Tag Archives: vegetarianism

How veganism came knocking on my door

It all started with a flippant comment in the office (yes, I spend two days a week in an actual grown-up office now. It is so cool it has neon pink staircases). Someone was laughing about how loads of people in their church had watched the film ‘Cowspiracy’ and now they’d all gone vegan. Crazy! Hilarious!

But somewhere inside something registered, because this is what I am like – I have a compulsion to keep trying to make the world better and improve myself, whatever the cost. (The to-do list will never end; I will never do enough). I hadn’t even seen the film, but slowly the cogs started to turn and I started to think, “oh no, I might need to become a vegan.”

Which is obviously crazy, right? Why would a passing comment from a friend make me feel like I needed to make such an insane and drastic lifestyle choice? Veganism had always seemed so extreme, anti-social, and unappealing. It’s not that I don’t ever eat vegan meals, or that I think they all taste disgusting. But it seemed an austere life.

The issue that pretty much dwarfs my personal tastes, however, is the environment, and the growing tide of evidence about the negative impact of eating dairy and meat that I can see out of the corner of eye. There was of course the film ‘Cowspiracy’ itself which I watched one evening on netflix. (If you haven’t seen it, an activist goes researching what is damaging the environment and climate most and discovers that the worst culprit globally is the cattle industry, because the amount of dairy and beef we are consuming is completely unsustainable for the planet to provide). But it doesn’t take much googling to discover that lots of people dispute the statistics quoted in the film.

Around the same time, however, I started to see articles like this one, reporting on the UN and IPCC’s recommendation that we move away from a reliance on animal products in our diet, because the planet cannot cope. Even Boris Johnson, a man I cannot claim to admire, wrote this column in which he ridicules the very idea of cutting down on meat consumption before completely supporting the scientific analysis of the underlying environmental crisis. (His argument – change of diet is completely unreasonable – imagine having to do something as inconvenient as altering our diet to save civilisation – the answer is to somehow curb the global population drastically in the next 30 years, which is clearly far more practical and reasonable a suggestion).

I have never seen the UN as a particularly radical force in the world, given the number of committees and members and agendas it must somehow accommodate. So when the UN recommends a vegan diet, it strikes me as unusually bold.

And then I thought I would see what George Monbiot had to say on the matter, knowing him to be terrifyingly radical but also incredibly well-informed on all issues relating to climate change. And of course, I found out, he is pretty much a vegan nowadays. Sigh.

I had, and have, two main reasons for resisting becoming a vegan. I’m not saying they are good reasons, but I am being honest:

  1. I comfort eat. Food brings me happiness and pleasure. In this season of life characterised by frequent sleep deprivation and intense parenting in my waking hours, nice food just helps me keep going. I don’t think it’s out of control, I’m not overweight and I don’t go crazy. But food really helps me cope, and the thought of cutting out so many comfort foods because they (mostly) contain dairy, and sometimes meat, feels like a bleak prospect.
  2. I don’t want to become the nightmare dinner invitee or house guest. I want to be able to receive the hospitality I’m offered without having to turn everything down. I hate fussiness. (I actually quite enjoy the creative challenge of catering for guests with dietary restrictions, but I hate to enforce it on anyone else).

My husband pointed out that I tend to be fairly black and white about these things and maybe being immediately extreme wasn’t the best approach to lasting change. Which I considered to be wise, whilst also still wanting to make a dramatic decision. (Then again, firebrand George Monbiot only considers himself ‘almost’ a vegan).

The other contributing factor here is that I would like to eat better. I have always thought diets were a waste of time, not least because once the diet is over we just go back to our old habits. And I’d like some new and better habits, but honestly I just don’t know where to start. When confronted with a piece of cake in my hunger my train of thought goes something like this: ‘I can resist because maybe it will make me imperceptibly thinner or negligibly healthier or I can just enjoy this treat.’  You might be able to guess what I usually choose.

I don’t look at my body with disgust (although in the rare event that I weigh myself, I do loathe the numbers), I don’t feel a compulsion to be thinner (although it would maybe be nice, if I was also healthier and stronger). I have some good habits – I mostly cook from scratch, we eat fruit, we eat plenty vegetables, we try to eat vegetarian more days than we eat meat). But I also feel a bit stuck. I don’t want to be a health nut but I’d like to make a few better choices.

I feel like I have more of a chance when my motivation towards change isn’t just about my body.

And all this coincides perfectly with Lent, which starts this week. If you miss the January bandwagon, Lent is, of course, the next best opportunity to give something up.

Only Lent carries another set of underpinning beliefs, as a season of church life. I haven’t always marked Lent (some churches do, some don’t), but in recent years the season has started to mean more to me. I shudder at the thought of deprivation, but the discipline of removing things from our lives which have become distractions from the most important things, or ways of numbing ourselves from our own pain or the world’s pain, even just indulgences which have become too normal – that feels like an important exercise to undertake. We let go of something as a step of faith, in the hope that there will be something more real and more substantial on the other side. Our step of faith is towards God and the promise that he could be more to us than the things we leave behind.

So the Lent resolutions feel more weighty for me – less about new plans to undertake, and more about hard choices and things I need to leave behind. Giving up certain kinds of snack food like chocolate can seem like a shallow way to tread this path, but who am I to judge the call anyone else needs to make. Food is a huge source of pleasure for me, but also my go-to drug for numbing my emotions and pacifying my distressed heart. And so changing how I eat feels like a big and a hard thing.

We have gone vegetarian for Lent before, and this year I am going to try to eat in an increasingly vegan manner as the season goes on. I’m not enforcing veganism on the rest of my family, although as I’m chief cook they will get to eat many delicious vegan meals in the coming weeks (frankly, my kids would happily eat pesto pasta every day anyway, and vegan pesto is easy to find).  A little googling has thrown up a few snazzy vegan snack companies out there, and, more helpfully, I stumbled across this helpful list of accidentally vegan snacks.

And beyond Lent, who knows? I hope we’ll grow new habits, discover a better way to live and  make some permanent changes to our diet. I would be happy if we cooked meat very occasionally and saw it as a huge treat. I’m not going to make our families or friends cook vegan food for us when we go to stay. It’s hard to predict what course we’ll chart after Lent, or how well we’ll adapt to the changes.

(Dear God, please leave me caffeine, alcohol, gluten and sugar.)

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Ten positive lifestyle choices we don’t make (yet)

During a fantastic and long overdue catch-up with my friend Lucy recently (she of Lulastic fame)  we started talking about how stuff you read actually changes how you live. And how so often it doesn’t. Why does some stuff inspire us but fail to make any kind of practical, lasting impact? (Or are you less flaky than me?).

My best answer, then and now, is: people who are changing with you. It’s really hard to stick at something on your own and find the energy to against the flow in any kind of sustained way without company. The pressure to default to the norm is just too great. We need company.

The stuff I (we) have changed and stuck to in our lives in the last few years – making space in our busy schedules to build relationships with our neighbours, cutting back on flights and meat consumption and wider consumerism, walking and cycling as much as pos, trying to parent in an economical, attachment-y kind of a way, even giving up shampoo – they’re things that we’ve done in community. In the company of others (some with bigger crowds, some with a tiny crew).

So that got me thinking about all the things we haven’t done. Things that I feel inspired, convicted even, to change, and yet have not managed. I’m a big fan of honest journeys, and being able to come clean about our limitations and failures. So here is my list of really worthwhile lifestyle changes to which I aspire (in relation to simplicity and green living) that we just don’t do right now. Confession time.

(let's think positive)

(let’s think positive)

1. Produce only a modest amount of household rubbish.

We produce loads of rubbish, and I completely hate that it ends up somewhere on this planet damaging the environment. I just don’t know how to get better at this. We recycle loads, and I even tried something called a rubbish diet a while back, only nothing seemed to make much of a difference. It’s nearly all food packaging…and how do you buy food without packaging, short of spending a day a week traipsing on foot around food co-ops and greengrocers??

2. Have solar panels

Living in a flat where the council are responsible for all external walls/roofs etc limits our options here right not, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. And costs??

3. Compost our food waste

We did used to have worm bins, but then the worms died. And our local recycling services don’t extend to food waste. That is a fairly rubbish excuse though, given that we have a beautiful garden farm at the end of our road and they collect compost; but I’ve never actually managed to get on top of what type of food waste (it’s quite specific what they’ll take), get a good container, and make regular trips. I really want to get going with this when we move, especially if we have any outside space (because then we could fertilise our own plants with lovely organic compost!).

4. Go completely veggie/get closer to it

We try not to eat meat in the week, but we often fail. I default to what’s already in the freezer (which my kind mother often restocks), partly because it takes more imagination to cook veggie meals. Even though I have plenty of inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

5. Cycle everywhere

We live on a cycle super-highway (!), and the cycling gets pretty intense in our neighbourhood. I’m not hugely confident about cycling with a toddler in the inner-city (let alone on a super-highway), but I don’t exactly make a beeline for the bikes when I’m out and about alone. Work is a good ten miles away and I just can’t quite bring myself to face the ordeal. I do like cycling, I’ve just never managed to make it a habit. And now being preggers is another convenient excuse.

I should point out that Andy is (literally) miles ahead of me on this, and relies almost entirely on Boris bikes to get around London.

6. Never use toxic chemicals to clean the house

There was a time when I mainly used bicarbonate of soda to clean, and the occasional Method or Ecover product (cue eye roll from my mother). But then we got a cleaner who sent me out with a shopping list of hardcore chemicals she required. And I caved. And then she quit (was our house just too dirty?). So now I have a whole hodgepodge of things and feel conflicted.

7. De-clutter a la Marie Kondo

You may have read about our adventures with de-cluttering. I kind of really really want to read the book everyone is talking about and at the same time am a little bit scared and don’t want to spend money on it. I do always want some help with simplifying our living space (and was insanely grateful for the consultation I had earlier in the year from Sarah Bickers of Free Your Space). We recently massively de-cluttered in a temporary fashion as we put our flat on the market (full story coming soon) and wanted to persuade potential buyers that we lived in a beautiful elegant and minimalist fashion. And we really liked it. It seemed to help us eliminate unnecessary things in a way that made us feel calmer and happier. But I default to something less elegant and more chaotic which probably says something about my state of mind and confused sense of purpose!

8. Grow a reasonable portion of our veggie intake.

Tomatoes are really the only success I have had on our balcony. I just never seem to make plant care an actual regular habit.

9. Never go to Tesco

It’s not just Tesco, there’s a list of supermarkets which are fairly horrendous when it comes to their ethics and supply chain. But they all seem to be nearby and I’m always dipping in. We have some good habits (deliveries from better companies) but there always seems a reason to nip in on the way home. And everyone does it (is what I say to myself). Occasionally when I manage to do some meal planning I cut down on the regular top-up trips, but it’s a dirty habit I struggle to break.

10. The flying thing

I fly a LOT less than I did, but that’s more because of our stage of life than any radical decisions I’ve made. And we have family in Northern Ireland. We could obviously drive and take the ferry to get there, but I just can’t face it with a toddler. So at least once a year without fail we jump on a plane, and I just can’t imagine what would persuade me to make the epic road trip.

So that’s all my excuses. I’m hoping to push through some of them, if I can only find some company…

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I love lunch

I write “I love lunch” optimistically, full of faith and hope because if I’m honest lunch is usually the weakest contender in ‘meal of the day’. (It’s normal to review the day’s meals and compile a leaders board, right?)

Too often I’m out of the house, unprepared, grabbing something on the fly, pacing the streets of Teddington in search of anything that isn’t an overpriced panini.

But I am hopeful, because I have just invested some birthday money in an exciting book: River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whatsisface.  Part of my journey on living within limits brings me to the question of food.  Is meat-eating basically a terrible environmental catastrophe in the making?  (Pretty much, at current levels anyway). I posted on Facebook, asking for recommendations of books that might convert me to the green side, and received all kinds of responses.  These ranged from “Don’t do it!” to diet book recommendations (once I worked out people weren’t just calling me a ‘skinny bitch’ – it did seem unlikely), to a handful of ethical reflections and then the practical advice of my friend Dave: “Honestly, get the Hugh Fernley-W book. Skip the theory, and get some good recipes!!”.  And so I did.  And I’m cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Saying that, I was hoping to write this post earlier, only the night I returned, recipe book in hand, to greet my organic veg delivery and get cracking, I was devastated to discover that the veg had been delivered while my husband was asleep, and so they had been rescued by our faithful next door neighbour Frank, except he had now gone out for the evening.  I was grumpy and there was no vegetarian food to photograph.

But here was today’s lunch:

Ribollita. It’s a kind of hearty soup.

It’s called ribollita and it was great, although perhaps not the most appealing meal to have photographed?

Anyway, we’re now officially veggies from Monday-Friday, and so far I haven’t even eaten meat this weekend.

The other reason to blog about lunch is because of this BRILLIANT new film about a project my friend Rachel helps to run, called LUNCH.  “There are children around this country who are only eating if their school provides them with a meal” she says.  1.2million children in the UK are registered for free school meals, but there is no provision for them in school holidays.  That’s where this nifty and amazing project comes in.  Get involved.

Lunch from Matt Bird on Vimeo.

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