I'm a good vegan – but I ate meat during lockdown

I’ve been a vegan for almost two years, since I first watched Dominion – an Australian documentary detailing horrific agricultural practices, such as the gassing of live pigs and the maceration of fully-conscious male chicks.

Yet, even though I feel incredibly strongly about my principles, I slipped back into eating animal products on occasion when I moved back home during lockdown, a situation worsened by the fact that my family don’t support my diet.

I’ve felt guilty about this, but I want to address how the stress and disorder of the past months may have led some vegans – like me – to make choices they otherwise wouldn’t have done.

And that is fine.

When I first told my meat-eating family I was vegan, they were disappointed. Since then, we’ve rarely spoken about it in depth. My family aren’t interested in learning about the reasons why I’ve gone vegan and I’m keen to avoid being called ‘preachy’ again.

So when the UK went into lockdown in March, and I had to move out of my shared student house and back to my childhood home in Kent, the issue really came to a head.

Near the beginning, some supermarkets ruled that only one person from each household could go shopping at a time. As I can’t drive, it fell to my mother to make these weekly trips.

She seized this as an opportunity to feed me animal products, choosing not to buy vegan options and cooking non-vegan meals in the hope that I would eat them because I didn’t want to waste food or end up cooking late into the evening.

And I did eat them. The unfortunate combination of an entire term of university work being sloppily shifted online, alongside having to submit essays totalling 16,000 words in just under eight weeks, meant that I had little motivation to think about what I was putting into my mouth and the consequences it had.

Despite my protests that switching out pork sausages for vegan ones wouldn’t be particularly taxing, and that having my personal choices regularly dismissed made me feel ignored, this back-and-forth continued for some weeks.

After not eating meat for so long, I not only started to feel incredibly guilty, but sluggish and sick afterwards – my body wasn’t used to digesting it.

My fear of judgement means I haven’t talked openly about my lapse into eating animal products. Because of a handful of domineering individuals, veganism has garnered a reputation of militancy, conjuring up images of protesters covered in fake blood, angrily brandishing placards.

Although my vegan friends certainly don’t fit this stereotype, I feared they would silently judge me, even though they would most likely have been supportive and offered tips to help me get back on track.

Since finishing my assignments and with lockdown restrictions eased slightly, I’ve had more time and energy to cook for myself, and so have returned to eating vegan. Although my family would prefer me to eat the same as them, they have little issue with me cooking for myself.

My mother was brought up in a ‘meat-and-two-veg’ household with old-fashioned views on health, so I think her attempts to lure me back to animal products are born out of an ignorance of veganism and a loving concern for my physical wellbeing.

She understandably feels that being a vegan means I’m depriving my body of nutrition, despite the NHS saying that ‘with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.’

Including beans, pulses, and fresh fruit and vegetables into my diet means that I really am receiving all of the benefits of veganism.

But I also need to consider how I can take some responsibility for my own diet. Perhaps I should have been more proactive and created shopping lists, rather than simply asking for ‘vegan foods’ from someone who doesn’t know where to look, or offered to cook meals more regularly to educate my family on the range of delicious vegan options.

This situation has helped me understand that slip-ups don’t make your commitment to veganism null and void, and that they offer you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. I have come to the realisation that constantly feeling guilty about something sadly won’t reverse it.

Once I move back to university in September to commence my final year, I’ll continue shopping and cooking for myself. Although I sadly haven’t been able to dispel my family’s desire for me to eat ‘normally’, I’ve learnt an important lesson in lockdown: chastising yourself is counterproductive.

Reflecting and making appropriate changes is what’s important.

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