vegans, the initial realisation of facts that make us turn to a different lifestyle is pretty life-changing and alienating. We view things differently, from the supermarket shopping experience in a meat-eating world to the people around us. How was that change in mindset – the reality of being an outsider in many situations – for you?
Yes, it was shocking. Sometimes it feels surreal when I accidentally go into the meat aisle in a supermarket – there are literally corpses lying in the fridges and people are buying them. That’s just so weird. And there are live fish right next to the produce section in one shop I sometimes go to – it makes me feel so bad. It’s frustrating that they are still alive but I can’t help them. I’m used to being an outsider – reducing your waste also means going against the social norms, at least in Russia. So I don’t mind researching options in advance or asking about the ingredients. But it does feel a bit alienating that there is fast food at every corner yet nothing I can eat.
Do you mix with many other vegans – does your lifestyle mean that you come into contact with people of a similar outlook regularly?
Yes, I made many vegan friends at a vegan market. I really enjoy meeting people who have the same values as me – it’s refreshing in the non-vegan world we live in. We can empower each other to get active and stand up for animals.
Do you seek out vegan groups and forums online?
Yes, I enjoy reading news about how fast veganism is growing. I also really like watching vegan outreach interviews of Earthing Ed and other activists. Vegan subreddits are my go-to for any vegan discussions, and I’m subscribed to a few vegan groups on Russian social media for events announcements.
Do you live in a meat/dairy eating household? And if so, how is that?
My boyfriend isn’t vegan (yet) but out of respect for me he’s almost entirely plant-based at home. It is hard for me to live with a non-vegan, but we started dating before I went vegan and I don’t want this to be a deal breaker. I believe he can change, and we talk about it quite a lot. He respects my values and eats non-vegan things at home only very rarely. It is still hard for me, and I’ve told him upfront that I’m not going to be in the same room as him when he decides to eat any animal products.
Do you feel you have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward?
It’s hard to compare such large groups of people. I have a lot in common with many vegans, but not all of them – there are so many vegans, and we are diverse. I don’t agree with welfarists, for example, but we still have some common beliefs. And as for non-vegans, many agree that animal abuse is wrong, many care about the environment. I think they just haven’t realised that going vegan aligns with their values, and I do my best to tell them about it.
Do you, as most of us have to, eat out with non-vegans often and how do you feel about their eating choices?
Seeing someone eat animal products makes me sad and frustrated and so lately I’ve been trying not to eat at the table where they are served. I take my boyfriend to vegan places, and at home we either both eat vegan or we eat in different rooms. I’m not ready to take the liberation pledge but I try to do it anyway.
Are you involved in any form of activism?
Yes. I took part in my first vegan march not so long ago, and I’ve also tried chalktivism and really enjoyed it.
How do you feel about the vegan jokes… you know, that vegans can’t go five minutes without mentioning the fact or they explode?
I prefer jokes that vegans make about themselves (or about non-vegans). ‘This is the future vegans want’, is probably my favourite type of joke, and I make it myself when the situation is right.
Do you believe veganism to be a fad?
No. Veganism is compassion and justice – they are not temporary.
Do you believe that the meat and dairy industries have a future?
I really hope they don’t. I mean if they don’t stay in the past we’ll probably destroy our environment pretty soon, so they will be gone anyway. I would just prefer the humanity to stay alive past that point.
If not, what do you believe the timescale for change to be?
It needs to happen soon. Considering climate crisis reports, we need to cut our emissions in half by 2030 and going vegan is a great step towards that. I really hope it can happen in 10 years, at least in some countries – slaughter outlawed and animal farms converted to plants – but I’m not sure it’s possible.
How do you think we best ‘convert’ omnivores to a plant-based lifestyle?
I think it’s best to appeal to compassion and respect to life. Most people believe that animal abuse is wrong – they just don’t realise that farming is abuse.
And do you actively try to do this?
Yes, I use these arguments when talking to friends or on forums. I also use this approach in chalktivism – writing things like, ‘Every life matters’, or ‘The only life that belongs to you is your own’.
How do you feel about the horror-show videos of the reality of meat? Do you share them? Do you feel they have a positive place in changing people’s understanding of the meat and dairy industry?
I have watched more than I wish I had. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s effective for all people. Some still believe that if done ‘humanely’, it’s alright and it’s just the current practices that are wrong, not the whole idea of using animals as resources. People respond emotionally to this type of footage and emotions pass. However, if watching is followed by a conversation, I believe the results can be great. I think it’s important to point out that as long as animals are treated as property things like this will happen and it’s important to change the system, not the rules and regulations.
Are you positive about the future of veganism?
Yes. I believe that people are naturally kind, and we just need to show that animal agriculture doesn’t align with what they believe to be right.
What does being vegan mean to you?
For me being vegan means being kind and just to all beings. It means valuing everybody’s right to live and be free, no matter the species – the only way to do that is to boycott animal exploitation industries. It also means speaking up about animal rights – we need to challenge the current system and you can’t do that by staying silent.
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.