OPINION: ANDREW ANDERSON
Recent research says there's been a 360 percent increase in people becoming vegan over a decade, making it one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements. Q&C's Andrew Anderson tells us why he is one of the many who has adopted a plant-based diet and about its many benefits.
According to research, there are over half a million vegans in Britain. A survey commissioned by the Vegan Society in partnership with Vegan Life magazine found at least 542,000 people over the age of 15 in Britain are now following a vegan diet and never consume any animal products including meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey. The latest figures show a 360 percent increase since the last estimate of 150,000 people ten years previous, making veganism 'one of Britain's fastest growing lifestyle movements.'
That's not all. A recent YouGov survey shows that 44 percent of us are making some attempts at lowering our meat consumption, while online searches for the word 'vegan' has jumped 100 percent in the past two years alone. It's no surprise since studies have linked plant-based diets to an increased life expectancy and lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
So while some are merely cutting back on their meat consumption for health reasons as well as due to reported dubious farming practices, others have gone the whole hog (pardon the pun) and adopted a vegan lifestyle, including Queen and Country magazine's very own Andrew Anderson. Here he tells us why.
Before I’d even met James from Queen and Country magazine, I’d had to use those words. There’s just three of them but they create a whole heap of trouble every time I utter them. There’s usually some form of confrontation, possibly some recriminations from both sides, and nothing is ever the same afterwards. But he had insisted on going for lunch in Marlborough so I guess I had to tell him: “I’m a vegan.”
I understand why some people can get a bit uppity when you tell them, after all the stereotypical vegan is a condescending figure with a sense of self-satisfied superiority. I have met a few vegans who are like that but, to be honest, not many. And I do hope I’m not like that, although I’m sure I have my moments. I try not to force my views on anyone and don’t try to convert people or make them feel guilty about eating meat. I live with a carnivore and never guilt them about their choice of food – the decision is theirs.
My steps towards veganism began in my childhood. I have been surrounded by animals for most of my life and often prefer their company to that of humans. Humans are such complicated, political beings. When you turn up on their doorstep, or they on yours, who knows what their agenda is. With an animal there is no agenda. I’m not one for negotiating social niceties when I could be throwing a ball for a dog or sitting in the sunshine stroking a cat.
By the time I was 16 I was a firm believer that animals are just as important as people and thus became a rubbish vegetarian. I use that adjective wisely; I really was a rubbish vegetarian. Despite proclaiming my veggie status, I soon defaulted back to eating chicken and fish because they “weren’t really the same as a cow” and soon had slipped back to eating all sorts of meat again.
It was moving to the countryside which took me back to vegetarianism. Living in the North Cotswolds, I’d see the lambs appear in the fields in early spring (complete with child friendly lambing events at local farms), only for them to disappear from the fields a few short weeks later. I also regularly saw lorry loads of sheep, pigs and cows being transported to the slaughterhouse. What happens to animals there is an open secret; we all know what happens and how bad it is, but we choose not to think about it.
For a long time I deliberately refused to connect the animal in the van with the meat on my plate, even though I liked to eat it rare and bloody. And the realisation that I was choosing to ignore it, that I could choose not to take part in that system, was what turned me veggie again. I realised that I couldn’t kill an animal if I needed to eat and I didn’t want someone doing it for me.
However, I never once thought I would be vegan.
Veganism always seemed like a such a significant commitment. It seemed to involve radical lifestyle changes, experimenting with pulses and spending hours in health food shops considering different ways of getting protein. I was never going to go vegan, I reassured myself; that’s far too “out there”.
And yet, that open secret I mentioned earlier came back to haunt me. We all know what happens in the animal product industry but often choose not to think about it. We know that, to produce milk, cows are repeatedly impregnated and separated from their calves so they can’t nurse them. We know that the lives of male calves and chicks can be incredibly short. And we all know that the cows and chickens which give us those products all end up in the food chain anyway. Egg laying hens, which have a life expectancy of up to eight years, are normally slaughtered after one to two years while dairy cows, which have a life expectancy of 20 years, are generally slaughtered after five.
Yes, I know that sounded a bit preachy and judgemental but, believe me, it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve known those things for a long time but only became vegan last summer. It is easy to disconnect the cows in the milking shed from the bar of milk chocolate, and difficult to think about the life expectancy of a chicken when you are eating a fried egg (and believe me, I still miss fried eggs like you wouldn’t believe). But eating meat and animal products in the 21st century is a choice as much as veganism is. We all look at the information and draw different conclusions. Mine was that I didn’t really want anything to do with that system any more.
For all of my altruistic deliberations, the decision to go vegan came down to a very pragmatic question: what could I eat? Having gone veggie, I had already sacrificed the most delicious thing in the world – chicken fried rice. I had perfected a veggie version of it and used it as a way of putting off turning vegan: “I can’t possibly go vegan” I explained to a friend “because I’ve only just found a product that is a convincing replacement for chicken in fried rice.” When she pointed out to me that the product was vegan and I wouldn’t have to give it up again, being a vegan seemed possible. I spent a few weeks investigating local supermarkets and stores, going vegan without any fanfare to see whether it was sustainable. To my amazement, it was surprisingly easy.
Yes, I’ve had to give up things I love but I have found new things I love instead. I was never a big fan of ice cream but, since becoming vegan, I’ve eaten more of the stuff (dairy free of course) than I ever did before. Despite the ice cream binges, my doctors are incredibly happy with me and my cholesterol level, and have helped me work out what supplements I need. Overall, it has helped me feel healthier and introduced me to new things I would never have tried before. Having said that, the lunch I eat at work looks surprisingly similar to that of my colleagues; sandwiches, crisps, a biscuit or sweet. I don’t spend all morning soaking lentils just so I can survive lunch time (I save that joy for the weekend!).
Veganism is a choice, and a surprisingly easy one to take in 2018. Try going to one of the vegan fairs which are popping up in most towns and cities these days. Try a vegan cup cake or a 'not dog'. Or maybe just try a vegan dish when you go out for lunch, like I did when I met James for lunch in Marlborough. You may be surprised by just how good they taste.
For more information on veganism, please visit The Vegan Society and follow Andrew on Instagram: @ ajanderson72