I’ve been really interested lately in reading stories of why and how people went vegan. It’s fascinating and enlightening to hear about the moments when they realised that they couldn’t eat animal products anymore. So I thought I’d share my story of how and why I went vegan, just for fun, and maybe it’ll inspire some one.
I’ve been vegan for 12 years, since I was 16, but the story really begins earlier.
When I was 7, I got my first kitten, Kitty (very original name, I know). We had always had companion animals around but none of them were mine, so while I liked them, I wasn’t that interested until I got my own cat. I loved Kitty so much even though he was quite a grumpy cat who would disappear for weeks and get into fights. To me he was lovely and I would sit in the garden for hours cuddling him. From then on I took most of the responsibility for looking after our animals and the numbers quickly increased. I spent most of my free time with them, and was often hand rearing kittens, looking after sick animals or coming home with new strays that I found.
I remember from the time I was about 12 thinking about being vegetarian. I was a pretty fussy eater and didn’t eat many vegetables (the odd few bits of carrot or sweetcorn maybe) so I thought I would definitely go vegetarian some day but would probably wait until I had left home and had to cook proper food, because then I’d learn to cook vegetables. I pushed it out of my mind for the time being and tried to not think about it when I was eating meat.
When I was 15 I was doing a practical cooking exam for home economics class and happened to randomly get a brief to make a vegetarian meal. I decided to make a simple stir fry with loads of different veg, and had to practice the dish a lot before the exam. I would taste the vegetables and eventually actually got to like them! It’s funny how my tastes changed quite easily. I realised that I could actually go vegetarian now that I liked vegetables, so that was in the back of my mind.
Then one day I was sitting with my dog, Donna, on my lap and felt the muscles in her leg and thought to myself how they are exactly like meat and how they are meat, there is not a big difference between her and other animals. Around the same time I had a very horrible dream that I had to kill a duck and a cat that were sick and suffering. It really disturbed me and I still remember it to this day.
About a week after that dream, I realised that I hadn’t eaten meat in a week. I had still eaten milk, cheese and other animal products, but not meat. I decided then and there to be vegetarian. I loved my animals and knew that they could feel emotions just like humans. I also had put a lot of effort into trying to save sick, injured or orphaned animals and couldn’t justify to myself doing that while causing other animals to die. It just seemed so pointless. I also had a lot of guilt for the animals that I couldn’t save, if I felt like there was more I could have done, and being vegetarian helped me to feel less guilty.
I had heard about vegan diets in home ec. class but didn’t think much of it at first. Funnily enough, my dad, who is not vegan or vegetarian, said to me that he didn’t see the point in just being vegetarian, and that vegetarians should really be vegan since calves are bred for the dairy industry and the male calves are killed, and similarly male chicks are killed for the egg industry. I thought this made perfect sense and it stayed with me.
I joined an online forum for vegetarians and vegans (back in the days before Facebook) and so I learnt more about being vegan. A few months later I decided to go vegan. It felt like the logical next step. People had some concerns and thought it was too “extreme” as I was 16 and they thought I might not get enough nutrients on a vegan diet since I was “young and still growing”. I didn’t see it as a problem and thought I had probably grown to my full height by then anyway. I did actually grow two more inches in the next two years on a vegan diet, and am the same height as my sister and mother so I don’t think being vegan affected me in that way.
It did take me quite a while to get used to a vegan diet since, like I said, I was a very fussy eater. My diet before, even while vegetarian, had consisted of a lot of ready made food like chips, breakfast cereals, pizzas, eggs, a lot of dairy, etc. so I had to get used to vegetables. I also had to learn to cook proper food. At first I used to eat porridge or cereal with soy milk for breakfast, a not-very-exciting salad for lunch and a stir fry with rice for dinner. After a while I found a few more recipes in magazines and bought a vegan cookbook and started making curries, stews, soups and other dishes.
Back then there weren’t many vegan products available in my small hometown. My local supermarket did have soy milk though and even soy cheese. I think soy milk must have tasted much worse back then because I really couldn’t stand it. I falsely believed that I must drink soy milk to get enough calcium, so would hold my nose and drink a glass of it a day, or have a bowl of chocolatey sugary cereal to disguise the awful soy milk after taste. It must taste better nowadays since I really like soy milk! I tried the soy cheese but never liked it. Luckily we have other brands nowadays that are really delicious! I missed some products, but learned which sweets, biscuits, crisps and other products were suitable for vegans. I missed chocolate and couldn’t bring myself to like dark chocolate, and back then there weren’t many vegan alternatives to milk chocolate. On trips to the city I’d visit health shops and get carob bars, which were quite nice. I also found egg replacer and so could start baking again. I started taking a multivitamin just to make sure I was getting everything I needed. After a while my local supermarket got soy yoghurts, Linda McCartney vegan products and even vegan ice-cream! When I went to restaurants or talked to people about being vegan they had often never heard the word before. It was a great opportunity to at least introduce people to what veganism is.
When I had been vegan for a while I did work experience with a local vet. It was mostly on dairy farms and one pig farm. We would be given lunch at the farmers’ houses and it was definitely interesting trying to explain why I didn’t eat meat, not to mind drink milk! The farmers’ wives were all lovely about it though and there were plenty of potatoes and vegetables for me to eat. Being on farms, even free range dairy farms, reaffirmed to me why I wanted to be vegan. Even if the cows had a fairly good quality of life, there were still things I saw that I didn’t agree with. And the intensive pig farm that I was on was a very eye-opening experience. I know now that it is almost the exact same as most other pig farms in Ireland, despite the idea that many people have of Ireland having only free range farms.
As time went by I actually got fairly good at cooking vegan food and it opened up a whole new world of flavours to me. I wonder if I had never gone vegan would I have tried so many new foods, learned to cook properly or started eating a healthier diet. The difference between when I first went vegan and now is amazing. I eat mostly healthy food, I absolutely love almost all vegetables and I know how to cook a large variety of dishes. I even really, really love dark chocolate now! If anyone wants to go vegan but is worried because they don’t like many vegetables, it was really very easy for me to go vegan and learn to love vegetables.
There is also so much more vegan food available now. Most supermarkets here in Ireland have a vegan section. There are amazing vegan faux meats, cheeses, ice-creams and loads more stuff. Most restaurants now can cater for vegans and many even have vegan menus. Last year was the first Dublin Vegfest and this year was the first Irish Vegan Festival in Belfast. It’s an amazing time to be vegan in Ireland!
I am so glad that I decided to be vegan. For the animals, firstly, but also it has opened up a whole new world to me, of activism, new foods, new friends, and blogging. I also learned that being vegan is best for the planet and is great for our health too. The more and more I learned about being vegan, the more sure I was that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.