Cheers to Cheese!

You know those foodie videos that pop up on your Facebook timeline and start playing automatically? Recipes of pull-apart bread stuffed with cheese, eggs and avocado in a skillet, or close-up zooms of strings of hot, melted mozzarella? Over the past month, I tried to scroll past these delights as quickly as possible, since I was attempting to go vegan for a month. After being vegetarian for about eight years, I wanted to see how difficult it would be to step up my game, and not eat or drink any animal by-products as well.

Before I started, I didn’t think I’d find it very difficult – until I went shopping, and found out that Nutella is made with milk. A month without my favourite topping for bread, rice crackers, cookies, porridge, fruit – everything, if I’m honest?!  After overcoming this initially disastrous discovery, I managed to find dairy-free chocolate spread in Roots, Fruits & Flowers, a cute café and shop on Great Western Road. I also found vegan alternatives for everything ranging from cheese to sausages. Cheese was the other thing I was very much reluctant to lose for a month. However, I didn’t buy the vegan cheese, made from cashews – not only because many meat- or dairy-alternatives are so processed that they’re not any better for the environment than just eating the actual thing, but also because it would’ve hurt my wallet. Being vegan doesn’t have to be expensive, as long as you just stick with vegetables, fruit, bread, rice and pasta.

I’ve had many experiences in the past where saying I was a vegetarian seemed to people to be tantamount to me commenting on their carnivorous diet. They would ask me to explain why I was a vegetarian – and disagree with every point I made – or come up with excuses why they could not abstain from their lovely sausage rolls, hamburgers or chicken wings. Although I’m against eating meat, and would love to see everyone eat less of it, I’m not really in the mood to have a discussion about the politics of my food when I’m trying to enjoy my veggies. Just so you know, most vegetarians won’t actually try to force vegetarianism upon anyone they see eating meat. However, I noticed that people who knew I was trying out going vegan kept bringing it up in a very positive way – asking how my vegan-diet was going, wondering whether I’d made any “mistakes”, and saying they could never do it themselves.

I have probably made a mistake – meaning, I’ve probably eaten something that had dairy or eggs in it by accident. But honestly? I don’t really care. Stressing out about accidently taking a bite of pasta with pesto, which you realize later contains parmesan cheese, is focusing your energy on details that don’t really matter. Personally, I believe it’s all about eating fewer animal products. If you can be 100% vegetarian or vegan, that’s great! But occasionally buying Quorn instead of meat, or almond milk instead of cow’s milk, will have an influence on your health, the lives of animals and the environment as well, even if you can’t commit to going entirely vegan or vegetarian.

However, since I obviously wanted to eat and drink no animal products or by-products, I was sure to always check all the ingredients of things I bought or got offered. It’s actually really interesting, and sometimes also quite shocking, what the breads, cookies or pasta sauces that you are used to eating are actually made off. And nope, it’s usually not just flour and water, or tomatoes with some herbs, but also a long list of unpronounceable additives and E-numbers.

I realized that to be vegan, you have to be assertive. Sure, in the supermarket you can quietly check the ingredients, but when ordering something at a cafe and you’re not certain if there’s dairy or eggs in it, you’ll have to ask. Lots of places are used to this, and are required by law to have a list in the kitchen or even at the till with information for allergies or intolerances. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that might seem stupid; you’ll rather you know for sure that a particular bun isn’t made with eggs or dairy than doing a sly Google-search for ‘is white bread vegan?’ I didn’t particularly like to mention that I was vegan all the time, afraid what people would think about it. But the truth is, it’s your body, your diet, and your decision. Also, most people won’t really care that much, will be happy to accommodate your order, or will respect you for being considerate about the earth and its inhabitants.

If you’re going to make such a big change to your eating habits, one that will influence your whole lifestyle, you need to be very well informed. I feel a strong antipathy against eating meat, because I know that too many animals are treated inhumanely, that production of meat contributes to the greenhouse effect and deforestation, and that meat can be bad for your health. But I am still trying to teach myself that the production of dairy-products is also a part of this system. A few documentaries I would recommend to learn more about the meat-and dairy industry, or the process of going vegan, are Cowspiracy, Earthlings and Vegucated (all on Netflix!) I’m going to continue eating dairy products, but I would recommend to everyone who can to make a change in your eating habits every so often, if only for a short period of time. It’s thought provoking and you might discover a lot about yourself or your body that you never knew before.

[Aike Jansen]

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