Another year over and I’ll bet the number one resolution will be to reconsider diet for fitness and general wellbeing. There has literally never been a better time to try reducing your meat and dairy intake as #Veganuary takes hold.
I must confess I am loosely vegan.
I’m sure this will result in some horror amidst my vegan community (who are thus far unaware of my flexitarian diet style). But I am genuinely ok with my stance on food and I think it makes the non-vegans more accepting of alternative diets when they hear my reasoning, and I’ve been complimented for not being a ‘vegan snob’. Truth be told, I think strict vegans are doing a fantastic job and I love every one of them. It appears to be judgement and preaching that grates among the mainstream meat-eaters, so hopefully you will find none of that here from me.
When I say loosely vegan, this is what I mean: I am trying to make a personal difference to the environment by purchasing climate friendly food products. In my weekly shop since November 2016 there has been no meat or milk in sight, instead I have settled for soy milk for teas, and vanilla almond milk for coffees (and I put a mixture over Weetabix with bananas for breakfast – simply yum!). When I am invited to others for dinner I leave my dietary choices at the door and eat whatever is bestowed upon me with gratitude and wine (non-vegan).
It has been suggested that I am cheating veganism.
But the way I see it, I only make a difference with the things I purchase personally, and it saves the stress of someone else cooking specifically for me. It works both ways as I only cook vegan and so friends and family slowly learn that my casseroles, curries and tagines are not only filling but taste superb when cooked only from plants. I operate a BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat/Milk) for those who consider a meal incomplete without meat, and for those who aren’t keen on my dairy free alternatives in their cuppa. It used to be hard to eat vegan out and about – although increasingly restaurants are providing plant based options improving the feel-good factor in eating food you haven’t cooked yourself. But I don’t stress about the restaurant choice if the menu is limited.
It has been really quite easy to adapt our family diets to be plant-based at home. But I am certainly no monster mum and if the kids say that they really fancy a cheddar sandwich once a month then I am happy to oblige. Being 6 and 8 they obviously had questions about the switch from beef to grated sweet potato bolognese, or lamb to lentil cottage pies. And I have been careful to explain, at their level, my reasoning behind eating less meat.
They know that most farmed animals live pretty cramped and unhappy lives and so we are making a difference with each meal. They know that in agriculture we waste food crops and water in rearing cattle, resources that could be better used directly feeding our growing population. They know that it is a healthier diet, and that we do not need cow’s milk for calcium or poultry for protein; these are readily available from plant based sources. They know that rearing cows requires a lot of land, land that can be taken from forest clearing. And they also find it highly amusing that wind from cows pollutes our precious atmosphere with methane increasing global warming (NOTE: Whilst I do laugh along - I do not find this as amusing as my kids given the increasing threat that climate change poses to humanity. But I digress…)
One thing I have learned recently which is too complex to explain to my young brood is the issue of antimicrobial resistance. It’s not hard to imagine that in overcrowded conditions there is substantially higher spread of disease among farmed animals, requiring a higher frequency of antibiotics. The suffering from mastitis in dairy cows is particularly high. Every time non-calves (us humans) consume these antibiotics through their milk, in essence ‘misusing antibiotics’, we are contributing to the problem of resistant bacteria.
I’m sure throughout 2018 many of us may need to rely on antibiotic treatment: can you imagine a future where antibiotics no longer work for us? If the demand for milk and beef is reduced by us all consuming less, there is less pressure on the agricultural system to squash in heifers into inhospitable conditions therefore reducing the prevalence of these diseases. Less cows and less antibiotics can only be a good thing for our future.
So I applaud any New Year resolutions that include a reduction of meat and meat-based products. For those who feel they are not ready to go the whole hog (ahem!); perhaps indulge for the weekend’s Sunday roast (#KeepMeatASundayTreat) and allocate veggie feasts for weekdays. Midweek it is certainly more time friendly to batch cook vegan creations that can be frozen into portions. One final point speaking from personal experience: there’s no need to shout about the fact that you are going vegan. It puts unnecessary pressure onto yourself if the last vegan sandwich has been taken at Boots, and it may attract all manner of unsought opinions and smart-arse remarks. If you need a little humour in the vegan arena, I recommend telling meat-eaters to watch the star-studded BBC Simon Amstell’s mock-umentary Carnage:
But know that if you are going loosely (or wholly) vegan, I am grateful for your contribution to the challenges that face humanity. And hey, the animals are pretty grateful too.