“Smile and say, ‘nutritional yeast vegan cheese!'” Alice Wilson McNeal, environmental columnist, talks about her struggles with the vegan diet
Photography: Alice Wilson McNeal
I’m not a vegan. I tried (very hard) for a few months. I went the whole hog: spending hours trekking around the dairy free sections of supermarkets, inspecting labels to work out which unpronounceable chemicals might have animal origins, even switching my shampoo and toothpaste. This was fine for a few months – convincing myself that vegan cheese wasn’t far off the real thing, that nutritional yeast really did taste like Parmesan, and that I really wasn’t bitter when presented with the one vegan option on a restaurant menu.
I couldn’t keep it up; I love meat, I love cheese, I love eggs, and the thought of never eating them again wasn’t sustainable. I felt like a hypocrite for not sticking with it, preaching environmentalism whilst failing to do the one thing purported to reduce your impact on the planet more than anything else. Some people manage to cut down gradually and keep it that way. Others just don’t miss animal products. I’m not one of those people, and nor are the majority of the population. It’s likely that asking people to go cold turkey is the main reason why so many are openly hostile toward veganism in general. But do we really have to give it all up completely?
Being vegan full-time isn’t for everyone, but being vegan part-time is. Cutting down on meat and dairy is good for you and the planet, and moreover, it’s really easy. There are so many high-protein alternatives to meat like Quorn, home-made bean burgers, or falafels, all of which are simple to swap. There’s a huge range of dairy-free milks that can be used for cooking or coffee. It’s also easy to cook unexpectedly vegan meals: risotto, soup, roast vegetables, curry, stir fry. There’s no denying that animal products are expensive, and reducing them can save you money. Buying less also means you can afford to buy free-range and local, supporting local farmers and improving animal welfare standards. Outside the kitchen, there’s Lush with its long record of fighting for animal rights, then there’s Superdrug’s own range which is vegan and cruelty free, and 80% of beauty brand Urban Decay’s products are the same. So many other brands and products are too, and there are endless lists available online.
People understandably have strong pro or anti-veganism feelings, but the all-or-nothing attitude isn’t helping either side. It doesn’t have to be black-and-white, and everyone being a part-time vegan is more achievable and sustainable than being guilt tripped into completely changing their lifestyles. Be vegan until lunch, until dinner, at weekends, or go all the way if it works for you. But don’t feel bad for the occasional local, ethical burger; you’re only human.