A series in which ordinary people talk about living a plant-based life
Our latest contributor is Martin Yelverton, co-editor of Bardo Burner, who believes humanity is slowly evolving towards veganism but that it’s a long, long game
Tell us a little about yourself…
I was born in Zambia but did most of my growing up in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which I left back in the days of apartheid to dodge my conscription into the army after college. I’ve been living in the UK ever since and now consider myself an immigrant Londoner. I’m 52, married, and have a grown-up son. I work as a yoga teacher, Pilates instructor and freelance news journalist.
You’re vegan now; were you vegetarian before? What led to that? How long have you been vegan? What led to that choice?
I became a vegetarian in my early 20s after getting a kitchen job in Germany that involved killing trout for instant cooking (this was during the summer; in winter it would also have involved killing rabbits). I was no good at killing, lasted one day in that job, and decided that if I couldn’t kill animals, I shouldn’t be eating them. About four years ago I watched Cowspiracy and was a vegan by the end of the week (couldn’t resist not finishing off my cheese stash – used to love the stuff, now it grosses me out almost more than meat). Since then, I’ve learnt a lot I didn’t know about how grotesque the dairy industry is; I can’t believe I supported it for so long as a vegetarian, but there it is; one learns.
Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
I can’t imagine that happening. However, I’ll never say never, because I did return to eating meat for two years during my long stretch of vegetarianism. I studied Hung Gar kung fu with an old school teacher who believed you had to be a meat eater to be strong enough for some of the stuff he taught. When I do something, I’m all or nothing, so for the sake of the kung fu, I tried going back to eating meat to learn these things. I tried to convince myself I was getting stronger. I wasn’t. And deep down I knew I wasn’t being true to my principles either. Eventually I drifted away from the kung fu and into yoga, returning to vegetarianism. It was a big lesson: don’t take a teacher’s word as gospel – this is something I try to impart to the people who study yoga and Pilates with me.
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?
I try to be a healthy vegan, with varying degrees of success. I mainly eat rice, wholewheat spaghetti and variations on vegetable stews and curries, as well as tons of fruit and nuts. I eat a little more processed food than I’d like to, but keep working towards a whole food diet as an ideal. I’m inclined to beat myself up when I don’t manage this, but try not to; being a fundamentalist is never a good thing. My biggest challenge is processed sugar. For the most part I don’t use it, but every now and again I’ll treat myself to some of the fine vegan cakes and desserts out there, and I always regret it, because the sugar gets right up there like a monkey on my back. I find it scarily addictive. If I can keep processed sugar out of my life, my diet tends to be pretty healthy.
Where do you shop?
I shop at local supermarkets, whether big chains or independents. We are spoilt for choice in London; vegan food is everywhere. I sometimes feel guilty shopping at the big supermarkets, which do so much to keep the meat industry alive, even as they’re serving vegan customers so well, but, hey, it’s not a perfect world.
Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
No, not really. I sometimes go through the motions, but it’s not a big deal for me. I’ve gone through phases of being too protein obsessed but I think that’s a fool’s errand. I simply try to eat a balanced diet and let nature take its course: fruit, veg, grains, nuts, pulses. And so far, so good; I’ve never been healthier.
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?
To start with, it didn’t bother me much. I believe passionately that we’re all just doing our best to get through the dark night of the soul, whether we eat meat or not. Life is hard and we do the best we can; I try my best to empathise with all beings. But the more time passes, Continue reading →