Sunday, 31 July 2011

001: Introduction.

I decided to start a blog to link in with my Twitter account, mainly because I seem to only use my Twitter as a platform to moan about daily life, which I realise can’t be that fun for other people, least of all me.  So, as you can probably tell by my handle, I’m vegan, I’m Scottish, and yes, I’m a girl.  So, allow me to expand.

I became vegan in December 2010 after a long process of “the switchover”, i.e., the switch from vegetarian to vegan.  I went vegetarian in January 2008, mainly because I’d always wanted to be vegetarian, but had never bothered to really commit.  So, I took the step, announced to my parents that I would no longer be eating meat, and thus a vegetarian was born.  I was so pleased with myself, openly and proudly announcing when offered a meat-based meal “no thank you, I’m Vegetarian.” I believed vegetarianism to be the way forward.  Don’t eat meat, and immediately save the planet.  I shuddered at the thought of veganism – bunch of hardcore hippies in their hemp clothing munching on beans and salads – why would you not eat dairy? The cows were already producing milk, so what would be the point in not drinking it? Who would that be helping? Then we’d just have all of this surplus milk lying around, and that seemed awfully wasteful to me.  So I continued to be vegetarian, and shun veganism as “extreme”, and I was quite content in my little bubble. 

My vegetarian life slowly began to unravel as time went on.  While working in Starbucks, I was chatting to a friend about whatever night out we’d just had, discussing the different drinks we’d (regrettably) had.  Then one co-worker pointed something out that really stuck with me: “What I don’t get, right, is that people say they are vegetarian, but then you see them drinking a pint of Tennent’s.” I was immediately baffled by this statement.  What was so wrong with drinking Tennent’s, that wonderfully cheap Scottish lager? Well, my co-worker pointed out, her vegetarian friend had informed her that the filtering process in which most beers and wines go through contain a harmless-sounding element named “isinglass”.  Never heard of it? Neither had I.  Well, I was rather disgusted by what I found.  Essentially, isinglass is dried fish bladder.  Yummy.  It’s used to make the beers and wines appear clearer, so that they’re more pleasing to the eye.  Here’s more on isinglass if you so choose to peruse. So began my first trek of the internet for vegetarian-friendly fare.   Most beers and wines were out, and I now had a list of alcohol to memorise to ensure I only drank vegetarian beer or wine.  This may sound like a hassle, but it wasn’t.  I’ve always maintained that one of my main secrets to the success of my veganism is the baby steps I took in getting there.  My vegan journey began in January 2008; I just didn’t realise it at the time.

Now that I knew there were “secret” ingredients out there, I began to tread more carefully.   I mean, isinglass? Why not just call a spade a spade and label it fish bladder? Oh right, because ignorance is bliss; people would much rather consume isinglass than fish bladder.  It’s ridiculous, but you know it’s true.  It’s the same reason you shut down a vegan before they can “ruin” your favourite meal, even though you know deep down that the meal is already “ruined”, and the vegan’s words would make no difference other than bursting that bubble.   This is around the time I happened across a wonderful site called Volentia. It was dubbed as a social networking site for vegetarians and vegans, and I immediately fell in love with it.  You created your own profile just like Myspace or Facebook, uploading pictures and updating your status, but there was also an option to choose whether you were vegan, vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and so on.  Again, this was an eye opener.  There were different kinds of vegetarians? Why? Well, this was all down to eggs and dairy.  You see, an ovo-vegetarian includes eggs, but not dairy; a lacto-vegetarian includes dairy, but not eggs, and a lacto-ovo vegetarian contains both dairy and eggs.  So, realising I fell into this category, I clicked the option and went on my merry way, introducing myself around the site and making new friends who all shared this common interest.  The more I explored this site, the wider my eyes were opened.  For years, I had thought the main divide in diets existed between meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters.  But I was astounded to find that there was a sub-division; that between vegetarians and vegans.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re on the same side, but I got the distinct notion that vegetarians were regarded as “baby vegans”.  Essentially, future vegans in the making.  I read all the forums, the posts and rants between vegans and vegetarians, and the more I read, the more unsure of my vegetarian life I became.  I had always thought that the meat industry was the one big evil in the world, but this was sadly naive of me.  The dairy industry, the poultry and egg industry, the fur and leather (not to mention wool and silk) industries, even the entertainment industry (circus, anyone?), seemed to all be in this together, exploiting animals in any way they could for a profit.  I was sickened.  How could I be so naive? Walking around, calling myself vegetarian, yet wearing leather shoes, made from the same skin of the animal I proclaimed too sentient to eat? Why was I allowed to make that kind of distinction? I wasn’t, and I couldn’t.  I started cyber-stalking all of the self-proclaimed vegans, reading their blogs about why vegetarianism just isn’t enough.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again; it was eye opening.  I slowly started to realise that vegans were not extreme, hardcore hippies.  They were just everyday people who cared so much about the planet and all of its inhabitants that they chose not to exploit them in the name of diet, fashion and comfort.  This didn’t seem extreme at all.  This seemed like the most sensible decision anyone could make.

So, by the beginning of 2010, I was already on my way to becoming vegan.  I made all the necessary arrangements; selling off all of my old leather and suede shoes and belts and replacing them with a kinder alternative, finding internet sites that gave clear and concise advice and support on being vegan (again, Volentia was amazing here), I purchased a few books on veganism, and I informed my parents.  I live at home, and any major changes in lifestyle have to realistically be run by them first.  I informed them that this wasn’t a fad, or a phase, and it certainly wasn’t a diet; this was a decision that I was making for myself, and I was just being courteous in letting them know.  They scoffed at first, calling me extreme and a hippy, but they’ve slowly taken to it over time and now they’re both dab hands at vegan cooking! All the time I was doing this, I’ll admit I was still eating certain dairy items.  As I was phasing out my clothing etc in stages, I decided to phase out my non-vegan food items in stages also.  First to go was milk, replaced with soy milk.  I have to say, I’m not the biggest fan of soy milk.  It’s quite thick and the aftertaste leaves much to be desired.  After lots of “researching” (drinking LOTS of vegan milk!) I settled upon rice milk.  Try it, it’s delicious, especially in cereal.  So, this part was easy.  The next to go was cheese; my one true love.  I was NOT happy about giving up cheese, I’ll say that right now.  Macaroni cheese? A stuffed crust extra-cheese margarita pizza? Cheesy pasta salads? Cheese savoury Big Softies from Greggs? Even now, my mouth salivates at the thought.  Cheese is delicious, there’s no way around that.  It’s addictive! I was having a hard time quitting, especially after many nights out where I was in the chip shop and the only thought my drunken mind could seem to form was “chips and cheese!” But then, I had my moment.  My epiphany, if I may be so spiritual.  I watched a video about the exploitation of animals.  It was a behind-the-scenes documentary, narrated by celebrity-vegan Joaquin Phoenix, and it was free to watch online.  It showed everything from slaughterhouses to hen houses, the milk farms to circuses.  And the one recurrent them throughout the whole film was pain.  I was in tears throughout.  I have never been so moved by a piece of film before.  This film was called Earthlings, and it changed my life. 

So, I’m going to round this introductory entry up now by explaining what my future blogs will entail.  I plan on discussing what it is like being a vegan in Scotland, a major meat-and-dairy country.  I’ll also be showing what it’s like to be a vegan on a budget, and some of my purse-friendly meals that I have created (along with the help of my dad).  Being a girl, being vegan also affects those girly essentials: cosmetics.  I’ll show you all my different products that I use, as well as any tips I’ve picked up along the way.  I’m also a major advocate of clothes-recycling i.e. second-hand shopping.  My favourite way of doing this is through ebay, so I’ll also show you guys my wonderfully cheap ebay purchases, as well as how to effectively buy and sell on ebay.  I also plan on doing reviews, beginning with a review of Earthlings, and of the different vegan books I have purchased, along with the best websites for being a vegan girl, a vegan Scot, or just a vegan in general! Hopefully this sounds interesting, and thanks for reading my first ever vegan blog.