Sunday, 17 October 2010

Outgrowing veganism

I have thought about this for a while and as I would like to keep blogging,
though I assume a lot of people will stop following me after this, I need to get this out there.

With the title I'm not implying that I'm above anybody who is a strict vegan, or that veganism is a phase you will eventually grow out of. Although I did. I don't expect you to read further. I am also writing this for my vegan friends and hope they will accept my decision, even if they don't understand.

Over the past few months, I have found myself falling off the vegan track repeatedly, and have not felt guilty about this at all.

I used to be a poster child for veganism - honestly, I never missed any animal products because except for a little yoghurt and fish once or twice a month, I have not consumed any animal products since I've been 13/14. I love cooking for others to show them vegan food is not bland and boring. I never thought of veganism as hard in social contexts, or travelling, or anything else.

I still don't - I would hate being one of those 'I tried veganism but it was too hard/my doctor told me to eat cheese/etc' people. Maybe I'll even got back to being vegan eventually. Right now, at this point in my life, veganism isn't for me.

If you care about my reasons:

1) The guilt question or: Animal rights vs human rights vs Ecological decisions

I used to be a passionate animal rights advocate, and in many cases still am. Now I have increasingly become interested in how other humans the world over live - and no, this is not a 'why veganism when there are so many other things wrong in the world' point I am trying to make. Simply said, it put things into perspective for me, and made me feel a lot less emotional about animals being exploited for human consumption.

Provocative question: If you travel to an economically deprived country where the monthly village chicken is slaughtered a day early in your honour as a special guest from far away, will you refuse it, knowing that these people live on a handful of rice a day usually? (Not a 'What if a monkey made you a sandwich?' question, but a scene from a friend travelling in SE Asia).

Another situation: Another friend of mine is super eco aware – all his clothes are fair trade, his house uses mostly renewable energy sources, they re-use water and shop all organic. If he travels, he does so by train, I don't think he's flown anywhere in the past 8 years (might be due to a flight phobic wife, though). How can I judge him for eating two eggs and a little bit of chicken once a week?

No, I am not playing down that it is horrible how animals are a commodity in this world. What I'm saying is that there are other things that matter at least as much.

2) the Vegan Scene

This might be one of the main reasons for me and also was what put me off veganism in the first place. When I was 13, I met a guy who would later become one of my closest friends, but back then, he was just the vegan nutcase. Although his arguments made a lot of sense to me, I could not relate to someone who was in his early twenties and still lived off his family/girlfriend, and spent all his time at demos or other direct action events.

When I moved to London, pretty much everybody I knew here was on a certain vegan forum. For a few months, I felt part of a big loving alternative community. Until I realised that apart from veganism, we did not really have much in common, and have values that are nothing like mine.

On the one hand those who are part of a high flying elite, and do not have to worry about money, or those who have never experienced any hardship in their lives (apart from stuff like: 'My parents got a divorce when I was 17' or 'Where shall I go on that round the world ticket my parents bought me?').

On the other hand, there were too many people that were just nuts - people who have been studying for the past 200 years, or have been on the dole for a similar time, and of course everybody has a bloody mental disorder!
(Ok, I get that some people are not in good health, or life has fucked them really badly so they are not 100% ok mentally. But it's my decision whether I want all this drama in my life or not).

On both ends of the scale, I found that people did not care about the same things as I did, apart from veganism: I will not buy anything made by a multinational corporation that is well known for its nonexistent environmental policy or animal testing. No, I will not have this damn take out, no matter how vegan it is, because I would like to have control over what I put in my mouth, and I feel bad for the illegal delivery man/waiter/kitchen assistant who works for 2 pound an hour. Wow, and all these amazing vegan convenience products that come with an extra 400% of packaging that causes our clean vegan eco record to skyrocket.

I don't want to be associated with these people. That said, I have met some awesome vegan people that I hope do not only like me for being vegan.

(And no, I don't want a dozen vegan household cleaning products in my home, either.)

Which leads me to:

4) the Environment
A big part of their holier-than-thou attitude comes from many vegans' assumption that a vegan diet equals a zero carbon emission diet. Well, it isn't, except if you grew 80% of your own food and supplemented the rest with locally grown, organic produce. I don't believe this is possible for anybody in Western Europe, even if you were a farmer. Milk consumption makes for 0.001% of carbon emission of an average omnivore's diet, and even if you eat big fat Argentinian steak, that only adds about another 0.2 per cent. Only reducing the amount of packaging of what you buy has a much bigger effect.

And the story with the meat that needs 10 times as much water as soy or wheat to grow (or whatever is the exact number)? Well, this applies only when the crop is grown in ideal conditions, otherwise the relations aren't that extreme.

To be honest, from this environmental point of view, I'd rather eat 50g of local, organic cheese a month than 300g of soy products imported from Asia or the Americas, and rather eat a few bits of sushi with tuna than buy a pair of vegan trainers that were made from fossil fuels (yep, I know that leather is an environmental no go, as well. Though it lasts longer).

PS: Rather build in some double glazed windows in your houses, Brits :)

Last but not least, and this is a very selfish point:

5) Travelling

I'm a foodie, and I love travel, and for the first time in my life I can do this quite extensively now. Being in Japan this summer opened my eyes. It's very easy to eat all vegan in the UK, but even in my family's village in Germany it's nearly impossible (when I asked at the supermarket where their organic range was, I only got blank stares – all I was looking for was a vegan spread, even if it only was margarine!). Or in a supermarket in Paris. Or – coming back to Japan- in Asia. My Japanese is fairly good, and I was with a friend who speaks fluently in the local dialect. We were in the second biggest city in the country, in an area where (religious, buddhist) vegetarianism has a long tradition. And still, nobody really knew what we were talking about when asking for vegan food (or explaining what exactly that meant). This was in the most developed country in Asia.

Next month I'll be going to Morocco, where the only vegan options will be olives, dates and bread, and essentially every 'vegetarian' stew contains meat broth. I fancy myself a traveler rather than a tourist, and I don't what to be the rich white bitch in a developing country.I'm going to be there for a week, on my own, and believe that I'll have plenty to put up with as a single western woman in her 20s, without creating a fuss about food.

So, will this blog be all steak and kidney pie from now on? No, because I still like the idea of veganism, and vegan food, and will continue to lead a 95% vegan lifestyle. Over the past weeks, I let myself have anything I wanted, and all the animal products I consumed were some salmon maki (and this kind of on accident, because I had ordered vegetarian ones), a croissant and few pieces of feta cheese in a salad – in two months. I can't imagine eating meat, or eggs, or drink milk. Just every now and then, I feel like a little bit of dairy or fish, and I don't want to deny that anymore because of an idealistic idea that no longer moves me (animal rights).

I will most likely keep my house, including pantry and fridge, vegan, as I don't know it any other way (I went vegan shortly after moving out of my parents' place). Recipes and pictures in this blog will stay vegan. I won't start wearing wool, or silk, or leather, or visit a circus. If anything, my eco-awareness has increased. I won't be buying any more non-fair trade chocolate, or coffee, or tea, or clothes. I will increasingly try to buy mostly organic food.

Things like these matter just as much as not consuming animals. Ideally, all of us would avoid all the 'bad' products in this world (woops, I forgot to mention/rant about Made in China and Made in Israel!), but each person's options are limited and we all pick and choose what's right for us.


Going Vegan in Ireland said...

Hi, this is actually the first posting I have read of yours and I agree with alot that you are saying even though I am at the other end of the curve having only just gotten into veganism. I have to say that I think the kind of people who tend to be actively socially vegan are very different from myself. Some people can get very fanatical about it and refer to veganism as a 'religion' which I believe to be too extreme, some can also live outside of reality due to moral beliefs that don't translate to real life - in cases such as your travelling. I admire your honesty.

Rachel said...

just promise me you won't do an op-ed on an "i hate vegans!" blog ;)

i appreciate your honesty going into this, steffi, and i'm glad you kept me clued in on these changes in your lifestyle. i agree with you on some points, and i kinda not on others. but maybe now when we eat out (if the day ever arrives again!) we'll actually want to order different things on the menu ;)

when i think of myself and my lifestyle, i just try to reflect on what's within my power to make my world and what's around me better. there are certainly more things i could do-- i can't afford to eat very much organic, for ex.-- but i can't make myself happy trying to fill someone else's quota. i think what you're doing is trying to meet your own quota now, rather than another's and i sincerely hope you find some happiness in that.

russ said...

You only live once, so its best to draw your own line in the sand, rather than blindly subscribing to someone else's definition of how to be.

I always think to myself "what am I achieving with this", whenever I'm faced with food that i wouldn't normally order. There have been plenty of occasions where I've had to turn a blind eye to a plate of food, as there is just no point trying to change it.

Paris said...

You actually won me over by this post, and I'm now following your blog. I'm mostly vegan, but we do eat sustainably caught fish and honey (from NZ) and the occasional dairy that is in vegetarian meat alternatives. That said, if we were offered meat as guests, we would not refuse it. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, but as for me and my house, we are free to live animal product free if we so choose, and I expect those who visit us to accept our food just as graciously, unless there are allergies, etc. Glad I discovered your blog (found it on foodie blog roll) and I hope you'll visit mine when you have a moment. :)

- English man in Moscow - said...

I'm a Brit living in Moscow !!! and a SAHD how do you like the UK??!!!

See and follow. Thanks

christine said...

This is the first time I've happened on your blog/rant:-)

I sympathise with the way you feel, there are lots of important issues in the world, and we do all have to live by whatever choices we make for ourselves.

You've been very honest, and living an approximately 95% vegan lifestyle is a hell of alot better than giving it up completely, for the sake of the animals at any rate.

I've been vegan, by choice, for years, but my partner is essentially vegetarian - I still love him! Likewise my daughter.

Good luck with your life and your travels.


mangocheeks said...

Your blog post echoes with me so much. I have considered a number of times going vegan, but then wondered am I doing it for the right reasons and would I be happy?

I absolutely admire your honesty. One example just pulls my heart. I come from a working class South Asian family and have family overseas who would do as you described in Q1 re animals, though I would not eat the meat, I would probably dip into the sauce to show respect and humility.

elpi said...

Dropping by for the first time and as I read your post, being a vegan is not an easy task. I hate it, it's like living in hell. I love veggies but I am not a vegan. BUT I respect you so much.

Anonymous said...

just stumbled across your blog and would like to congratulate you on this post. I have been thinking along the same lines as well and have not labelled myself 'vegan' for a long time, even though 98% of my diet is such.
I really believe people get too caught up on a particular belief set and blindly adhere to it without thinking of all the angles. I now strive for CONSCIOUS eating, that is making eating decisions that take into account the physical and spiritual health of the planet and all living things on it and when i do I often find that ironically the non vegan alternative comes out on top.

Gary said...

I refuse dishes with animal products even if they are offered with sincere love. I can't partake in avoidable violence in order to spare someone's feelings. Of course, I try to be as gracious as possible and so far it has only furthered understanding rather than caused rancor.

We do some horrible things to humans, but it is dwarfed by the scope of the mass-slaughter and suffering inflicted on animals, and the animals have far fewer advocates and charities working on their behalf.

But going vegan tends to help rather than hurt humans. The UN, the Worldwatch Institute, the Pew Charitable Trust and other organizations have warned that in order to feed a growing population we must reduce our meat consumption. Meat and dairy production are responsible for possibly up to half of all greehouse gas emissions, depending on your source. Even the most conservative independent estimates are staggering. Crops grown for livestok are a leading cause of rainforest destruction. Even taking average case, not worst case, meat is inherently ineffecient.

Studies by Carnegie-Mellon and others show that it's typically more efficient to import vegan food than to locally grow meat.

Of course, there's more to being green than eating a vegan diet.

Above all, ethical veganism means striving to refrain from participating in exploitation and the infliction of avoidable harm to sentient beings. Sometimes there are borderline situations and dilemmas, but for most people in the developed world on an everyday basis, it's easy to pick up a carton of almond milk instead of cow's milk or to make a dish with seitan, tofu, or lentils instead of chicken.

Are there fanatics and extremists in the vegan movement? Yes, just like there are fanatical and extremist locavores and greenies. But that's no reason for anyone to take out their frustrations on the animals or the ecosystem. You wouldn't buy from sweat shops as a reaction to extremists in the human rights movement.

Yes, if you buy convenience foods, whether vegan or not, you tend to have more packaging. The solution is not to eat meat, which tends to be far more resource-intensive than vegan foods regardless of packaging, but to eat more whole foods.

I'm somewhat of a foodie myself. I love food. But I cannot justify forcing birds to grow so fast that some collapse and die of dehydration because I want to see what something with the tortured creature's flesh tastes like. Put yourself in the animals' place. You have the power; they depend on your mercy.

I appreciate your honesty, and I fully acknowledge that you're way ahead of the crowd in terms of your lifestyle and consciousness. Which is why I'm writing this. My hope is that you'll read this as respectful, well-intentioned counterpoint. It is no way intended to imply anything about your character, or to imply that one of us is better than the other. I'm certainly no better than anyone - human or animal. But, seeing that you changed once after careful consideration suggests to me that you may do it again, and perhaps I can play a small role as a catalyst.

Steffi said...

Gary, this is not a counterpoint. I fully agree with you. And yet, I make different decisions for me and my life.