I love being vegan – it’s changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve met so many like-minded people, many of whom have become good friends. My compassion for animals and other people has expanded hugely. Learning about the harms caused by animal agriculture to animals, the planet and human health has been incredibly eye-opening, and spreading the word about veganism has become a passion. But despite all this, being vegan can sometimes be pretty frustrating.
What’s the hardest part about being vegan?
Many people say the hardest part about being vegan is dealing with other people. Broadly speaking, I agree. But I’d like to expand on that somewhat.
There are many ways in which non-vegans can be a huge source of frustration. Some seem to interpret your avoidance of animal products as a personal insult. Others ask questions that make you want to bang your head against the wall.
But it’s not deliberate goading that bothers me most. What’s worse is the indifference and ignorance of many people towards veganism and animal suffering.
I’m lucky in that most of my friends are vegetarian or vegan. My family also eats a mostly vegetarian diet, especially when I’m at home. This means I tend to be insulated in a little vegan bubble. It’s easy to forget that most of the population still eats a diet heavy in animal products.
A stark reminder
Every so often, something happens to jerk me out of my cosy bubble. I spent five days last week litter-picking at Green Man Festival in exchange for a free ticket and one meal per shift. The canteen food really brought home to me how far we still have to go when it comes to creating a vegan world.
There was a full English breakfast every morning, and the mains were mostly of the ‘meat and two veg’ variety. There were decent veggie and vegan options provided, but it was disheartening to see how few people chose them. Eating breakfast surrounded by people chewing on pig flesh was difficult to stomach (pun intended). My head was full of the footage I’ve seen of pigs dying painful deaths in gas chambers. (This is now the preferred method for slaughtering pigs in the UK and many other countries. The footage is graphic, but I urge you to watch it if you still eat meat. It’s important to be aware of the truth.)
My brother, who was volunteering with me, also chose the meaty options. This surprised me, as he eats very little meat at home. He’s generally pretty supportive of my veganism, but the heavy meat-eaters around us seemed to influence that. At one meal, he offered me a little pot of margarine. I explained that it wasn’t the dairy-free variety – it contained buttermilk. “Oh my god, you can’t eat anything,” he said, almost disgustedly.
This astonished me, because at home we regularly eat vegan lasagna, shepherd’s pie, curries, cakes, cookies and pies, among other things. Vegans can eat just as varied diet as anyone else – it’s just that restaurants and canteens often have limited options. It’s their failing, not ours!
The last straw
Just before my last shift at Green Man, I went to get dinner from the catering tent. I asked for the vegan option, a vegetable medley. It was only when I sat down that I realised they’d give me the vegetarian option instead. It was pasta in a decidedly unvegan creamy sauce.
I looked helplessly back at the counter. It was probably the busiest time of the day, and the tent was packed. I didn’t feel comfortable pushing through everyone at the counter to ask to get my food changed.
Could I just eat around the pasta? No – the sauce had soaked into everything else on the plate. I was stumped.
It crossed my mind that the food would only go to waste if I didn’t eat it. Morally, there was no real issue with eating it at this point. I looked at the plate…and started crying. There was no way I could do it.
This probably seems like a silly and over-emotional response. It did to me, too; I’m not usually that fragile. When I went to a pig save, for example, I was one of the few who didn’t cry.
My tears alarmed my brother, who said he’d buy me dinner from one of the stalls at the festival instead. I thanked him but refused, dashing back to our tent to eat a can of veggie chili instead.
Why did I cry?
Later on, I analysed the incident, trying to work out why it had upset me so much. Eventually, I realised it mostly came down to frustration. At home, I make vegan creamy pasta quite frequently. Everyone who tastes it says they’d never know it was vegan. The same applies to my lasagna, cakes and so on. You can make a delicious vegan version of virtually anything. It doesn’t take any extra effort, it’s healthier and it’s usually cheaper too.
In other words, all the animal products in that canteen – including those on my plate – were the product of wholly unnecessary suffering. Of course, I knew this already, but the absurdity of it must have really hit home in that moment.
It also frustrates me that people don’t understand how important veganism is to an individual. Most of my vegan friends tell horror stories of being served the wrong food in restaurants. In some cases, they bit into a supposedly vegetarian dish and found it contained meat. These incidents were almost certainly accidents, but that isn’t much of a comfort. Some restaurants barely even apologise for the mistake. It’s hard to explain how deeply upsetting it can be to accidentally eat animal products as a vegan. I appreciate that staff are often stressed and overworked, but getting orders right is part of the job. Imagine if someone gave a customer with food allergies the wrong meal.
I’ve also heard stories of chefs intentionally putting animal products in vegan orders. They see it as a funny thing to do, probably because they think veganism is stupid or faddish. Sadly, I don’t find this difficult to believe.
So at some level, these were the emotions going through my head as I cried over that plate of pasta. The rest of the canteen must have thought I was mad! But on reflection, I’m glad I cried. Being vegan is one of the things I’m most proud of in life. I’m glad the idea of eating animal products still fills me with horror; I hope it always will.
I sometimes think that the only people who truly understand veganism are those who are already vegan (or at least transitioning!). So we may still have a long way to go before people widely accept and respect our decision. But this inconvenience is pretty inconsequential compared to what animals go through on a daily basis.
What do you think is the worst part about being vegan?