I know, I know…this blog has been quiet recently. Don’t worry, I do have a post or two up my sleeve – for example, I plan to write about the pronunciation auction I did with my Social English group, who I teach in the afternoons on the Sheffield University 10 week pre-sessional programme – but for now, I’m going to depart briefly from the teaching English theme of this blog (other than the rather tenuous link that you might notice early on in the post!) and share something about the writer behind the blog i.e. me! You see, I’m vegan and have been for exactly one year…
Just over a year ago, I started thinking about becoming vegan. I wanted to do something to mark the 5 year anniversary of Mum’s death from breast cancer. Those in the know will note that this is July and the anniversary is in August. The truth is, once I had the idea, I started to look into it and then I didn’t want to wait any longer. Luckily for me, I have a very patient vegan friend who answered all my questions, including the stupid ones, shared lots of resources with me (in Italian, so I was also learning Italian through learning about veganism – perfect example of CLIL, or Content and Language Integrated Learning! Yup, that was the earlier mentioned tenuous link 😉 ) and, memorably, didn’t push me, even once. (Thank you, Chiara!) So, it was easy to learn what I needed to learn and the decision soon followed. The 19th of July 2014.
I was vegetarian for many years before becoming vegan. So long that it had become more of a habit than anything else. A habit that I would happily bend occasionally to be more convenient for others (chicken once or twice a year at my aunt’s for example) or even myself (tuna from a can as a quick meal). This isn’t something I am proud, is just how it was. In all my time as a vegetarian, though, which is all my independent adult life, I never prepared any meat or fish (non-can) myself. In fact, I used to worry that if I had children, I wouldn’t know how to cook meat for them. Now I know that children can thrive on a vegan diet, and even know one such child personally, who couldn’t be happier or healthier, that’s one less thing to worry about!
So, “lazy” vegetarian to lazy vegan? Seems logical, but no. Since the 19th July 2014, I haven’t deliberately eaten any animal derived products and have not purchased any leather or wool etc either. You might notice I specify ‘deliberately’… Well, last summer, newly vegan, I ate a Waitrose pasta sauce that I was convinced I had checked the labels of and was suitable for vegans, but then on an occasion as I was stirring it through my veg, I idly looked what I thought was again at the label and there was anchovies, plain as day. I ate the food nevertheless and chalked it up to experience, vowing to be even more careful in label-checking in future – so far, so good. I wasn’t going to waste it (same as I won’t throw away things I bought in my pre-vegan life: I have sold some things, proceeds to an animal charity, and charity shopped others. The rest, I will just replace them with animal-friendly alternatives when the time comes). Deliberately, however, I have explored a whole new world of cooking and have a repertoire much, much greater than I did this time last year, of dishes I can make. This, I have thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t use to have any interest in recipes, now I am a recipe geek with an Evernote notebook full of recipes I have saved. Many I have tried, many that are on the “to try” list still. (Have tried two new ones today so far in celebration! 🙂 )
Why not “lazy vegan”? Why no “I slipped up because I couldn’t resist x on day y”? Because I can’t un-know what I know. As a vegetarian, I believed that dairy and eggs didn’t do any harm. Now I know better. And having learnt, and made the decision that I am not ok with what happens, in my head if I were now to eat a piece of cheese or something with egg in deliberately, that would be tantamount to saying “I am ok with how this is produced“. And I’m not. It was, and remains, that simple. For me. The beautiful-looking icecream in the gelateria is calves in veal crates having been ripped from their mothers soon after birth. And so on. If my “why” ever becomes hazy, then I will force myself to watch Earthlings again. It took me three sittings (at least) to get through it. I cried buckets, I felt physically ill, but I got to the end, and I only had to watch it, not live it. So instead I live by my choice to use alternatives to animal products. These days, there is an abundance of them, and fruit, veg and grains never go out of fashion. Do I feel deprived? No. Privileged? Yes.
Of course, nothing is completely straight-forward: as you may have noticed, I am a vegan who rides horses. I don’t think I exploit them, for me they are four-legged people who I like to spend time with – both on the ground and in the saddle. Alba, pictured below, belongs to me and has done for all of a month. I live in the UK, she lives in Sicily (where she has space, freedom, sunshine, horsey amici, and is happy). The main thing is, she won’t be ending up on someone’s plate after all.
There are enough vegans, however, who would despise me for not giving up my riding. C’est la vie. That said, I don’t plan to ride here in the UK. Having Alba (far away as she is), knowing she is safe from harm, and happy, is enough.
Then, of course, there is my profession. What has that got to do with anything? Well, let’s say, firstly about as soon as I got the hang of veganism in the UK, especially Sheffield, it was time to start my second stint in Palermo. Cue being back to the beginning of working everything out for a second time round. Fortunately, though, again I had Chiara to help me. To recommend shops and restaurants, for example, including giving me a link to a locally produced map of all things vegan-friendly in Palermo. To answer the old “can you get x here? Where?” question over and over…and over again! To tell me what animal-friendly remedies I could use, when I was ill. She also introduced me to the concept of vegan groups on Facebook, of which there are some Sicily and, indeed, Palermo-based ones. As a result of these, I attended a talk about vegan nutrition for children and a free vegan food-tasting event, both of which I much enjoyed. I have also since found UK and Sheffield-based pages and groups, which is nice. Have been out for lunch with one lot and meeting another lot on Wednesday for dinner. Secondly, my work timetable in Palermo precluded mid-week cooking. Cue batch-cooking becoming a way of life! I will admit to getting a bit bored of it in the end – the cooking more than the eating, lentils are always good! – and I had to be disciplined and do that weekend cooking whatever else I had on and however little I felt like it. Audiobooks (in various languages!) helped a lot, though, easing the tedium of vegetable chopping. Finally, ah the teeny tiny kitchen in my flat… I rose to that challenge though! Back in England, the big kitchen and better working hours are a bonus: only one packed meal a day! And surfaces, sweety darling, surfaces… (think Ab Fab!)
My journey has been positive so far: I am lucky to have family and friends who have been supportive of me and my decision. My sister has been most vociferous about it but she has also made sure, whenever we have been together since, that we eat where I can eat, that I have what I need, and she also shopped for and carried a list of things to me when she visited in October, true big sister style, in addition to more recently ensuring I was fully catered for over the weekend of my cousin’s wedding, which also coincided with my return to the UK. (Thank you, Rosa!) I hope never to alienate any of them. I am also lucky to have had a lot of help, as described throughout this post. I also hope that if anyone I know or come to know starts thinking about making this transition, I can be as helpful (and un-pushy) as Chiara has been with me.
To end with some humour, here is some of what I have learnt this past year:
You know you’re vegan if…
- nearly the whole hand-luggage you take on any trip is food
- pre-journey food prep takes longer than packing does
- you are queen of tupperware
- ‘But where do you get your protein/calcium/B12?’ is an endless refrain! (answer: everywhere…)
- you take a packed meal to a wedding
- people proudly tell you that what they are eating is vegan
- a functioning food processor/blender is no less than a God-send
- cashew nuts are not just cashew nuts!
- trying a new type of grain or tofu is exciting
- recipes are the most exciting thing ever
- pigs in blankets is this:
So, that’s it really! And here’s to my second year. 🙂
Are any of you teachers who read my blog also vegan? Say ‘hi’ if you like (if you aren’t too disgusted with the whole horse-related paragraph of this post)! 🙂